News / Middle East

Egyptian Singer Tackles Real, Metaphorical Walls

Elizabeth ArrottJaphet Weeks
The Fair Play international music awards honor young musicians for their work exposing corruption and oppression around the world.  This year's winner, who will travel to Brazil in November to receive her award, comes from Egypt. 

Egyptian songwriter Youssra el-Hawary is new to performing, but she won the global music award with her first video Al Soor, or The Wall.

El-Hawary set her video against walls built by Egypt's military rulers earlier this year around government ministries in Cairo.

Youssra El Hawary, 29 at her home in Cairo. (Yuli Weeks/VOA)Youssra El Hawary, 29 at her home in Cairo. (Yuli Weeks/VOA)
Youssra El Hawary, 29 at her home in Cairo. (Yuli Weeks/VOA)
Youssra El Hawary, 29 at her home in Cairo. (Yuli Weeks/VOA)
In a light and lilting voice, el-Hawary tells the story of a “poor man” who stands before a wall and “peed - on the wall, and on those who built it.”

It's a cheeky dig at the authorities, at one with the sunny scenes protesters painted on the imposing walls.

But the lyrics, from a poem by her friend Walid Taher, were written in 2005, well before last year's revolution. "When Walid wrote it, he didn't mean this wall, of course.  It was more like a philosophy, about any wall," she said.

The military's walls have since fallen, like the old government before it.  But even after democratic elections, el-Hawary says, other barriers remain.

"For the government, I see that nothing changed.  I don't see that we have more freedom now actually.  It's still the same.  Actually, I face more problems in the arts after the revolution,” she said.

El-Hawary lives on a bustling street not far from Cairo's Tahrir Square.  In general, she is optimistic, heartened that her fellow Egyptians have been empowered by the revolution.  And despite growing concern for women under an Islamist government, she says she has not suffered for not wearing the veil.

Watch Youssra el-Hawary perform Al Soor, or The Wall (Video by Japhet and Yuli Weeks)

There is a freshness to the 29-year-old singer, who also is an actor and a mime - a contrast to the pop trends common among her contemporaries.

And then there is the accordion. "I wanted to play an instrument that I can take anywhere because I was very jealous of my friends," said el-Hawary. "They can take guitars on trips or something.  And I play piano, so I can't take it anywhere.”

Although the instrument is played in Egypt, el-Hawary evokes a French style that she balances with Middle Eastern melodies.  She says the novelty of “a young girl playing the accordion in Cairo” helped make The Wall a success.  She recalls posting the video late one night.

"I woke up the next morning with my phone saying that I had 350 emails and 400 notifications on Facebook and I said, 'There's something wrong with my phone,'" she said.

The song went viral, catching the attention of the Fair Play judges in Brazil, where she will receive her prize in November and take part in a “Voices Against Corruption” festival.  Hers is a political voice, and a strong one, yet light, cheerful and sly.

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Haanh
September 13, 2012 10:37 AM
That's great

by: sinan from: Turkey
September 12, 2012 7:53 PM
it is very nice to read this article and listen these good musics.

by: SAma
September 11, 2012 8:24 PM
congratulations Youssra , keep it up

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs