Choirs are a very specific form of assembling – from representing “the people” in Greek tragedy via all kinds of religious choirs, political choirs, revolutionary choirs up to the legendary human mic at Occupy Wall Street and the iconic chants at Tahrir Square in 2011. Theatre director Claudia Bosse, art theorist Alia Mossallam, and the activists of The Church of Stop Shopping discuss the potential (and perhaps dangers), the tenderness, the precarity and the power of synchronised singing, chanting, shouting along concrete artistic and activistic practices in Cairo, New York and Vienna.
Ithbat. Ithbat can be translated as ‘stand still’, ‘steady’ and ‘unshaken’. It was one of the newer chants that were infused into us on the 25th of January 2011 – every time the police launched an offensive, and people started to run, someone would shout “Ithabt” as he or she stopped moving, and then several would shout it, and then tens and hundreds, until thousands would stop. I would close my ears and squeeze my eyes shut and let the thousands of voices shake through me, shake out the fear, and stabilise my resolve. Although the 25th of January revolution was an explosion, it continued to be leaderful without a single leader, and the chants became the way the thousands that met on the squares in Egypt’s cities and villages, could quickly decide what to do and where to go next. A chant would be shouted by one person, and its message would either capture the imagination of thousands, and drive them, or it would not and it would flop. “The people demand the full of the regime” was the flame that came to us from Tunisia, setting the country on fire; the many chants that called on ‘our families’ to join us for our freedom and theirs inspired tens of thousands to join protests without a second thought for the first time in their lives. A chant can move and mobilise like poetry, it can capture your heart like a song, and it can weave a future before you like a vision. For a chant to garner consensus it had to be as promising as it was beautiful, it was the idea around which people assembled and not the person who chanted it.
In this talk, i will trace some of the chants that made the anatomy of the revolution, and the ideas that drove it forward.