Yasser Jradi: for a “cultural revolution” in Tunisia

Yasser Jradi is a Tunisian calligrapher and musician best known for writing an anthem of the 2011 Revolution, Dima, Dima. He says it was the anaesthetic “bad culture” of Ben Ali’s police state that killed the old regime — that, and 10 years of popular underground protest music, mostly from America: songs like Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and Pink Floyd’s Hey You, songs by Bob Dylan and Bob Marley that incited young people to revolt, or at least to “Do something! Stand up!” Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land moves him openly: “I have the feeling this is about Tunisia now, even if it is talking about ‘California and the New York islands.’ It is feeling about Tunisia now. I love this man Woody Guthrie.”

Jradi says: “it’s not yet time to say we made a revolution; we may have to wait 10 or 15 years.” But for sure he believes that it’s good art and music that will reconstruct the Tunisia he wants to see. Suddenly, as we spoke, two musical friends and bandsmen turned up — one with a three-string bass, another with iron clackers — and the living tradition of Tunisian music broke out in Yasser Jradi’s little shop in a cave of old Tunis’s Medina market. The sound, Jradi says, was compounded in the 17th Century by sub-Saharan Africans and Arab slavers, in the days when Tunis was a capital of the slave trade. It’s a mystical, trance music, “Tunisian reggae,” as Yasser Jradi hears and sings it, and it is known as “Stambeli.”

Tunisia in my Kitchen: Back in Boston, in the Spring of 2013, I finally have from the fine hand of Yasser Jeradi a daily look at the spirit of transition in North Africa.  The words are from Mahmoud Darwish's poem, "In Jerusalem."

Tunisia in my Kitchen: Back in Boston, in the Spring of 2013, I finally have from the fine hand of Yasser Jeradi a daily look at the spirit of transition in North Africa. The words are from Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, “In Jerusalem.”

Related Content

  • Robert Zucchi

    There’s much wisdom in what Yasser Jradi says, a good augury for peaceful change in Tunisia. Instead of a firebrand, I hear a thoughtful dissenter from the ancient, later institutionalized, human folly of abiding the tribal Leader for Life. I admire his restraint in assessing the outcome of the Jasmine “Revolution” … a description Jradi disavows because it is both facile and premature. Instead, he speaks of the oceanic feeling among Tunisians that they had to “Do something. Stand up. Don’t stay silent.”

    They may not be revolutionaries, but “Young people are searching. They have a lot of hope. They haven’t read Marx or Lenin, but still they know.”

    Chris Lydon, long an observer of idealists who came to nothing with their reformist agendas, seeks to stimulate discussion by poking wry fun at notions that “Art and culture can regenerate a society. Beauty can save the world.” (Mr. Jradi is a musician.)

    Mr. Jradi quotes Nietzsche: “Only art can save us from the real … which is hard, and painful.” Yasser Jradi is not being a dogmatist here. I think he’s referencing the necessary mythologies that undergird social organization (but can also corrupt it).

    At an age (and in an Age) when so many are seized by dispiritedness and gloom, Mr. Lydon is broadly sympathetic to hopeful ideas and edifying cultural currents, and the people who embody them. His perspective is rejuvenating for me. It’s possible that even at online Canadian pharmacies (LOL), no comparable youth elixir is available.

  • Thekra

    Good choice of the artist, he is one of the young musicians who sang in the revolution, the kind of songs we couldn’t hear aloud before the revolution or even dare to download… I think he and the other artist of the revolution introduced in our socity a need for this kind of music that talks about our reality and our problems, they made us realise that we were consuming a hypocrite and shallow art produced by the artists who were the dictator’s allies. He sang “you are the voice” meaning to encourage us to go to vote for the first time we will choose your destiny, i am sure that artist like yasser jradi and his musical style can enlighten and change minds, with his simple popular words, no poetry but just the tunisian dialect that everyone can understand…wish him luck 😉

  • Potter

    Social and political upheaval is a good time for connection to the land and to old traditions. I wondered what the instruments were as I realized how connecting and assuring this music must be in a time of “changement” (he was not sure of real revolution yet, cautious) and so I appreciate the link to the informative Stambeli article.

    I wondered also what he himself was meaning or hoping for as he mentioned capitalism, Marxism, Leninism.

    I love these “postcards” and look forward to hearing more music.

  • Alain Pacowski

    And in parallel to Nietzsche Freud adds that only art can distract us from our ontological neurosis.

    It’s fascinating that no one has really listened to the diagnostic and the
    prognostic of 2 ( maybe the only 2?) of the most important “microscopes” and
    visionaries of the human existence. The 20th century could have turned out

    On the contrary, the worship of most modern intellectuals for method and action reduced the whole spectrum of thoughts about the mystery of our universal humanity to mere politics.

    In the meantime the incredibly transforming power of art and culture became
    restrained to aesthetics and confined to classroom discussion.

    Once again the square won over the swing! And this is where we are today,
    witnessing the resulting degradation of our cultural environment.

    So yes again to Nietzsche and Freud: art and culture are the magic ingredients for a better world! Let’s read a few lines from Hugo, let’s look at a Chagall for a few minutes , let’s listen to some Bill Evans and let art gently stirs the positive revolution within our individual self!