Revolutionary, internationally acclaimed musicians Ramy Essam and ABJEEZ take the stage in back to back performances, presented by Artistic Freedom Initiative.
Featured in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, NPR, and in the documentary film The Square, Egypt’s Ramy Essam exploded into international fame as the real voice of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, when his songs spread like wildfire among the demonstrators. Performing his powerful protest songs for millions in Tahrir Square during the Revolution, Ramy was arrested, tortured and forced to flee Egypt. His songs were banned and he was forbidden to perform publicly. “In the revolution I was born again. The struggle became the purpose of my life,” he says. His recent song Balaha, critical of Egypt’s president in the run up to their recent election, went viral and has resulted in the imprisonment of the poet who composed Balaha’s lyrics. Hailed as the ‘Bob Dylan of Egypt,’ Ramy is a force of nature whose music is impassioned, explosive, and full of fight.
Hailed by the New York Times and BBC for dynamically fusing Iranian soul rhythms with reggae, rock, ska, and flamenco, sisters Melody and Safoura Safavi have been creating spectacularly unique “Persian World Pop” sounds since they formed ABJEEZ over ten years ago. Born in Iran, where “Western” music styles are demonized and women are forbidden from performing solo on stage, Melody and Safoura have sought to not only transcend geographic and sonic boundaries with their songs, but to reach young Iranians through humor and rebelliousness, inspiring creativity in a country that has little exposure to musical diversity. Now living outside of their native Iran, Safoura and Melody use their musical platform to amplify their activism, speaking out on behalf of those being silenced or marginalized.
This concert is organized by Artistic Freedom Initiative, a program of the SDK Foundation for Human Dignity. AFI is a non-profit organization led by immigration and human rights attorneys, providing pro bono immigration representation and resettlement assistance to international artists at risk. In addition to these services, AFI partners with arts and culture organizations, museums, galleries, and performance spaces to create opportunities for artists in their network to showcase their work. Ramy Essam & ABJEEZ are AFI supported artists.
This concert is presented in conjunction with AFI’s exhibition currently on show at the Queens Museum. The exhibition, titled Executive (Dis)Order: Art, Displacement & the Ban, centers on artists who have been impacted by the travel ban or have otherwise faced restrictions on their freedom of movement and expression.
ABJEEZ & Ramy Essam
‘Abjee’ is Persian slang for sister and that’s just what they are: “The Abjeez,” sisters Melody & Safoura Safavi. Though they began writing songs in the late 90s, they didn’t form their band until 2005. The intent behind their work has always been to be an inspiring alternative force in Persian pop music/culture.
When the sisters started their band over 10 years ago, Iran had been “closed” to western culture for nearly 30 years and Persian pop music had become stagnant. Melody & Safoura, who were raised in Sweden and had the chance to nourish their creativity in freedom, wanted to make a change in this matter – and they did!
The music composed by Safoura Safavi is a blend of various musical styles and intends to complement their lyrics in a dynamic, creative way, making their performances effusive and engaging regardless of whether one understands the languages they are performed in. The lyrics written by Melody Safavi are often humorous, socially critical, and primarily in Farsi. But the Abjeez sisters love to sing and perform in different languages, transcending boundaries with songs in Spanish, Swedish and English.
Ramy Essam is considered one of the loudest voices for the young generation in Egypt and its struggle for a progressive and modern society, and has become an international symbol of social activism and a beacon of uncommon bravery in the Middle East.
Egypt’s Ramy Essam exploded into international fame as the real voice of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, when his songs spread like wildfire among the demonstrators. During the height of the uprising, his music became the soundtrack of a whole generation of his countrymen and women struggling for a better life and a more just society. His song Irhal, in which he demands the resignation of then-ruler Hosni Mubarak, is referred to as the real anthem of the revolution. But fame came with a heavy price. Ramy experienced brutal torture and arrests that were meant to silence his voice. His songs were banned and he was forbidden to perform publicly. He resolved to, and has, come out even stronger against oppression.
Currently living in exile in Sweden his voice still rings out as he continues to make a global message heard around censorship, gender equality, and a world without borders. Having recently regained his ability to travel freely, Ramy Essam’s message sounds even louder against the regime who has tried to silence him.