Monday, October 24, 2011

El Général, Hip Hop, and the Tunisian Revolution

Hi there, Hot Arabic Music readers. I go by the name of Ulysses (@ArabRevRap on Twitter) and I'm studying Arabic and Middle East studies. I have started a blog,, to translate and analyze Arabic hip hop, help people improve their Arabic skills, and explore the academic, journalistic, and social media coverage of the Arab uprisings. Hani has very kindly offered to host my work and my song translationson his blog (thanks!), so I hope you enjoy my perspective. I'm happy to take your translation requests (hit me up on Twitter or at ulysses [dot] rap [at] I'm not a native speaker of Arabic, though, so I'm always looking for people to help with new translations or to correct mine.

So why exactly is Arabic hip hop worth your time? Well, for starters, hip hop has become a universal medium of social and political expression for young, dissident, and marginalized peoples. It's helping the people of Arab world, most of whom are younger than 30, find new ways to raise their voices. It's important not to overstate the influence of Arabic hip hop on the Arab uprisings. Arabic-langauge hip hop is an underground phenomenon, not a mainstream one like Al Jazeera is. There's no hip hop "industry" to speak of in the Arab world. Arabic-language rap artists must promote their work online or sign with Western record labels. Despite all this, the genre's popularity and influence are growing remarkably fast. Rappers in Tunisia and Libya have shaken the most nightmarish of regimes to the core. Arab hip hop is blowing up because it speaks so powerfully to Arabs' desire for dignity, human rights, and a brighter future.

With that said, here's my first major blog post. I hope you like it!

El Général, Hip Hop, and the Tunisian Revolution

Like many people, I first took notice of Arabic hip hop because of El Général and the Tunisian Revolution. The story has practically passed into mythology now. For a few critical days, a 21 year-old rapper from Sfax had a more powerful voice than the dictator of Tunisia himself. On October 23, Tunisia will hold the first truly free elections in its history when it elects a new constitutional assembly. El Général's story illuminates, with a vividness that few others can match, how Tunisia got to this point and where it might be going from here.

On November 7, 2010, Hamada Ben-Amor, a young rapper from Sfax known as "El Général," posted this jeremiad against the regime of Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on Youtube and Facebook:


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