Noel Keserwany: The Power of Art
Art is more than just a painting, song, music, dance or any other form that it takes. It is considered to be a more of a soft, intellectual way of expression, where artists express themselves to the world in their own way either visually or audibly or of course in any way that includes the 5 senses.
Michelle and Noel, the Keserwany sisters, are two Lebanese artists that have managed to unite people from different communities and nationalities with their songs on corruption, oppression, poverty and the soft power of foreign intervention. On 13 April, Noel Keserwany was invited for an online conversation with students. Organized by Jessica Elias of the International Studies Program, students, alumni and lecturers joined the “artist in the room” for a lively conversation, both personal and political.
These artists are not after the fame or the riches of the industry, they rather maintain that their work seeks no other aim but to involve more listeners in their common fight for liberty and justice in Lebanon. “Rouh ya hamam" (روح يا حمام), or “Political Romance”, is one of many songs that Michelle and Noel Keserwany have written and performed after the Lebanese uprising along with the Political Romance track. Both songs stressed on the expression “لا نقمع” (not to be oppressed) demonstrating how they feel. This is also observed during the conversation organized by Jessica Elias where Noel talked about the frustration and injustice that is dominating the scene in Lebanon and how many people not only from Lebanon but from other Arab countries as well, relate to the situation that the artists constantly find themselves in. Noel also talked about how art could be used as a tool not only for satisfaction and escape from reality but also to connect with those who share the same voice and struggles.
The main reason why the singers Noel and Michelle Keserwany kept writing songs is because of the dramatic political, economic and social situation of their land: Lebanon. They realized that their role was to express the sad reality around them. In fact, the current environment in the Middle Eastern country is worrying due to financial mismanagement, the inadequate and corrupt government, the spread of coronavirus and the aftermath of the devasting explosion of the 4th of August 2020 in Beirut. In 2019, thousands of people took out to the streets to protest against the stagnant economy, the government's corruption and incompetence, but the demonstrations always ended in the same way with smashing and tear gas bombs. The lack of the government's accountability is one of the main reasons for the accumulation of what seems to be 95 billion dollars in public debt.
As the political singer Noel Keserwany explained during the event, the population is slowly running out of food, water, and electricity. They increasingly cannot afford to take their children to the hospital or to find medications since also those are smuggled into Syria. In fact, since the economy's collapse, illicit trade in the black market has mushroomed. Lebanese are desperate; they feel alone, abandoned by the authorities, and as Noel said, “We wake up everyday and think of how we are going to resist” people are on edge but are still willing to fight, to resist, and as the song “Political Romance” describes, Lebanese people will not be oppressed, and even if the government oppresses them, they will get back up.
Noel Keserwany is not the first artist from the region we come across in our learning process of the Middle East. Farah Chamma is another spoken-word poet who uses her words and art to express a difficult reality that affects her sense of Palestinian identity. She addresses how interconnected the Palestinian identity and the everyday struggle she faces as holder of the Palestinian nationality in her poem “I am no Palestinian”. Here again, we are witnessing the importance of art (poetry and music) in giving space for those standing up to the oppression they are facing and to work as a platform for others to relate and to move forward as a group for change.
To sum up, during the event, the students had the opportunity to meet the Lebanese activist, Noel Keserwany, who is fighting the economic malaise, social injustice and instability in Lebanon through the use of music and art. She and her sister are part of a younger generation that shares in the struggle against prejudice and division, where it will be up to these younger generations to be part of the solution when their turn comes.
Written By: Miriam Eladly & Laith Hatamleh