Lebanon News

‘Hela ho’ to hip-hop: Uprising chants, songs

Women chant slogans during a protest in Beirut, Nov. 19, 2019. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Throughout Lebanon’s monthlong uprising, songs and chants have played a vital role. They have evolved over the course of the nationwide protests and have been defiant, humorous, powerful and, at times, profane.

Chants create solidarity and cohesion among large groups of people. They allow crowds to speak in one voice and become mass acts of defiance when repeated by thousands of protesters.

Songs have played important roles in some of the largest revolutions, dating all the way back to the French Revolution with “La Marseillaise,” which was written in 1792.

Music has undoubtedly brought Lebanese protesters together. Songs and chants spread like wildfire in the first few days of the nationwide uprising, in which hundreds of thousands of people have called for the removal of the entire political class.

Within the first 72 hours, Lebanese from Tripoli to Tyre, Christian and Muslim, were heard singing the same words of anger and opposition. Remixes of those chants were then blasted from car speakers and in DJ performances. They then went viral on social media and messaging apps, circulating as videos and audio clips.

The chances are that you’ve heard many of them already, but here’s a roundup of the most memorable songs of the uprising.

CHANTSNo chant has become better-known over the past month of protests than “Hela hela ho,” which originally ended with an obscene curse directed at the mother of now caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Dozens of versions were produced and shared on social media, from elaborate operatic versions to house and techno renditions. Comic memes depicting protesters’ sleep being interrupted by the incessant tune also emerged on the internet.

While many politicians were featured in protest chants, Bassil was targeted for a number of reasons: He is widely seen as one of the main figures responsible for the country’s crumbling electricity sector and, as the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, as a man who rose to power thanks to nepotism.

Over time many protesters criticized the chant as vulgar and misogynistic. While it has not entirely disappeared, a version devised by feminist groups redirecting the curse to Bassil’s uncle, has emerged.

Some protesters even began to hush those who used the original chant at demonstrations.

Now, the melody is often used to yell, “The street is closed” (“Taree’ msakar ya helou”) during road blockades or protests in front of public institutions.

Another ubiquitous chant is “Kilon yaane kilon” (“All of them means all of them”), which demands the removal of the entire ruling class. Different versions of the slogan quickly emerged to target individual politicians. These include “All of them means all of them - and Nasrallah is one of them,” highlighting the now widespread belief among protesters that Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah is part of the elite they seek to dislodge.

Of course, the main battle cry of “Thawra, thawra, thawra” (“Revolution, revolution, revolution”) can be heard at every protest. Likewise, “Al-shaab yureed isqat al-nizam” (“The people demand the fall of the regime”), which has also been remixed into an uprising anthem, is frequently heard blaring from speakers at demonstrations.

PATRIOTIC SONGSThe uprising has also seen the revival of a number of patriotic songs. Most notably, Joseph Attieh’s “Libnan Rah Yerjaa” (“Lebanon Will Return”), which was released 10 years ago, became a protest favorite. The song is a hopeful look toward the future of Lebanon, with swelling lyrics such as, “Lebanon will return, and justice will never die, and the sun will rise and light up Beirut’s sky.”

Ironically, Julia Boutros’ “Betnafas Horriye” (“I Breathe Freedom”) became one of the biggest anthems of Lebanon’s protests. Boutros is the wife of caretaker Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab and a key figure in Lebanon’s political ruling class. The song has historically been played to express resistance against Israel.

Nevertheless, Boutros’ song, which contains the lines, “The voice of freedom remains the loudest, no matter how strong the winds of injustice blow,” has been played across the country.

Meanwhile, Lebanese singer and composer Marcel Khalife appeared in Tripoli’s Al-Nour Square on Oct. 20, where he sang “Ikhtertuka Ya Watani” (“I Chose You, My Nation”). Other songs by Khalife also have featured prominently throughout the protests.

‘BABY SHARK’Most surprising has been the revival of a children’s nursery rhyme as a revolutionary song. During the first week of the uprising, a video went viral of a bewildered child sitting in the passenger seat of a stationary car. Protesters surrounded the vehicle and began a semisynchronized rendition of “Baby Shark,” in an attempt to cheer up the child. At subsequent demonstrations, protesters sang the nursery rhyme in unison in between shouts of “Revolution” and “All of them means all of them.”

HIP-HOP AND RAPRap and hip-hop have also provided the soundtrack to the uprising. On the 23rd day of mass protests, a concert was held in the parking lot of the Azarieh Building, in which Hermel-born rapper Jaafar Touffar gave a live performance to a large crowd. Touffar released the track “Mamnou’” (“Forbidden”) with Palestinian rapper and beatboxer Osloob, featuring powerful verses on sectarianism, corruption and protest. “Mamnou’” has become a popular song of rebellion among young protesters.

Lebanese rapper ROBN also came out with a song for the uprising titled “Barra” (“Out”). It features the chant “All of them means all of them,” demands that all politicians “get out,” and for “Lebanese to keep the energy moving, please.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 20, 2019, on page 2.

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