Egyptian singer-songwriter Ramy Essam played an electric show at National Sawdust on January 25th , part of a multimedia tour called “Tahrir and Beyond" commemorating the ninth anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution. Essam was joined by the street artist Ganzeer; both gained notoriety during the 2011 Arab Spring for their musical and artistic interventions in the streets of Cairo. Ramy and Ganzeer now live in exile, but their commitment to justice in Egypt has now risen to global prominence. Case in point: Essam’s song “Irhal” was selected as Time Out’s third most world-changing song of all time.
After Ganzeer presented a slide show of his work and a historical overview of the Revolution, Essam took the stage with a classic four piece rock ensemble. The curly-haired rocker brought his 90’s grunge aesthetic to life with songs that addressed everything from the freeing of political prisoners to celebrating the spirit of the revolution. Despite the ultimate suppression of the uprising between 2011 and 2013, Essam and Ganzeer sought to bring the fervor of that moment in history into the present, refusing to forget the spark of hope they helped to build through their art.
Midway through his 20 song set, Essam ceded the stage to playwrights and musicians The Lazours, who wrote a musical last year about the Egyptian Revolution called “We Live in Cairo,” . Their song held with the anthemic nature of the show, re-articulating the social justice idiom that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
Influenced by artists as diverse as Rage Against the Machine and the Egyptian composer Sayed Darwish, Essam's acoustic guitar brought to mind Woody Guthrie’s inscribed with the political message: "This Machine Kills Fascists." Except that on Essam's guitar was a sticker of the current president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, dressed as a masked thief, with the caption: "Arrest Sisi, Free Egypt." His mesmerizing performance was a testament to the relationship between creativity and constraint, as well as perseverance in the struggle for justice.