Is it simply freedom of artistic expression or a political act? The flood of songs on YouTube that support or mock a presidential candidate begs the question.
Just like poetry, song has always been a way to communicate information or express resistance, becoming sometimes a propaganda tool, as is the case today. Aiming to influence the listeners within a short time – usually three minutes – songs posted online summarise the candidate's views and beliefs.
Abul Fotouh, Ahmed Shafiq and Hazem Abu Ismail are the three candidates who dominate the forefront of the presidential campaigns with songs uploaded on YouTube. While their musical genres vary, each of them addresses a specific audience.
Though the songs are produced by unknowns and the singers, arrangers and songwriters, likewise maintain anonymity, one thing is evident: they must be partisans or opponent of a chosen presidential candidate.
One example is the simple melody of the song supporting Ahmed Shafiq reminiscent of Egyptian school hymns. The audience watches a slide show of Shafiq, which links him with quotes from renowned writers and thinkers, such as: writer Farida El-Shoubashi; writer and thinker Lamis Gaber and Egyptian-American scientist Farouk El-Baz.
Although on one occasion Shafiq is presented as a saviour of the poorest social classes, the song targets the middle class of a particular generation, playing on their nostalgia. Whether in a suit or in a sweater, the photographs of Shafiq aim to stress his ability to create consensus. The song ends with a phrase concluding why we should vote for Shafiq, claiming that with him, we will recapture our era of heroes.
Two songs created for Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, one based on a folkloric musical material (mawwāl), the other on shaabi (Egyptian popular) music, target underprivileged classes from the rural areas. Using the mawwāl (traditional improvised singing), the lyrics state: "A man has the freedom to say yes or no, but even if there are a million candidates, Abul-Fotouh is the only one who deserves our approval." This transitions into a song that becomes like a hilali epic (oral poem), representing Abul-Fotouh as a mythical hero, invincible and courageous. The final shots give us the expected conclusion: Abul-Fotouh is born to be a president.
The shaabi song is kept in the style promoted by the popular singer, Shaaban Abdel Rahim, built on simple, loud and repetitive rhythmic accents. The vocabulary used in this song reflects words often used by simple class, such as otna (our doe) or el-reghif (bread).
However, the songs not only enumerate their candidate's qualities but also dissuade against candidates.
A song titled Highway to Abu Ismail, for instance, copying the 1979 Highway to Hell song by hard rock/heavy metal band legend AC/DC, clearly makes Abu Ismail a bad candidate for the youth seeking freedoms.
The group makes direct references to the life of the youth that will change drastically if Abu Ismail becomes president: "Forget beer. Forget Pepsi. Forget the toothpaste and use siwak [a twig hardline Muslims use to clean their teeth, following a tradition of the Prophet]. Forget bikinis, forget strap shirts: Hazem Abu Ismail will cover all the women! Our base is in religion." Not without significance; the song became very popular on the internet.
Mirroring the socio-political realities, the songs expose a variety of social norms and preferences. Considering their political nature, no doubt the song will also become an important historic and social documentation of the current era.