Ramy Essam on life in European exile, his new album and his plans to return to Egypt

The 30-year-old songwriter turned protester has been hailed by some as the “voice of the Egyptian revolution” for his Tahrir Square anthem Irhal

What happens to a protest music artist when the soldiers are rolled back and the tear gas disperses?

This was a question Ramy Essam faced when he landed in Malmo in 2014. Hailed by some as the “voice of the Egyptian revolution” for his Tahrir Square anthem Irhal, the then 27 year-old rocker had gratefully accepted the offer of safe city residence. Essam describes the initial relief of being away from the eyes of the Egyptian security establishment, who had locked him up twice before, as being quickly replaced with a gnawing sense of isolation.

“It was weird, man,” he says on a recent visit to Dubai. “You are talking to an Egyptian from the streets, from a revolution that came straight from Cairo to Sweden. It was a culture shock in so many ways.”

It wasn’t Malmo’s mixture of modern and 14th-century Gothic architecture, a world far way to gritty streets of Cairo, that struck Essam.

Instead, he points to the Scandinavian city’s lack of social interaction and hustle and bustle as the most disconcerting element.