Eskenderella is an Egyptian band that was formed in 2001 by a group of passionate musicians from the city of Alexandria. Throughout the first year and a half of their existence, they performed live concerts in different cultural spots in their city. Their music is well-known for its revolutionary focus. At full strength Eskenderella consists of 14 members, several of them second and third generation artists and musicians.
In 2005 they started playing virtually underground venues in Egypt. Listening to their music - let alone composing and performing it - was an act of dissidence. They developed quickly, shifting between revivals of the nation’s classic tunes and ventures into new compositions. They added some original compositions to their musical repertoire, with texts written by leading poets Fouad Hadad and Naguib Shehab el Deen, and young poets Ahmed and Amin Haddad, among others. Relying chiefly on Eastern instruments in its live set-up, Eskenderella also performed famous songs by Sayyed Darwish, Sheikh Imam and Ziad Rahbani. Using collective vocals, a piano, percussion and the oud in their later performances, the band started collecting a wide and passionate audience.
During the 18-day Tahrir sit-in at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, Eskenderella were one of the first bands to bring their instruments to the square and their music flourished with the revolution. They travelled the country to perform at public gatherings, protests, sit-ins, factories, universities and big theatrical venues. Earlier in 2012, they performed in Gaza, the biggest concert the city had known in two decades. Even in besieged Gaza everyone knew their songs, demanded favourites, and sang along with them.
The song يحكى أنَ (yohka ana - ‘It is said that’) was composed before the Egyptian revolution of 2011 from the words of a poem by Amin Haddad of the same name. The song centers its focus on the various situations that were taking place in the Arab world at the time, mainly the invasion of Iraq. It also criticises the Arab league on their silence as well as the silence of the Arab world on the atrocities that were taking place. The song originally ended with the words يحكى أن إن إحنا سكتنا - ‘It is said that we remained silent.’
However, after the uprisings that took place in the Arab world, the band performed the song but with a different ending (NB: the following translation is idiomatic not literal)
بس سكوتنا مكانش سكوت *** و مفيش أمة تعيش و تموت
But our silence did not remain so, and no people simply live and perish
يحكى أن أن إيه *** شعبنا مسك النور بإيديه
It is said that…what is said? That our people grasped the light with their hand
يحكى أن كان ياما كان *** اللي أراده شعبنا كان
It is said that, once upon a time, the will of the people triumphed
يحكى أن جيل ورا جيل *** مصر إتولدت في التحرير
It is said that generation after generation, Egypt was born in Tahrir square (a reference to the Egyptian revolution of 1919)
يحكى أن يا أبناء *** شمس الثورة من الشهداء
It is said that the revolution is illuminated by its martyrs
يحكى أن يا حرية *** ثورتنا ثورة عربية
It is said. oh freedom, that our revolutions are Arab revolutions
فجر و صبح و ضهر و عصر *** تونس ليبيا سوريا مصر
From dawn, sunrise, afternoon and sunset, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Egypt
يحكى أن ستعقد قمة *** فيها العدل و فيها الهمة
It is said that a summit will be held, and it will be characterised by justice and enthusiasm (reference to the Arab League)
يحكى أن فجرنا طالع *** و الورد بيطرح في الشارع
It is said that a new dawn is rising, and that roses (i.e. good/pleasant things) are starting to grow on the streets
يحكى أن النور قدامنا
It is said that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The interactive nature of the song is what I love most about it. The fact that Eskenderella is so in touch with the people and the music of ordinary folk is what sets them apart from other bands on the scene and this is exactly what makes their songs so enjoyable and inspirational.