Ramy Essam began the 25 January revolution in Egypt purely as participant, a responsibility he felt happy to undertake. But he was soon called upon by his fellow protestors to provide the soundtrack to their struggles and was quickly labelled ‘the singer of the revolution’. He rose to prominence during the uprising with a collection of songs that captured the fear, optimism and defiant demand for change that was sweeping across the country. Ramy spent 18 days in Tahrir Square as an integral part of the revolution, writing and performing songs to motivate the protesters, risking his life and suffering threats and attacks from the military police but refusing to leave until Mubarak’s regime collapsed. Amandla! Magazine spoke to him during his visit to Cape Town where he came to receive the Freedom to Create Prize, an award given to artists who use their creativity to advance social change.
Amandla! (A!): How did you see your role as musician and songwriter during the revolution in Egypt?
Ramy Essam (RE): Singing is a valid way of protesting. I am translating what is happening on the streets of Cairo to the world, but at the same time the revolution is my priority and I have a responsibility to the people on the streets because they expect me to sing about what is happening. I am a guitarist and always wrote songs – but the energy I felt in myself to create and perform during the revolution was more powerful than anything I had ever felt. Seeing people respond immediately was an unforgettable experience.
A!: You we arrested and tortured, can you say more about this?
RE: The police became completely paranoid at one point and went after people they thought were instigators. I was held for several days and tortured [points towards the scars on his body]. They meant to break our spirit; I was hung and threatened with death. We must not forget that the revolt came with severe brutality and with a vicious repression that took the lives of many.
A!: How old are you? Was there a lot of participation among people your age?
RE: I am 24 years old. And yes, it was amazing how the revolution brought young people on to the streets. I cannot describe the joy and feeling of seeing that.
A!: What about now?
RE: The military must go. We need a properly elected and democratic civilian government. Although Mubarak is gone, all his brutal military police and supporters remain in power. It will be a major defeat for revolution if they stay in government – they must go now!