Music and Resistance


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When the gun is replaced by the melody: how does music resist?

‘Even if they don’t have a message, the act of actually playing music itself is resistance,’ says Dr. Sara McGuiness, senior teaching fellow in Music at SOAS.

Classical Thai musician Luang Pradit Pairoh fought through the melodies of his songs surrounded by oppression; Ahmed Maher signed petitions to bring down the Morsi government in Egypt whilst at concerts around the country, and the melody of an old Catalonian song travelled almost a century of different resistance movements.

This is a podcast of musical adventures. It features conversations with musicians, writers and academics with special guest appearances from random people pulled off the street.


The podcast was produced by Lara Şarlak, Fino Patanasiri, Diego M. Mosquera and Kelly O’Donovan, students on ‘Digital broadcasting‘, an MA course taught as part of the skills training options offered to MA students studying within the school of arts (which combine music, media and history of art and archeology) at SOAS, University of London. This course exposes students to the latest thinking in digital podcasting, social media research and social entrepreneurship. During the course students make a group podcast on a theme related to research at SOAS and are encouraged to disseminate them as widely as possible using digital platforms. Pod Academy is involved in the teaching on the course.


Ahmed Maher: Listening to the concert on a CD and attending one on the street, in the middle of everything cannot be compared to one another.

Esteve Sala: They were trying to mobilize a society against the dictatorship with their songs.

Fino Patinasiri: So instead of fighting back actively, he chose to use music as a weapon of hidden resistance.

Vox Pops

E contare e camminare insieme, lo sai fare?

Sì, penso di sì…

Allora forza. Conta e cammina. Dai.

Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette, otto..

[Song: Modena City Ramblers (I Cento Passi) ]

Vox pop: My resistance song is “i cento passi.” It is the story of the son of a mafia boss who resisted against his father and go killed in Italy, and no one ever spoke about it for a long time.

[Song: Chuck Berry (Roll Over Beethoven)]

Vox pop: “Roll Over Beethoven” is a protest song because it was a sort of protest against almost a sort of your parents’ culture, your grandparents’ culture.


[Song: Ton Steine Scherben (Live on TV)]

Vox pop: “Ton Steine Scherben”

[Song: Bob Marley (Exodus)]

Vox pop: Umm, “Exodus”? Bob Marley.

[Song: Victor Jara (Los Estudiantes)]

Vox pop: “Los Estudiantes” by Victor Jara.

[Song: I Solisti Dell’Oltrepo Pavese (Bella Ciao)]

Vox pop: This guy called Deniz Gezmiş. He was executed by the Turkish army. He was whistling this song. “Rodrigo’s Guitar.”

[Concierto De Aranjuez For Guitar And Orchestra: II – Narciso Yepes]

Vox pop: My favorite resistance song is “Bella Ciao.” It’s about the partisan movements and resistance to fascism in Italy.

[Song: Shehzad Roy(Ham Aek Hein)]

Vox pop: In Pakistan there is a growing tradition of songs about unity. There’s one called “Ham Aek Hein”, which in Urdu means “We are one.”

[crowds cheering ‘’Azadi song]

Vox pop: Kashmir is a conflict zone, so there are many resistance songs. People sing against the Indian state. Azadi. “Azadi” means freedom. So they always chant, “What do we want? We want freedom.”

[Song: N.W.A.(Fuck the Police)]

Vox pop: Particular song, ummm. I don’t know. N.W.A., “Fuck the Police.” That’s kind of a guess. But I’m quite into like hip hop. I guess that’s kind of a form of resistance, kind of voice of the oppressed working against oppression. Yeah.


[Song: Okay Temiz (East Breeze)]

Dorian Lynskey: I’m Dorian Lynskey. Music journalist, and author of 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs.

Aykut Gürel: My name is Aykut Gürel. I’m a musician, also I’m an arranger and chief of orchestra.

Sara McGuiness My name is Sara McGuiness, and I’m a piano player. I play salsa music, Congolese music and I also teach at SOAS.

