Last Thursday, St. Edward’s welcomed internationally renowned singer and activist Ramy Essam. Essam hails from Egypt and has become a prominent figure of social activism, frequently referred to as “The Voice of the Egyptian Revolution.” Essam’s songs “Irhal,” and “Leave,” quickly became the anthem of the revolution and the soundtrack of a generation.
A simplistic stage set up of a microphone stand and acoustic guitar established a humble, yet powerful atmosphere.
When asked what inspires his music, Essam stated that music did not initially play a big role in his life. “Everything came gradually. Finding music was a coincidence,” Essam said. It all began at 20 when Essam met a poet who writes political lyrics.
“This was my first major source of inspiration,” Essam continued. “This is when I began to compose words that have meaning and message.”
Around this time, Essam became captivated by rock music, drawing influence from bands like “Nirvana,” “Rage Against the Machine” and “System of a Down.”
Fame, however, came with a price. “The fame has not caused me problems,” Essam said. “It is actually a form of protection.”
With substantial eminence, Essam is shielded from the affliction of Egyptian authorities and potential detainment.
“Music is the strongest peaceful weapon,” Essam said. “We have been fighting violence with nonviolence, and that is the best way to fight.”
The peak of the 2011 through 2013 revolution reverberates in Essam’s head, manifesting into ambition to move forward in pursuit of turning communal dreams into reality.
Essam has lost many friends in the fight for freedom. “Every single drop of blood shed in the revolution should be motivation to continue,” Essam said.
“They [the oppressors] can stop demonstrations, they can stop ground protest, but they will never stop the painter, poet, dancer, or singer,” Essam said. “They can stop anything, but they cannot stop art.”
Essam maintained that music and arts have the capacity to change both people and society; he feels lucky to be able to witness the effect it has had on the people of his country. It became a means of survival—a social energizer—to the trodden and oppressed during tumultuous times. Essam mentioned that the songs resonantly express the thoughts, feelings and wishes of the people.
Essam’s residency in Sweden has brought a new perspective to his musical process; however, Essam revealed that it is not always ideal. “It was a culture shock in so many ways,” Essam said.
In bouts of disconnect, social media has aided in projecting Essam’s message across seas. “Without social media, I would not exist as an artist,” Essam said. Although safety is not always guaranteed in Egypt, it will always be his home.
The Egyptian singer ended the night on a hopeful note, encouraging everyone to sing along to his final song.
“How many of you are making art?” Essam asked. He smiled as the majority of the room raised their hands. “Keep doing that,” he said. “And always try to carry a positive message through it.”