Soundtrack for a Popular Revolution: Soolking’s Anthem Energizes Algeria’s Protest Movement

Written by | Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

His song ‚Liberté‘ became an anthem for Algerian freedom and a source of inspiration for the nation‘s protest movement against the country’s establishment that ultimately forced its long-time leader, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to resign in April 2019. The thirty-year-old Abderraouf Derradji – better known as Soolking – is an Algerian singer, dancer and a rapper, who started under the pseudonym MC Sool until 2013 before adopting his new artistic name. Blending commercially appealing mixture of reggae, soul, hip hop and Algerian raï in his music, Soolking is not just another rapper whose tracks have been streamed billions of times. Now living in Paris, but having earlier struggled as an undocumented migrant in France, his own liberty is hard won.
After the overwhelming public pressure forced Bouteflika to resign, tens of thousands of Algerians of all background and ages continued to gather in protest against the gerontocratic régime that has largely remain intact. With two-thirds of Algerians under the age of 30, the protests were led mainly by young people who kept pushing for a better quality of life while constantly looking for new voices that can speak to them. Soolking’s song ‚Liberté‘, whose lyrics criticise corruption among the elite and hypocrisy in the face of a unified Algerian society inspired by the great figures of anticolonialism, thus naturally became one of the anthems that make up the soundscapes of protest in this North African country. Political protest, modern or traditional, has oftentimes found its way into Algerian music, from malhun poetry and anti-colonial songs to raï and kabyle political songs.
In Algeria‘s long tradition of political music, Soolking’s ‚Liberté‘ and other contemporary anthems are woven from a tapestry of music productions, social media and football stadiums, as well as culture of street music improvisation. Some of this music was produced by popular artists in France who are second-generation Algerian immigrants, but Soolking was born in Algeria, and his struggle to success makes him hugely relatable to a young audience there. While currently being ‚locked down‘ in his Paris apartment, thanks to modern technology, his music can still cross borders and disseminate the message of freedom that Soolking values so dearly. He has already experienced a lack of freedom, including when he was living in the shadows as an undocumented immigrant in France. When asked what he misses of Algeria, with all the nostalgic throwbacks in his songs, Soolking replies drily: “My parents, that’s all. France is pretty similar to Algeria in many ways.”

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