In addition to making documentaries and shorts, I've had the privilege to direct music videos for talented and inspiring artists.
In the last few months, I've directed "The Wish" for Raquy, an American playing Middle Eastern music, and "Mun Nuer" for a young Nuer singer whose beautiful voice reminds those back home that just because she is in New York doesn't mean she has forgotten the beauty of Sudan. These videos are important to me because they are made by people working with what they have to open the world up to their unfiltered experiences.
As events were unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt this past week, I began receiving excited email messages from my friend Stephan Said. Stephan is a troubadour for justice with a sound that bridges pop, rap, rock and world folk music. You may know Stephan because he's recorded several albums of moving love and protest songs. Patti Smith and Pete Seeger have sung backup for him. DJ Spooky remixed "The Bell" and Dave Matthews covered it. Together we've been working on creating a place on the web where the next generation of musicians can express themselves as part of a movement for global social change, Difrent.org.
In that spirit, Stephan wanted to release a song from his coming album early and asked that we make a video together.
So, last Friday, as I waited for Stephan, I watched Al-Jazeera's Cairo bureau live online. I saw a reporter I met once and realized that I know people in the midst of all this. I got a jolt of energy as he spoke eloquently and dramatically of watching the people of Egypt make their move. I thought hard about what a change in leadership in Egypt could mean for the populations of its closest neighbors.
South Sudan has just successfully completed the referendum to secede from the North. At this time, the participation of the government in the North seems necessary to complete the action of separation. Could these anti-government protests roll across borders? Would an outbreak of the democratic impulse inspire the marginalized people in North Sudan? Would they dare attempt to overthrow Bashir? If they did, as in Egypt, would this mean that truly free-loving people would end up in charge at the end?
This is about when Stephan arrived at my apartment. In his arms were blank cards and his laptop, which was going to double as a boom box.
Stephan had a song he thought captured the moment. For him, a change in Egypt could mean a change everywhere. Whether or not Egypt has the worst dictator in the world, at this moment, as the world becomes more interconnected, people have the need more than ever to control their own lives, so that they can respect themselves. Who is against that?
We honed various ideas into a simple proposition: Stephan would style his performance like Dylan's in Pennebaker's documentary Don't Look Back. The video would be Stephan holding cards on which the lyrics would be written in English. Simple. But I didn't know what it was really about. And I began to get a little nervous. What we were doing was meant to inspire people, but inspire them to what end? Would it have a political message? And if it did, could that message be misused?
I was worried for no reason. Stephan's song is a fresh take on words with a storied past. It is an interpretation of a classical Egyptian poem, "Aheb Eisht Al Hurriyeh," (I Love the Life of Freedom) written by Egyptian Poet-Laureate Ahmed Shawki. It was first set to music by renowned composer, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, in the 1930's. Every Egyptian knows the song. Two years ago, Stephan took the words and composed his own new music. I fell in love with the song in Stephan's live, dramatic, orchestral version which he recorded and was produced by Grammy winner Hal Wilner.
So as Stephan sat with the sharpie in my living room, we discussed the meaning of the lyrical poem, and worked for a kind of poetic translation from Arabic to English. What is a bird? What is freedom? In my mind, the question became something probably a little abstract: what does it mean when a person becomes a poem? Can a person stay that way? Probably not.
As we headed up on the roof, we could imagine what has happened in the last few days - the assault on innocent, peaceful protest which can anger us beyond words. Now more than ever, we need to stand up for non-violence in the face of brutality.
If you like this video and this song, feel free to share it. On Stephan's site there is are details to help you be a part of our remix project. We urge you to stand up up for
I LOVE THE LIFE OF FREEDOM
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