DL: When I was a teenager and getting into politics, I was also simultaneously getting into political music. To me, the two were intertwined, and I thought it was an interesting way of telling a lot of political stories and historical stories through the songs. Because if you take certain famous protest songs, just to elaborate the background, you end up expanding in all different areas and introducing all these different narratives. And resistance is like a basic emotion, and music is one of the basic sort of premises of it.

AG: Music is the most powerful tool for the social resistance. Because when people get together, they want to sing a song, all the time. And at that time you can’t choose any pop song or any rock song, you have to find some resistance song.

S Mc: I think there’s many ways that people make resistance songs. Some songs are very blatantly resistance songs, and other songs have a hidden message. I just think even if they don’t have a message, the act of actually playing music itself is resistance. And there’s a debate about whether that might have a meaning, where they’re talking about the government being betrayed, and then just by playing your own music is an act of defiance.

[East Breeze amplified]

Thai Story

Fino Patanasiri (host): Sawasdee Krub! Hi everyone, welcome back to the past.

[Song: Mayura Pirom (The Dance of the Peacock)]

You are now in Thailand, the land of smiles. But, wait! I’m sorry. There’s no one smiling now, because this is the 1940s. Yeah! During the Second World War.

[Song: Ton Trakun Thai (Thai Ancestors)]

Our government sees that the only way to protect our nation is to make Thailand modernised. You need to wear Western costumes. You can’t play music, if you don’t have a license. And you! That’s not the right hairstyle. Go change your hairstyle, and follow the leader. We need to be modernised.

But, how can we be modernised, if we forget our culture?

How can we be civilised, if we forget our roots?

How can we fight against this change?

How can we stop this policy? How can we resist authority when Thailand is no longer a safe place for us to resist anymore?

[Song: San Kumneung (The Song of Sorrow) (Intro)]

Music! Music is also a weapon of resistance. Every note, every movement, and even the silence, can represent a form of hidden resistance.

As Chaichai Srisamut, the head of Education Development Division and Thai classical music professor at Mahidol University, said:

When the leader of the nation passed the law, Luang Pradit Pairoh, one of the well respected Thai classical music teachers, could not resist in the same way. It might not be safe. So, instead of fighting back actively, he chose to use the music as a weapon of hidden resistance. He composed the song, San Kumneung, the song of sorrow.

[Song: San Kumneung (Sam Chan Movement)]

Asdavuth Sagarik, the great grandson of Luang Praditpairoh, analysed the song that:

This song is composed in three speeds, with different moods: Sam Chan, slow, Song Chan, medium, and Chan Deaw, fast.

The movement that you are now listening is Sam Chan, or slow speed. The tone of this part is very sad, like it’s asking the question that what is going on with Thailand. But when it comes to Song Chan, it gets faster. It’s encouraging Thai people to stand up, and do something.

[Song: San Kumneung (Song Chan Movement)]

And Chan deaw, the fastest speed. Fight and Attack!

[Song: San Kumneung (Chan Deaw Movement)]

So, the slow speed represents sadness. The medium is that we need to fight. And the fastest is the call for action. But the question now is, how did Luang Praditpairoh take action against the modernization? Tai Krueng, or the ending part, is the answer.

OK the west, you have cords right? We can do it too.

[San Kumneung (Chan Deaw Movement)]

You have marching rhythm? Is that so difficult?

[San Kumneung (Chan Deaw Movement)]

You have solo, well…

[San Kumneung (Chan Deaw Movement)]

To fight with the Westernisation and modernization, Luang Praditpairoh tried to prove that the West is not that special. We can also do it.

This is one way we can fight!

When the force is replaced by the creativity.

When the gun is replaced by the melody.

And when the music becomes the weapon of hidden resistance.

[San Kumneung (Outro)]

Egypt Story

News Reporter: This is happening right now in Cairo, Egypt. You can see flames coming from party headquarters

Vice President Omar Suleiman My fellow citizens, in these hard circumstances our country is experiencing, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to waive the office of the President of the republic.

