100 songs that changed history

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Time Out explores the music that changed the course of world events

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    ‘Irhal’ – Ramy Essam (2011)

    Irhal means ‘leave’ (as an imperative) in Arabic and became the anthem of the Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square against President Mubarak’s dictatorial regime.

    Popular poetry, improvised colloquial verse and a mix of high and low Arabic characterised the protest’s political slogans, and singer Ramy Essam set this particular chant to a simple acoustic guitar backing. He became a YouTube sensation and a revolutionary figurehead of the Arab Spring.

    Mubarak finally got the message to ‘Irhal’ and was forced to resign, but when Essam returned to the square after this historic announcement, he was identified as an agitator, arrested and detained for four hours, during which time he was beaten and Tasered.

    'Irhal' is one of the most influential songs on the mordern age. And so it should be, considering the source material: the song itself was stitched together from the catchiest chants Essam heard while camped out in Tahrir Square.

    But what really makes 'Irhal' significant is how it caught the public imagination, and conscience, at precisely the right moment. 'Irhal' struck a resonant chord with Egypt's dissatisfied citizens, and the rest is, literally, history. It's this ability to give a unified voice to a disparate crowd which makes music such a powerful catalyst. Intriguingly, the acoustic flamenco stylings of 'Irhal' belie Essam's actual musical tastes, which run more toward metal. He didn't think he could make a living playting heavy rock, however, so it'll be interesting to see if 'Irhal' opens up a new future for him.


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