Ever since Egyptians took to the streets on 25 January to overthrow the Hosni Mubarak regime, people have tried to document events and capture the dynamics among Tahrir Square's protesters. Accounts from the square describe a mini “Utopian” community, united by a common cause despite differences in ideology as well as social, cultural and economic backgrounds.
For 18 days, a real sense of citizenship was created at the square. Photographic images, video footage, documentary films, graffiti, caricatures and music were all employed to capture these moments.
The Utopia Choir–which performed twice this week at Downtown’s Rawabet Theater and Al-Hanager Theater on the Cairo Opera House Grounds–stands out among these attempts, as it seeks not to document but highlight positive values from the square that its members hope will endure. The Utopian theme was conceived by choir members in early January, before the uprising began.
“The idea was originally to find alternative ways to critique the status quo by imagining a different future, despite the constraints at the time,” explained Salam Yousry, artistic director of the Choir Project.
The Utopia Choir is the fourth performance made by the Choir Project, which invites members of the public with little or no background in music or performance arts to participate in weeklong workshops, during which lyrics are collectively written and turned into songs for public performance.
The project, which aims to provide tools for collective self-expression, started in May 2010, when the Cairo Complaints Choir–a local rendition of the Complaints Choir project by Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kallleinen–performed as the opening act for the Invisible Publics contemporary art exhibition at the Townhouse gallery. Twenty-five young men and women developed four songs over the course of a six-day workshop wittily criticizing the Egyptian political regime and social and cultural problems in Egypt.
They brought in a foreign company to clean up Egypt’s streets
The ‘Europe 2000’ experts made them bigger garbage heaps….
God help us bro, they’ve extended the Emergency Law!
Ever since, the choir became an independent project, exploring the same issues through different themes, such as The Ads Choir last October and The Proverbs Choir last December. As new members continued to join, the choir became “a small yet growing community,” as Yousry described it. Over 50 members have so far joined the Utopia Choir.
On 15 February, an open call for participation was issued, and many people joined wanting to share their experiences and anecdotes from Tahrir Square. “We didn't want to merely commemorate the events, but to highlight the values that made it possible, and which should be institutionalized within our communities to bring about real change,” said Yousry.
The most important of these, say project participants, was the ability to dream and work for a different life. Therefore, choir members decided to work on a song envisioning a day in the life of a future Egyptian. There is no longer fear. There’s abundance and optimism. The choir sang:
Woke up in the morning happy and jolly
Opened his window his face was smiley
The sun is shining clean air fills all our homes
His city called on him offering unlimited hopes
In the second song, the choir sought to emphasize the reasons behind the protests, stressing that, despite the slandering of protestors by state media as foreign conspirators, they were Egyptians “from the fields and the factories.” The choir also chanted a number of slogans from the protests.
This, says Aya Mostafa, who was also a member of the Proverbs Choir, is meant to remind people and encourage them to keep up the necessary energy and momentum for sought-after political reforms
Change, freedom social justice ….
Revolt, revolt until victory revolt, revolt in every street of thee…..
Raise all the flags of Victory we are the youth who’ll liberate our country
Neither song made mention of Mubarak or key figures of his regime. “These people are gone. We are focusing on values and the changes called for by protesters,” said Yousry.
Tell the ruler in the palace you’re a mob that’s been robbing us
Under the dome, businessmen amass exploiting the workers
The coming period will be as crucial as the Tahrir protests were, say choir members. The army played an important role. It is, however, not over.
We’ve been educated in school that the army is our guardian
We’ve been taught in military service that our duty is to protect the people and their freedom
The Choir Project will conduct a workshop in Jordan and perform at the Music Freedom Day next month.
“This will be the first workshop held outside Cairo. I am quite excited about it,” said Yousry. “But my real ambition is to conduct these workshops with young people in various Egyptian governorates. I am sure the results would be highly rewarding.”