Leftist Militant Music and the Revolutionary War of Position in Lebanon

By Mohamad Hodeib
Submitted to Session P4948 (Arab Leftist Intellectuals as (re)Active Agents in times of Change, 2017 Annual Meeting
Lebanon; The Levant;
Arabic; Cultural Studies; Identity/Representation; Middle East/Near East Studies; Music; Pop Culture;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Multiple factors nurtured a revolutionary leftist moment in Lebanon’s political-cultural spheres in the years preceding the civil war (1975-1990) that was part of a wider pan-Arab leftist scene. The rise of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and a general departure from the Nasserist Arab socialism towards the people’s Liberation war, occurred at the same time that Arab political leadership was moving from the Arab “progressive” front to the conservative oil-exporting Gulf countries. On the cultural level, a general shift towards politicized literature, theatre and film followed the Naksa in 1967. A radical leftist music scene also developed in Beirut, influencing the nation’s and the wider region’s political cultures and simultaneously being influenced by it.
Against this backdrop, my paper focuses on the emergence and development of leftist militant music in Lebanon during the 1960s and 1970s. Utilizing a Gramscian theoretical framework, I analyze how leftist organizations in Lebanon beginning in the 1960s nurtured a generation of militant artists and songwriters in the context of a counter-hegemonic war of position. Underlining the complex interrelationship between cultural producers and political organizations, I examine leftist militant music as both an organic product of radical leftist political culture and an agent of its reproduction in mass media. These leftist songs and music form part of a wider leftist subculture, accounting for the influences of ideology, intellectual trends, and political culture that influenced and continue to influence political consciousness and notions of leftism in Lebanon. Building upon Althusser’s and Williams’ approaches to art being the reflection of lived realities, expressing ideology that transcend the merely intellectual or artistic (Althusser, 1971; Williams 1977), my work locates Lebanese leftist militant music within a wider network of counter-hegemonic culture, which allowed for the experiences that made these cultural productions salient to the conditions of their time.
I trace the transformations of leftist militant music over the years to better locate the conjuncture that made possible the radical genre of music. Through a rigorous analysis of the lyrics, music, performance, and the network involved in production, I demonstrate its relationship to the leftist political project as both an expression and an application of it. Furthermore, I do not treat this music as an isolated phenomenon as I locate it within a larger interconnected network of leftist cultural production taking place in the wider Arab cultural sphere and international leftist movement from the 1960s onwards.