EGYPT: Resala Ela Magles El Amn - Ramy Essam
Updated: Jan 20
Essam's powerful guitar playing and impassioned vocals make for a hugely enjoyable album.
Rock is probably my favourite genre of music, nothing quite gets to me quite like it, and this is an excellent album that really rocks. What’s more, Ramy Essam feels authentic. He doesn’t for a moment feel like a poser or like he’s putting on an act. Even though I have no idea what he’s singing about, he seems like the real deal. Essam came to prominence during the Egyptian revolution, singing in Tahrir Square. His song Irhal (not on this album) was directed at Hosni Mubarak. It means ‘leave’. For this, he was labelled an agitator, arrested, and beaten. It became an anthem of the revolution. His songs are banned from airplay in Egypt, and he was banned from performing live. Essam now lives in Scandinavia. All of this is necessary backstory to understanding Essam as an artist, and as to why the album title translates to ‘Letter to the UN Security Council’. His songs are mostly political, and I only wish I could understand the lyrics. But, aside from a few songs that have subtitled music videos on Youtube, I can’t. So, I can only tell you what I think of him as a musician. That said, this backstory I’ve just detailed highlights why his album feels authentic. Because it is. Jack Black, in the wonderful film School of Rock, states that rock music isn’t about winning awards, it’s about sticking it to the man. The spirit of rock is that of rebelliousness, of going against the grain, of challenging authority, and I can’t think of anyone who fits those labels as well as Ramy Essam.
“He can sing aggressively and loudly and be convincing, but also softly and more delicately if needed, but he always does it with sincerity."
Overall, I have to say this is a pretty flawless effort. As aforementioned, it’s authentically rocky and aggressive, and the musicianship is excellent. He expertly combines traditional rock and hard rock guitars and rhythms with more traditionally Middle-Eastern drums and backings, which goes together incredibly well. So, there is a fair amount of interesting music aside from just rock guitars and powerful singing. There’s even one track, Segn Bel Alwan, where he invites a guest artist named Malikah to rap in Arabic. It’s not a mix of genres that necessarily should work – rap, rock, Arabic music – but it does. In addition, there are songs like Saura and El-Geel El Fosfaty that lean towards heavy metal, but he never goes too thrashy on the album. You can feel the passion and anger in his voice when he’s singing the louder tracks, and it's a righteous anger. Both songs have English translations on Essam's Youtube channel, and translate to 'Revolution' and 'The Phosphate Generation', so the passion and urgency with which he sings is appropriate and understandable.
However, songs like Fe Aáhd El Zalem have a real tender beauty to them. His acoustic guitar playing is just as good as his harder, rockier stuff. This is another one of the songs for which there is an English lyric translation, and the title translates to Era Of The Dictator, and the poignant lyrics that describe the struggle of living under an oppressive dictatorship fit well with the softer tone of the song. His voice is suited to both too. He can sing aggressively and loudly and be convincing, but also softly and more delicately if needed. Either way he always does it with sincerity. If I had to level a criticism against the album, it would be that the latter half is stronger than the first. The first half is still pretty good, with the stand out track being Dabora We Short We Cap, but everything from El Horreya Lel Gada’an onwards is pretty much perfect, with that song in particular being a great rock song. I had it in my head for days after listening.
The only thing that I’m annoyed about is that I can’t understand the lyrics. I’m sure if you can understand Arabic there’s plenty of depth to the lyrics considering his political and social conscience, and that’s the one part I can’t meaningfully engage with. This will be a recurring issue with some albums during this project, but I felt it very keenly here. That said, I did enjoy it greatly despite that fact, which to me suggests that this is a particularly strong hard rock album.