Ramy - In The Frontline – Live Report & Reviews
The events of Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 began when thousands of protesters gathered to insist on the resignation of President Mubarak. Twenty two year old musician Ramy Essam joined the protesters, singing battle songs, and in the process becoming an icon of the people. Since these events, Ramy has taken sanctuary in Sweden and Finland, and tours internationally with his songs about democracy and peace. In 2016 Ramy collaborated with Finnish theatre company Viirus and director Maria Lundström to create a theatrical experience about the protest, the Arab Spring, and the impact that they have had on Ramy’s life and values. This live report from the frontline of activism comes to Summerhall this year, merging gig-theatre with mixed media to provide a snapshot into Ramy’s experiences and a chance to take part in his story.
Read the Reviews:
“There are very few words that can do justice to the monumental and utterly sublime performance that ‘Ramy - In the Frontline’: it is almost beyond qualifying by star writings. ‘Ramy - In the Frontline’ is a musical exposé of notorious Egyptian musician Ramy Essam: presenting the history of the Egyptian Revolution through anecdote, visual media and through song. Ramy is a masterful narrator telling the tragic tale of the oppression of Hosni Mubarak and brutality the Egyptian police and military upon the Egyptian people. However, this in no way matches up to the raw emotive power of his music that - with the English translations of the Arabic lyrics beamed up behind him - use subtle and personal imagery to convey the spirit of Egyptian protest to the audience. Even if one were to disregard the lyrics on the screen, the language barrier does little to intrude upon the power of this music - it holds immense power whether it be performed to hundreds of thousands of people in Tahrir Square or 40-person in a lecture theatre in Edinburgh.
The show is in part presentation and in part musical performance - with imaginative and well thought out use of tech to ensure the utmost clarity is given to the audience. And this is utilised to harrowing effect - the audience are shown the worst horrors of the Mubarak regime: from police brutality to torture. The pace of this journey through recent Egyptian history is perfectly composed as Ramy pauses frequently to explain the historical significance of various aspects of his story: whether that be to broader Egyptian history or to him personally. And for when his words are not enough his musical talent is. There is a certain artistic position that music can hold where it is able to transcend other art forms - being greater than merely the sum of the lyrics on paper and the instrumentation that accompanies them. The soft, deep texture of his voice combined with his masterful control of his guitar convey levels of emotion that are enough to bring forth tears of empathy and raise fists in protest. It was truly mesmerising.
For many the idea of a 1960s spirit of protest is but myth: something talked about in only idealistic tones. However, the audience tonight catches a rare glimpse of what these myths may truly mean. His exposition adds depth to the songs: allowing the audience - just for moment - to share in the most horrors of the Mubarak regime with graphic visual depictions of the violence of the revolution. However, Ramy has a unique ability to convey a sense of hope for the future of Egypt with his words and his music.
If you have ever doubted the ability of music and art to change the world, to change the way an individual may feel then ‘Ramy on the Frontline’ is all you need to reaffirm your faith in its sublime power. This is a life affirming performance that will have you walking the streets of Edinburgh with both tears in your eyes and a hopeful feeling of euphoria in your heart: stirring things within you that you thought were never there. Not only is it possibly the most revelatory thing you might see at the Fringe, it is a crucially important artistic and political statement that demands your attention and admiration. It is truly spellbinding and enchanting; a sublime testament to the power of music.”
“To put ‘Ramy: In The Frontline’ into words feels like reducing it to something smaller. It is a rare experience that leaves you feeling changed. Ramy Essam believes that music can change people. Known for his protest music during the Arab Spring in an attempt to overthrow President Mubarak, he tells his audience that art is one thing that a dictator cannot destroy. Even a dictator can’t enter someone’s head and kill the impulse to create.
To show the full depths of the hell of the Mubarak regime, Ramy uses an onstage screen to play the videos of police brutality uploaded by the officers themselves that sparked a revolution. They are horrendous. Ramy shows photos of a man’s face before and after being assaulted by the police: he has been beaten out of recognition. There are clips that make your stomach curdle and your throat close up. They are acts of such inhumanity that most of us would try to distance ourselves from knowing about them, to not see the full force of the horror that exists in the world. When he tells of his own torture at the hands of the Egyptian police and his determination to keep the revolution alive, you realise how privileged you are to be listening to such an incredible man. Ramy shows us the utter worst that humanity is capable of, before rebuilding hope by showing the best that humanity can achieve. Videos of protesters dancing to the news of Mubarak’s resignation are gloriously uplifting. Despite travelling to hell and back, ‘Ramy’ is one of the most gloriously life-affirming things that you could possibly see. If you’ve ever doubted the redemptive power of art, music, and humanity, Ramy will change that.
As a speaker and a musician, Ramy is utterly riveting. When he sings in Arabic and the translated lyrics roll down the screen, it is impossible to look away from him to seek a meaning that you can consciously recognise. Ramy’s music feels otherworldly, and just hearing him is enough. Pressing the microphone to his forehead, eyes closed, his voice is pure, uncorrupted emotion that is shattering to hear, pulling you in like a siren call. As well as narrating the harrowing, and he holds back nothing, Ramy speaks passionately about all that inspires him: about the unifying power of music, the importance of solidarity, and his hope for the next generation. It is a privilege to listen to him, to the point where the show feels like it ends too soon, even though it is a relatively lengthy piece for the Fringe. This is quite simply a piece without flaws, that radiates emotion even through the gorgeously intricate graphics that introduce key places and figures of the revolution to the audience.
‘Ramy’ is so heart-wrenchingly urgent and beautiful that it almost makes everything else seem insignificant. It is art at its purest form, but also transcends its boundaries. I cried all the way through it, and left stunned. Ramy Essam is an extraordinary man creating extraordinary art, and it would be unbearable to miss it. This is one of the most remarkable things you will ever see.”