ElBouma, an Egyptian musical duo, has released a new album that showcases the blending of old melodies with new rhythms, but more importantly gives voice to the girls and women in rural areas of Egypt with their lyrics that critique the sexism, patriarchy, gender-based violence, and other harmful practices like child marriages that women in their predominantly conservative North African country fall victim to regularly.
ElBouma is made up of two sisters: Marina and Mariam Samir. Their powerful lyrics are inspired by the testimonies of the women and girls who attended workshops led by ElBouma between 2016 and 2017, who were encouraged to open up about otherwise off-limits subjects by the sisters’ storytelling skills.
“We believe that the voices of women in the south need to be heard, especially in a very centralized country that marginalizes all those who live on the peripheries,” Marina stated in a Zoom interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
While feminist activism is gaining steam in Egypt, what sets ElBouma’s musical rebellion apart is their effort to gain real-world sources of inspiration. Their activism is the band’s all-encompassing goal, and begins with their name, which translates to “The Owl.” Owls are often seen as bad omens in Egypt, but the sisters are repurposing the symbol to represent their feminism.
“We hope to hear and express those faintest voices. We want to be able to see even in dark times and to prey on established patriarchy far greater than we are,” Mariam said.
Even their album art is revolutionary, featuring illustrations of neon green and pink female figures that are dancing and joyful in some cases, but also exhibit their suffering, such as the artwork for one track about female genital mutilation (FGM) which depicts a woman whose torso is pierced through by a rose, which has been nipped near the bud.
According to a 2016 survey by the United Nations, almost 90 percent of Egyptian women and girls between the ages of 15 to 49 have suffered FGM, a ritual practiced by Muslims and Christians in many countries, often to repress female sexuality and ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity.
The subject matter of their songs, though inspired by women of rural origins, resonates with a far wider audience.
“This music really reflects voices of women not only in Upper Egypt but in other parts of the country,” said 28-year-old civil engineer Noura Ibrahim.
So far, despite the taboo subject matter of their music, the band has elicited minimal public criticism and hopes that they can generate funds by performing concerts in the next few months.
“We want our music to be a space where other women can see a reflection of their struggles, thoughts, and feelings,” Marina said.
Image source: The Straits Times