[Song:Maktoub (Kaf)]

Ahmed Maher: Music had a very large role in the revolution

I was living in a bubble, a business/married guy who… couldn’t give a shit.

My name is Ahmed Maher, I’m from Alexandria Egypt. I started playing piano when I was eight. I played all my life blues and jazz and oriental music. At the age of 29 I fell in love with the Oud so I started learning it. My music project is called ‘Maktoub’. It’s an Arabic word that means ‘written’, but also means written in destiny and also means written as in music notation, which has… It symbolises what we want to say. That this is instrumental music that we write, you know. We make sure we document for the coming generations to find out that we were here

[Background: Protesters singing in Tahrir square]

Tahrir square and the demonstrations in the eighteen days evolved into a society of people who share common thoughts and you know, think alike and you know have this integrity to say this is wrong about wrong things and this is right about right things and not go along with the flow and that I think is what really changed. There are particular songs that have been used or commonly sung anywhere you go in Tahrir Square. The songs that are used all belong to a different era of the seventies and sixties adn even before that – from the turn of the century.

[Song: Sheikh Imam(El Bahr Beydhak Lieh]

In Egypt, lyrics play a major role. Instrumental music is not prominent. We don’t write music that way. There is a particular song that comes to mind, that’s called El Bahr Beydhak Lieh, which means ‘The cow of haha’. ‘Haha’ is a mockery of the government. A poet and a guy who sings, who’s a blind guy who plays the Oud as well. The poet’s name is Ahmed Foed Negm and the singer’s name is Sheikh Imam.

[Song: Hazem Shaheen and Eskenderella (Safha Gedeeda)]

During the time of Tahrir when things had been peaking, there were iconic pieces of music that are explicitly rebellion and explicitly resisting the power. So there’s this guy, his name is Hazem Shaheen, he’s a prominent Oud player. He’s an amazing Oud player. Also, despite him not having a good voice in my opinion, he formed a musical group. There is the daughter of a prominent poet who died sometime in the seventies, guys from various political activism backgrounds, from right and left and he grouped all of them and he started composing and writing and using pieces and poems from people who passed that talk about the future, talk about Egypt being just and being right and being for everyone. And I sincerely from the bottom of my heart hate his voice and hate the singing, but the power of the songs, the lyrics, is incredible. And the way he gets people to react to it and sing with it is amazing.

[Song:Dina Al Wadidi (El Haram)]

Now I would say, I would maybe go to the period of the Muslim Brothers . I think music played a different role, in keeping us, reminding us, as Egyptians that this is not permanent. I was at the opera house and in the middle of that, a guy and a girl, a bit elderly, they were sitting next to me. They gave me a piece of paper and they said would you like to join and be part of the rebel movement. I’d heard about the rebel movement, which was orchestrated… you denounce the existing government of Muslim Brotherhood and you don’t trust them or what they’re doing and ask them to step down.

[Song: Yasser Almanwahly (Whats new?)]

Now… The same situation happened with me again in a different context, in a different place, different concert, smaller scale. This wasn’t in the opera house, it was smaller-scale in a different… actually it was a different city and someone also approached me, a youngster this time with the same piece of paper and I said ‘I did it’. And then we discovered that yeah, this movement throughout and with what they’ve been doing on the ground, has mobilized around, at least fourteen/fifteen million. This piece of paper being handed out in music concerts across town was at least a way to keep the momentum of the revolution ignited and happening.

[News broadcast from protest site in Egypt]

[Speakers: number of different news readers]

So this is the day that Egyptians have been talking about for a very long time, the 30th June, exactly one year… the revolution evolves as it appears to be entering into a new phase… the popular uprising seemingly heralding the new Egypt… Cairo’s Tahrir Square is again centre of turmoil…At least one person was killed… the question now is, where does Egypt go?

Catalan Story

Documentary presenter (Franco on television): With support from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy the nationalist’s won the ensuing bloody Civil War and Franco assumed power. Murder and suppression of language , culture and more, kept El Codillo on office almost four decades.

