This Interview was published in the newspaper “Wiener Zeitung” October 15 2011 – Für eine Deutsche Version klick HIER
In the “Arab Spring” of 2011, it was not only regimes, which were overthrown. A revival also occured of a music genre, which had almost been forgotten in the West: The protest song
From Morocco to Syria, couragous young people sang and rapped for their concerns. Some of them paid for this with their lives, such as the Syrian singer Ibrahim Qashoush, who was found with his throat cut in the Orontes river, or the Egyptian artist Ahmed Bassiouni, who was shot by the police in a demonstration.
However, the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia also produced a numerous of hits through which former completely unknown musicians became symbols of the resistance. Some of those songs are collected on the sampler „Our Dreams Are Our Weapons – Soundtracks of the Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt“ (Network)
The 23-year old Tunesian Rapper El Général like no other is an example for this new musical protest-culture.
His song „Rayis le-Blad“ became something akin to the „Hymn of the Arab revolution“.
Though there has been a long tradition of critical singer-songwriters in Tunisia, it was his heavy HipHop that hit the pulse of an angry young generation, which felt deprived of their chances.
His improsonment at the beginning of January only made him more famous, and Time Magazine even nominated Hamada Ben Amr – which is El Général’s real name – amongst the 100 most influential people of 2011
Ben Ali is gone, on Oct. 23 Tunisia will elect a new president and El Général is working on his first Album.
Selina Nowak met the young rapper to talk to him about his role and his opinion on politics.
Do you see yourself as more as a musician or a political activist?
I rap about political and social issues that are relevant for the people. Music is the medium I chose to transport, because it’s the only one I know.
I’m just a normal guy but in my role as a MC it’s my duty to raise my voice. So I’m a musician with a message.
Who are your idols?
As a private person that’s hard to answer. But as an artist it’s French rapper Kery James. He never raps about personal things but about the „big“ themes like injustice, opression, racism. He contributes something to the society.
How has your life changed in the past months?
My responsibility is bigger now. I have to pay much more attention to what I say and do, since my music is no longer an individual matter, the dimensions are bigger now. At the same time this makes it much harder to maintain the level of which I achieved. I decided to become a rapper, I don’t want be anything else. Whether I will be successful or not – we will have to see. Some rappers make it, some rappers don’t . It depends on what you want and one’s ability to achieve one’s status in the world of HipHop.
How has the Tunesian music scene changed in the past month?
A lot has changed, especially for rap music. Before it was illegal to organise concerts or to sell uncensored CDs. Now the Ministery of Culture has even officially acknowledged HipHop as a form of of Arts. The music is played a lot on TV, and what’s on TV, sells better on the market. With the revolution, HipHop has achieved a place in Tunesian society.
Many young men of your generation want to go to Europe. Did you ever think about leaving your country?
I thought about it very often. Why? Because I lived then in a country in which one didn’t even have the ghost of a chance to live with dignity. There was no freedomn of speech, only repression, detention. The wish to leave the country wasn’t about money, it was about freedom.
And now? Do you have a message to those who left Tunisia or who still want to leave?
Many things now are in the process of transformation. But we, the youth, we have to give ourselves and our country a chance. We can achieve great things, there are so many young people in Tunesia. But if somebody decides to emigrate, one has to respect such a decision. In the end event everybody has to decide for themself.
Have you decided to go to the polls on October 23?
No, I won’t vote. I don’t trust in political parties. How can I vote, if I don’t believe the politicians, how can I vote for a party, I don’t believe in? I see myself as a critic, not as a voter.
So what does a politician have to do, to receive your vote?
He has to serve the country like a man!
El Général’s Album “La Voix Du Peuple” (The voice of the people) will be released in 2012. El Général raps about Tunisian, Middle Eastern and world politics, the Freemasons, god and about the course of the world.
Speaking of the Freemasons: The conspiracy theory that the Freemasons, Israel and the USA want to take over the world is very popular amongst young Arabs. However, if El Général raps agaist Israel and the USA, one should not confuse his attitude with antisemitism as a racist intention.
It would be inapropriate as well to condemn El Général as an „Islamist“ because he has some songs about religion. This young man is no intellecual leftist peace activist but rather an angry young kid and wannabe gangster. He can be critisised but on the other hand we have to understand, that he is a child of his time and environment and an example for a whole generation.
More about that in the next Radioshow: Frau Nowaks Transorientalischer Musikexpress – Children of revolution.