By Brian Slocock
“When you look at the history of the Arab world, it is made of authoritarian powers, but also of resistance.”
The internationally-renowned Algerian singer Souad Massi has recently released an album, El Mutakallimun (Masters of the Word) which celebrates the historic tradition of enlightenment and tolerance in Arabic culture. It includes a song dedicated to the spirit of Freedom—el-Houriya—which you can see her performing live here.
The lyrics of this song are taken from a poem by the famous Iraqi satirist Ahmed Matar.
“As long as life was given me I would roam the world over to find out what freedom is.”
Our teacher spoke to us
They call freedom
I asked him gently
To talk to us in Arabic
Has it got to do with some Greek idea
From some time long ago?
Or with that stuff they import?
Or maybe it was manufactured here?
And the teacher answered us
Sadly with tears in his eyes
They’ve even made you forget
Your history and your values
It’s heartbreaking to see the youth
Who understand nothing about freedom
Who have neither sword nor pen
Or any idea of identity
Chorus: The tyrant would never raise his head as long as the people were fighting back
Then our teacher gave up his soul
In the loneliness of his jail
So I made up my mind that
As long as life was given me
I would roam the world over
To find out what freedom is
I Stood up and faced history
What then is freedom?
Freedom cannot be acquired
In stock exchanges or financial markets
Nor can any humanitarian body
Offer you freedom
Freedom is a plant
That waters a blood pure and free
That raises boys and girls on high
And whoever else is in love with freedom
Voice of demonstrators: The people want freedom!
Souad is a passionate supporter of the Arab Spring as she expresses in this interview on her work.
Ahmed Matar’s poem has also been used by the great Syrian singer and musician Safwat Sabri—see the clip below. And here Safwat Sabri celebrates the Jaish al-Houriya—the Free Syrian Army.
Thanks to Andy Morgan for his translation of Ahmed Matar’s poem. Visit www.andymorganwrites.com to read his journalism, focused on the music, politics, and society of West Africa and the Sahara.
Souad Massi will be playing at the Barbican, London, on Sunday, and again at the Womad festival in July.