From ALQ: A Playlist for the Underground Music Scene of Post-Revolutionary Egypt

The most recent JOKE-themed issue of ArabLit Quarterly features, among other things, an anonymous essay examining the joke as a counter-hegemonic discourse in the underground music scene of post-revolutionary Egypt.

We have put together a YouTube playlist of the songs discussed in this essay, and share a translated excerpt from Ramy Essam’s “Balaha” below.

Ramy Essam – “Balaha”

Album cover for "Balaha" by Ramy Essam. On the cover, a man in a black t-shirt and jeans, with a white fur poncho, stands on top of a brown freight container. The photo is taken from below against a blue sky with clouds.

Ramy Essam is one of the very few underground artists to have accepted public talks, interviews, or academic collaborations since 2011. This contributed to his detention and torture in 2011 and 2014. He was finally able to leave the country in 2014, after he was granted a safe-haven entry to Sweden as part of Malmö’s sanctuary program. Still, in response to “Balaha” (‘Date’, 2018), one of Essam’s most daring protest songs, Essam’s Egyptian passport was revoked and seven people were arrested in connection with the song, including filmmaker and director Shady Habash, lyricist Galal El-Behairy, and web designer Mustafa Gamal. On May 1, 2020, Habash died of medical neglect at the age of 24 in the infamous Tora Prison after nearly 800 days in pre-trial detention. El-Behairy and Gamal still remain in prison to this day.

Hey little brittle Balaha dates

Your four years have passed by in disgrace

We’ve been too long with your grace

And we’re sick of your dumb face

So may God answer our prayers

And punish you slap-head

As you take your gang boys by the hand

And go rot in Tora Prison

Eh, Balaha dates!

Four years have passed without a trace

While the people are in dire straits

You beg here and there for pennies

And go spoil your judiciary rotten

Then say you’ll raise a new generation

By building new jails with iron gates!

Well, thank you, mister corrupt president

Little brittle Balaha dates!

A lousy clumsy screw-up in every way

You sold them our land and gave it away

And still they kicked your ass like a sock ball,

Snatched the Nile, and built a dam

So you dug a canal, may you win

But now we know it’s just a ditch

All you do is spin your webs

Little brittle Balaha dates!


For more chants, photos, poetry, short stories, and essays on THE JOKE, get the most recent issue of ArabLit Quarterly digitally through Exact Editions or Gumroad, or in print via Am*zon and participating bookshops.