As she passes her fingertips on her guitar strings Keasang marstrand answers me as she find herself to be a person who’s on a constant search for inspiration; but can end up being inspired by everything in one day. She tries to create space through her songs, a place where you can go, breath and unchain yourself from where you are, a place so peaceful and quite.
I listen to her songs and they are absolutely peaceful like a mother humming to her baby.
Here follows the rest of my interview:
United States-born folk singer Kesang Marstrand moved to Tunisia in December 2009 and at the height of the uprising released an interpretation of the national anthem which became an overnight hit, adopted as the song of the revolution.
“I had time to see Tunisia under dictatorship and it was something that made an impression on me. When I first moved here, I would ask people, ‘What do you think about politics, what do you think about the president, do you think he’s ever going to go away?’
I would also ask about the elections and people would tell me there were other candidates – but Ben Ali would still win with 98 per cent.
All that was so fascinating for me. I would ask, why don’t people do something? Why aren’t there people on the streets protesting?
‘Because no one wants to ruin their lives,’ I was told. ‘If they do stand up, they think: number one, it’s not going to change anything and, number two, the only thing that is going to change is that their lives will be more miserable.”
I would think, wow this is crazy. What a beautiful, happy country and yet there is this dark side. It’s so strange – a place where tourists come to have fun and lie on the beach and among all that there is a dictatorship.
When I first got here I would go out with friends to tour different neighbourhoods. They would point out the ministry of the interior and the old town and so on. And they would also tell me stories, like people get tortured there, underground.
I realised what an awful situation it was; people couldn’t do anything because they were afraid. But what happened was that everybody did stand up.
People weren’t able to express themselves freely for a very long time before the revolution – and now there is a flood.
It’s so refreshing to be able to be in a café and look around, and at every table there is a conversation that before would have been illegal – which is incredible. It’s like the fear has dropped away.
For me there’s a feeling of having been in a box with a lid on it and after the revolution it’s like the lid is off, the box breaks and there is fresh air, it’s really being able to take a deep breath.
I have personally felt restricted in the past. There were annoying things like not being able to access YouTube. As a musician, I would try to upload some music and be unable to do it. I had to call my sister and ask if she could upload this video for me, and send her my password and the video over Skype.
But also there was the feeling that everyone was restricted from freely expressing themselves and that was reflected in my music. I felt a lot of writer’s block. I wouldn’t say I felt this way because of the dictatorship, but I felt there was something stagnant about Tunis.
I looked around and I saw a lot of young people who appeared to have a lack of hope, inspiration or ambition. I don’t mean by ambition the kind where you climb up the corporate ladder and become super-rich. It was more the excitement of the adventure of life, of living. Instead there was a lot of stress.
Now that the dictator is gone, however, people shouldn’t become complacent about their rights – especially going through such a transition with so many things that are unclear and uncertain. Another dictator could come along and it’s up to the people to prevent it from happening again.
I think now the world is ready to embrace Tunisia and Tunisians can reach out too. People in Europe used to come to Tunisia just to enjoy the beaches and not to understand the culture.
But now a lot of people are interested in Tunisia, not on a superficial level. Now they want to learn about Tunisians and their complexity, their crossroad of cultures and civilizations. There is so much here to discover.”
Kesang Marstrand’s version of the Tunisian national anthem became the signature tune of the revolution.
Also appeared on iwpr-Arab Spring