On July 21, 2011, we walked over to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to speak with Massar Egbari, a five-member band from Alexandria, Egypt, to discuss the role of music in the Arab Spring. Their music presents a unique mix of rock, jazz, blues, and Eastern music. One of the few recipients of UNESCO's award for "Young Artist for Intercultural Dialogue between Arab and Western Worlds,"Massar Egbari has become a cultural ambassador for both Egypt and the global community. While promoting freedom of expression in Egyptian society, Massar Egbari's music enables the American public to gain a new perspective on the historic events of the Arab Spring.
Contrary to mainstream Egyptian musicians, Massar Egbari emphasizes the importance of hope, rather than love. The simple message they wish to convey -- "start with yourself" -- furthers the notion of selflessness and personal responsibility. “We let them hear our lyrics…it's not our role to give a solution to the problems, but to expose them,” said lead singer Hani El Dakkak. Ultimately, El Dakkak added, the goal of the band is “to encourage people to change society, to spread positive energy.”
Meaning 'Compulsory Detour' in English, Massar Egbari seeks to portray how an oppressive government tries to overpower an individual's free will and forces him to live a certain way. As drummer Tamar Attallah clarifies, "Even if someone has a dream [of] becom[ing] a football player, first they have to go to school, then to university." The band members expressed their sincere desire to incorporate the fundamental freedoms we enjoy here in the United States into Egyptian society. Through their lyrics, they emphasize the power of peace-building and have made a concerted effort to promote messages of change by infusing their audiences with energy and hope.
In our conversation, the group underscored the role of individuals in changing Egyptian society. As guitarist Mahmoud Siam noted, “Whenever I hear negative comments [from people] about the slow pace of change, I simply look at them and say 'this process for change was never going to happen over-night'." The band expressed the importance of the physical aspects of hard work, coupled with encouraging a mental toughness to stay positive.
Importantly, Massar Egbari described itself as politically neutral. Bassist Ahmed Hafez explained, “If we make a song about elections, it's not that we support any of the parties, but rather to encourage people to participate in the political process -- allowing people to express what they see and whatever they want. But we won't influence their opinion.”
Massar Egbari's role in the Arab Spring movement can be best described as the "quench for the thirst for change in North Africa and the Middle East." Using music as a vehicle to further global understanding of Egyptian society, Massar Egbari work as cultural ambassadors to make a difference for generations to come.