Professors talk about art's role in Arab Spring

Salaam Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, a musical group specializing in north African and Middle Eastern music, performed after the talk. A reception followed the talk and performance.

McDonald started by reminding the audience that it was a “casual talk,” not a lecture, and encouraged audience interaction.

He showed a video of an artist performing onstage during the Tahrir Square protests and discussed the traits of a successful protest song, such as short phrases and simple melodies.

Call-and-response songs, McDonald said, are powerful because they are participatory and mimic the intentions of the movement at large.

“A song like this is both reflective and generative,” McDonald said, because the act of singing together reflects already-present sentiment and also generates unity.

Rhythm also plays an important role in protest music as listeners are “compelled to be together as one singular body,” McDonald said.

The collaboration of musicians and poets creates the most powerful music, McDonald added.

“If the rhythm gets people to move collectively, the poetry gets people to think collectively,” McDonald said.

After the talk, the Salaam band performed some of the songs McDonald had

Dena El Saffar, who sang and played violin and lute, said the ensemble normally steers away from politics but found the spirit of the songs very uplifting.

“We actually found out that there’s a lot of political and protest music that’s not divisive and that’s very unifying and has a message that you can’t argue with,” El Saffar said.

Battina Borhan, who watched the event, said the music presented was simpler and much less somber than she expected.

“They were able to siphon out hidden emotions,” Borhan said. “All they did was take emotions out (of the audience) with that music.”

Juliet Istrabadi, curator of the Art of the Ancient World Exhibit at the museum, said this is the third year the museum has had this event.

The sponsors, which include the Center for the Study of the Middle East, Center for the Study of Global Change, Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, all helped make the event happen.

“It’s been successful three years running now,” Istrabadi said.

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