Friday, January 28, 2011

What are they chanting in #Egypt, #Yemen, #Tunisia? Tell us; translate for us.

Update: Since I wrote the text below, I found a list of slogans on The Angry Arab News Service and have posted a link to it. However, the process of capturing the slogans, their meanings, context, and capturing their magic continues. For example, I used part of a translation in my post about the list at ANN, but updated it a bit. Check it out, and please contribute!

To coin a phrase, the graffiti that revolutions yield lives after them; the slogans are oft interred with the bones. The most exhilarating part of a street movement is often the slogans being chanted. They range from crude obscenity-laced condemnations to sublime, uplifting calls to the better angels of human nature. But almost invariably, chanted right, they have one thing in common: they are lyrical, musical, and poetic. Just as government and society is, at least for the duration of the movement itself, democratized and taken over by the people, in moments like the one we're seeing in The Maghreb, Al Ifriqiya, and the Arab lands today, my art—communication in general and the language and musical arts in particular—is taken back by those it belongs to: the People. The People of The Language, "Ahl-e-Zubaan" we call them in South Asia, take the art form to passionate heights that only those passionately engaged with the subject matter can attain.  And, quite frankly and selfishly, I would like be a part of it; to partake of this revolution by partaking of this art form. And if this is a revolution that belongs to all of us, then everybody else should, too.

My own experience in this art form is mainly from South Asia (Pakistan and India, mainly) with some exposure to US and Nigerian chants, I am tantalized by bits and pieces I am hearing chanted in one of the world's oldest and richest languages in the streets of Tunisia, Misr, and Yaman (and even The Hejaz?). Did I hear "Barra! Barra! Barra!"? That's Down! Down! Down! right? as in "Down with Mubarak"? How is What was the line that went after it? How is "Kefaya!"—Enough! the name of the movement and iconic exclamation of Egyptian protesters for a few years now—chanted?

I would like to request, beg, supplicate those on the ground, and watching from afar and who speak Arabic to please post the words, chants, songs, etc. and—as importantly—translate for us what is being said. And, of course, translations can not and do not do complete justice to any work of art; but let us get alternate translations, word help, and dare I say a concordance going.

You can post your input as comments below, or on my Facebook status where this turns up, or via twitter with the hashtag #ArabicChant
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