Youssra El Hawary: No’oum Nasyeen

Spring’s Hope Eternal 

Listening Post 173. During the Arab Spring, when authorities in Cairo built walls to block demonstrators from entering Tahrir Square, Youssra El Hawary recalled a satirical poem she had read a few years earlier about a wall. Seeing the verse in a new light, she put it to music, then went—accordion in hand—to one of the new barriers and filmed a video. Her clip, El Soor (The Wall), went viral, jumpstarting her career. She formed a band and proceeded to become a fixture of Egypt’s indie music landscape. El Hawary resists the revolutionary-artist label—even though that first video became an anthem of the Egyptian Revolution, even though she sparked renewed interest in the accordion and even though, with No’oum Nasyeen (Wake Up and Forget/نقوم ناسيين), she released her country’s first crowd-funded album. Across the disc’s 11 songs (she wrote music for all, lyrics for two), she blends Egyptian folk, jazz and French chanson, served up with her playful charm and soothing voice in Arabic, simultaneously melodic and conversational. Her stories channel alienation, loss, understanding, independence and love, exposing the shadows in joy and drops of hope in a shower of despair. In Kollena Hannam Belleil (We All Go to Sleep at Night), she posits slumber as a remedy for stress (video 1), then pivots to Bas Kollo Yehoon (I Can Live With That), identifying small graces that make the daylight bearable (video 2). Jessica is a romantic contretemps turned sideways (video 3), while Akbar Men El Ouda (Bigger Than the Room) explores the puzzle of life’s simplicity and complexity (video 4). El Hawary’s stated goal is to reflect her times by casting a critical but loving eye on Cairo, where she routinely observes its heartbreaking and uplifting scenes. Egypt’s Arab Spring came to a premature end, but this artist is proof that some of its flowers still bloom. (DJ Recording)

No’oum Nasyeen
Youssra El Hawary: Vocals, accordion

Shadi El Hosseiny: Piano, Rhodes, organ
Sedky Sakhr: Harmonica, recorder
Carl Capelle: Mandola
Yamen Elgamal: Bass guitar
Mohamed “Mido” Emad: Mandolin, violin, Irish bouzouki
Khaled Yassin: Drums, percussion

Note: El Soor (The Wall) is the song that launched Youssra Hawary’s career in 2012 (video 5).

 

Kollena Hannam Belleil/We All Go to Sleep at Night
Lyrics: Mahmoud Ezzat/Music: Youssra El Hawary
(all lyrics from the Arabic)
We go to sleep at night/We go to sleep at night

Wake up and forget

Hooked on movies and on crowds/On yearning before bed

Hooked on gazing at shop windows/On brands and human beings
Walking through the streets/All the way back home

Growing scared of our houses, and of all the windows

Scared of going home/Of the closing credits
And then we sleep, wake up and forget/We go to sleep at night, wake up and forget
And in the streets, they’ve left a neon lamp on
It stays up all night, for those who couldn’t sleep

And those who couldn’t sleep/Lie on however many beds

Counting up to a million/Counting their cell phones and televisions
Counting missed calls from strangers/Counting the names in their contact list
Counting how many friends are left/Counting the locks on the doors

We go to sleep at night/Wake up and forget
And suddenly we glimpse the morning through the window
And exhausted, we wake up and forget

 

Bas Kollo Yehoun/I Can Live With That
Lyrics: Walid Taher/Music: Youssra El Hawary
Hustle, bustle/Struggle and drudgery

Pounds of fat/And tight narrow footsteps
Dust and wreckage/Wreckage and dust
And sulky grumpy people

But I can live with that/As long as there are still
Girls dolled up on the metro

Boredom and lethargy/A couch, a sweaty sticky couch
An aging fan/A creaky aging fan
But I can live with that/As long as there’s still 
a little balcony in the house

Alone at work/Papers here, there and everywhere
Tons of phone calls, e-mails and questions
A messy depressing desk/Without a single clear spot
And lots of “who sent”, “who lost”, and “who found”?
(And people asking “who sent”, “who lost”, “who found”?)

But I can live with that/If only a lover appears
From deep inside the closet
And asks me: “Why don’t we get out of here?”

 

Jessica
Lyrics & music: Youssra El Hawary
The time has come to tell you all/The story of Jessica

Jessica is a beautiful, incredible girl/I mean, who wouldn’t fall for Jessica?

One month before our wedding was/The day we met Jessica

And how can I blame you, my love/I mean, who wouldn’t fall for Jessica?
God bless our Jessica!

My love kept swearing to me/That he doesn’t love Jessica

He just needs some time to think, poor thing/And be away from Jessica
Because day and night, night and day/He’s out and about with Jessica
And even when he talks to me/He tells me about Jessica

And how can I blame you, my love/I mean, even I have fallen for Jessica
God bless our Jessica!/God bless our Jessica!

 

Akbar Men El Ouda/Bigger Than the Room
Lyrics & music: Youssra El Hawary
Life is larger than the room/That I can’t find my way out of


Maybe he’ll feel like letting me out tonight/Or he’s vowed I won’t cross this threshold
Life is braver than that boy/I want to see sometimes
But even that would almost be impossible/And needs an elaborate plan

And I know:
Life is bigger/Life is more beautiful
Uglier/More glorious
Life is bigger/More beautiful
Funkier/More vast

Life has all this and more/Life has enough to deal with
But I’m determined to live it my own way/And to walk my talk
Life is simpler/Than all the hours wasted wondering
How my clothes will hide me

Life is more sane
Than this man who can harass me
/And that one who can’t look me in the eye
Life is not just about/Who I meet and where we met
And what others think of me
But I’m not afraid

Life is longer than the time/I’m expected to be back home
Life is more important/Than proving my point to you
Life is too short/To explain myself to you
Life has all this and more/Life has enough to deal with

 

El Soor/The Wall
In front of the wall, in front of those whose who built it
In front of the wall, in front of those who made it higher
And in front of those who are protecting it as well
A poor man stopped and peed

On the wall, and on those who built it
And on those who made it higher, and on those who are protecting it
On the wall, and on those who built it, the man stopped and peed

 


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