[Song: Lluís Llach (L’staca)]

Esteve Sala: Probably L’staca is the song that I most remember from my childhood. It’s a song created by Lluis Llach in 1968 just at the final years of the Franco Dictatorship.

This was a song written at the moment of fight against the dictatorship by a group called “the sixteen judges”. We should remember that during this period, censorship was one of the tools that the dictatorship was using to control mass opinion. So just the fact of singing of singing in Catalan was something revolutionary and against the established political system. When I was like three or four years old I remember listening to this song and it still really emotional for me. Probably one of the key factors of this song is the lyrics. It talks about people fighting together and it’s saying that if we fight together we will able to break this stake that is depriving us from liberty.

Basia Filipek: Hello, I’m Basia. I live in Berlin but I’m from Poland and I was asked question about the Polish song called “Mury” which means the walls.

[Song: Jacek Kaczmarski(Mury)]

So, the song was written in 1978 by a Polish songwriter Jacek Kaczmarski, but originally the music is from a Catalonian song. The song mure got pretty popular in Poland during protests against the communism regime in the 80s. And it became kind of the political anthem for the movement “Solidarity”, which was fighting with[against] communism as well. And the song is about a crowd of people that should destroy the walls that are everywhere around us. The funny story is that it wasn’t supposed to any kind of an anthem.

And actually the end of the song is kind of pessimistic about the walls growing and growing but the crowd was always changing. The last verses end singing that the walls went down.

Well, I don’t have many memories with that song but for example I heard it once on a big rock festival in Poland, when a reggae band was performing it.

[Song: Habakuk(Mury)]

I must say that this song still moving for many young people. Everybody knew the lyrics. Right now is one of the symbols for Polish fight for freedom.

Lamine: Hi, my name is Lamine and I am from Tunisia.

News reader: One day after Hosni set himself on fire, protest erupted in Kasserine. What started in Sidi Bousid, spread to Kasserine and protest quickly followed country wide. On the 14th of January president Ben Ali, stepped down and fletch Tunisia.

{Emel Mathlouthi (Dima Dima)]

Dima Dima is sort of those songs that emerged in the context of the Tunisian Arab Spring. It means “always, always” in Tunisian; and the singer of this song Emel Mathlouthi really represented, was a sort of an icon during the Arab Spring. Her song Kelmti Horra which means, “My world is free”, which she actually performed in the peace Nobel Prize ceremony. This song and the singer are both symbols of the Tunisian Arab Spring. Her voice is very moving first of all, and it just awakens in you sort of rebellious part, I would say. And there’s a lot of melancholy in but there’s also sort of revolutionary side of it. Dima Dima, I didn’t know until very recently at SOAS that it actually, the melody isn’t Tunisian at all and it’s actually from Barcelona. It just reminded me these stadium songs…

These sort of folk popular songs, that when you go to the stadium you think that they were invented by the fans of your team, whereas they actually have been invented actually elsewhere, in Argentina or in Italy; but it is just so catchy and they just represent the moment so much that Lyrics don’t mean anything and they just speak to us all.

Sara McGuiness: Well I guess some people would say that there’s no point in protesting, there’s no point in trying to have a voice because you will be overlooked and ignored and governments and people in power will do what they want anyway. As I said music itself can be a form of resistance. If music’s very powerful then even the music itself… [speaker: Aykut Gürel] Music is the best way if you want to touch people’s hearts and now in a new digital world, the online world, music is almost free and you can… [Fino Patanasiri] This is one way we can fight, when the force is replaced by the creativity, when the gun is replaced by the melody and when the music becomes the weapon…

Music by:

  • Luang Praditpairoh – San Kumneung
  • Maktoub – Kaf
  • Sheikh Imam – El Bahr Byedhak lieh
  • Hazem Shaheen and The Eskenderella Group – Safha Gedeeda
  • Dina El Wedidi – El Haram
  • Lluís Llach – L’Estaca
  • Jacek Kaczmarski – Mury
  • Habakuk – Mury
  • Emel Mathlouthi and Yasser Jeradi – Dima Dima

Picture: Occupy Wall Street by Paul Stein

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