#FollowFriday: Musicians as activists

Friday, August 2, 2013

By Nouran Sedaghat

Music is often referred to as a universal language, which makes it the perfect medium of expression and, in the right hands, a powerful tool for protest. From John and Yoko to Tupac, countless musicians over the years have used their talents and influence to send a message and express their often dissident views on topics like war, poverty and the government.

Like other forms of protest however, musical dissidence does not come without risks. As a form of free expression, musicians who engage with controversial themes are often targeted by authorities as a direct result of their music. This week’s Follow Friday features musicians that have been known to use their art to express their views, and have suffered as a consequence.

Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk band known for staging unauthorized performances of songs based around themes of LGBT rights, feminism, and anti-government sentiments. Their most famous performance took place on February 21, 2012, when they performed “Punk Prayer - Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The brief show made international headlines when three members of the band — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich — were arrested and charged with hooliganism less than a month later. Although Samutsevich was released in October 2012, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina remain imprisoned, much to the dismay of the international community. The event even prompted British singer Kate Nash to release a track entitled “Free My Pussy” while countless other artists have signed on to the Amnesty International petition calling for their freedom.

Follow the official Pussy Riot Twitter account (recently reinstated): @Pussy_Riot

Follow the Free Pussy Riot Twitter account, which supports the group by posting updates and related actions: @freepussyriot

Follow Kate Nash: @katenash

Ramy Essam
Ramy Essam is an Egyptian musician who gained international fame in 2011 for his activism in support of the country’s protests in Tahrir Square. He penned a song “Irhal,” which urged then-president Hosni Mubarak to resign from his post. The track became popular among protestors and eventually garnered a reputation as the anthem of the revolution. On March 9, 2011, Essam was among the protestors forcibly removed from Tahrir Square by authorities, and was subsequently arrested and tortured. Essam was also featured in IFEX’s 2012 International Day to End Impunity campaign.

Follow Ramy Essam on Twitter (Arabic): @RamyEssam

Subscribe to Ramy Essam’s YouTube channel

Hamada Ben-Amor (El Général)
Much like Ramy Essam, this Tunisian rapper (known by his stage name El Général) was inspired by the corruption he saw in his country and put his grievances to song. In December 2010, El Général uploaded a track entitled “Rais Lebled” to YouTube. The song dealt with themes of poverty and government corruption, echoing the cries of Arab Spring protestors, and quickly became Tunisia’s own revolutionary anthem. El Général was able to release a few more songs before authorities knocked on his door on December 24, 2010, at 5:00 a.m. to detain and interrogate him. After enormous public outcry, he was released three days later.

Follow El Général on Twitter (Arabic): @GeneralOffishal

Like El Général on Facebook for updates and new music.

#FollowFriday is an opportunity for CJFE to showcase individuals and groups doing important work in the field of free expression. Please note that follow recommendations are not wholesale endorsements of all of an individual’s or organization’s positions.