Friday, August 21, 2015

Villagers, al-Tuwani, West Bank, Palestine, Hebron District, 12/26/1961

I posted what I've written below on my flickr account, but I thought it belonged here too. More photos of al-Tuwani to follow in future. 

photo: Romain Swedenburg

Al-Tuwani (also spelled At-Tuwani) is what as known as a "frontier village," that is, a village that is near the 1948 border between Israel and the West Bank (occupied by Jordan) and that lost its agricultural lands due to Israel. Residents of frontier villages are not considered refugees, because they still live in their original homes although they lost their chief means of livelihood. As they're not refugees, they were not covered by the the mandate of UNRWA, the agency charged with serving the needs of Palestinian refugees. We (the Swedenburg family) visited al-Tuwani on December 26, 1961, with Robert Lapham, an employee of Church World Service, one of the few aid agencies to do work in al-Tuwani. The Laphams resided in Hebron (al-Khalil), the only Christians, they reported, in the city. (You can read about Lapham here:; he passed away in 1988.)

The village, we were told, had 300 residents. We reached it over a dirt/stone track (no road) They were very, very poor -- the surrounding land was very rocky and not suitable for agriculture. My father writes in his diary: "Children without shoes, clothes in tatters." You can see an example in the photo. The villagers were extremely hospitable -- we were invited for tea at the house of the village headman, and they were about to prepare chicken for lunch but we said our thanks and departed. Reportedly we were the only Americans to have visited the village besides our host (who lived in Amman) and Mr. and Mrs. Lapham.

Since the Israeli occupation, al-Tuwani has come under very severe pressure from nearby Israeli settlers and military. You can get an introduction to the issues at wikipedia: and from the Christian Peacekeeper Teams: There is also a FB page for an organization called Humanity Together: Supporting At-Tuwani, Palestine:

Addendum: the best academic source I've read on Palestinian border villages (of which there were/are 111) is Avi Plaskov's The Palestinian Refugees in Jordan 1948-1957 (Routledge 1981).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Udham Singh/Frank Brazil, Amritsar: Ska-Vengers, Fun'Da'Mental, Asian Dub Foundation

On July 31 The Guardian reported on the release of the song "Frank Brazil," by the Indian ska group Ska-Vengers.

Frank Brazil is the alias of Udham Singh, who was an eyewitness to the notorious Amritsar massacre of April 13, 1919, when British soldiers killed over 1000 Indian civilians at Jallianwalla Bagh. In 1940 Singh took his people’s revenge in London when he assassinated Michael O’Dwyer, former Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab and the purported architect of the massacre. After he was arrested by police, Singh reportedly signed his name Ram Mohammed Singh Azad, signifying the joint Muslim-Sikh-Hindu participation in the anti-colonial freedom struggle (“Azad” means freedom in Punjabi; Ram is a Hindu god, hero of the Ramayana epic). By doing so, and by asking Heer of Waris Shah rather than a religious text, Udham Singh underscored that his vision of revolutionary politics was secular and anti-imperialist and not sectarian.

Singh was subsequently convicted and hanged for his crime.

The tale of Udham Singh, sometimes known as Shaheed-i-Azam Udham Singh or the “great martyr,” has been retold in numerous bhangra tracks since the early seventies as well as by Asian Dub Foundation in the song “Assassin” (on Rafi's Revenge, 1998), and he is the subject of at least three films.

Below are the opening lyrics to ADF's "Assassin."

Mohammed Singh Azad
No apologies
Not a shot in the dark
This is a warning
The sleeping tiger awakes each and every morning
The time is now right to burst the imperial bubble
And my act of revenge is just a part of the struggle
A bullet to his head won't bring back the dead
But it will lift the spirits of my people

We'll keep on fighting
We've been a nation abused
Your stiff upper lip will bleed
And your pride will bruised

Fun'Da'Mental also do a verse about Udham Singh on the song "Electro G-had," off their controversial 2006 album All Is War: The Benefits of G-had. The song celebrates the memory of the so-called “terrorists” who fought the British in India during the colonial period. It was composed and sung by then-19-year old British-Asian musician Subiag Singh Kandola, a Punjabi folk song put to electronic beats. It is in the vein of a BrAsian tradition of "revolutionary’ poetry recitations” held periodically to commemorate the heroes of India’s anti-colonial struggle.

Fun'Da'Mental provide this translation of the Udham Singh verse:

On the day of Vaisakhi, Udham Singh made this solemn prayer:
"Oh my Guru, may I take revenge on those who murdered my people at Jallianwalla Bagh. I ask for your blessings in this task."
After 20 long years, the hero Udham Singh tracked down the main culprit, Sir Michael O’ Dwyer and exacted his revenge in the home country of his oppressor.

The evil regime was knocked into place by his back handed stroke.

In conclusion, it should be noted that Mahatma Gandhi condemned Singh's assassination of Dwyer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Eddy Grant, "Living on the Front Line," Palestine

I only just noticed this verse from Eddy Grant's classic "Living on the Front Line," even though I must have heard this song dozens of times.

Me, no want nobody's money 
There lord they sugar me no want to see 
Me, no want to shoot Palestines 
Oh I have land, oh I have mine 
Way to go, Eddy!

The song is off of Grant's 1979 album, Walking on Sunshine, and it reached #11 in the UK; in the US it hit #86 on the R&B charts. Grant was born in British Guiana, moved to England as a youngster. He was a member (lead guitarist and main songwriter) of The Equals, who had a number one hit in 1968 with "Baby Come Back." He is probably best known for his song, "Electric Avenue," which reached #2 in both the US and UK in 1983. But I think this is his best, and his most "political" song.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Cool Middle East music guide: Brownbook

Brownbook is a magazine focusing on urban design, travel and culture in the Middle East. It's published (paper) six times a year, in London, but also has a website, and a music section. Periodically they introduce you to a new artist or mixtape or whatever. Recent items include:

DJ K-Sets' mixtape of Persian Pop made in LA in the 1980s and 90s...

Reem Kelani's "Galilean Lullaby"...

Nass El Ghiwane doing "Subhan Allah" live in concert... (and what a fabulous photo!)

A clip of the late Sabah doing "A Man from Tehran" (so terrific)...

and much more...

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chaba Fadela (and Cheb Sahraoui), "N'sel Fik"

I'm trying to work out the history and trajectory of "N'sel Fik," by Cheb Sahraoui and Chaba Fadela, one of the first rai recordings to be released in Europe -- in 1986 on the Paris label Attitude, and in 1987 (October) on -- if you can believe it -- the famous Manchester label Factory Records, as a 12" single. Yes, Factory: the company that released all those great recordings from Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays, The Durutti Column.

Here's the story of how that Factory release came about: It was "selected after Pickering heard the exotic Arabic-disco hybrid at Mark Kamins' Harem club in New York. 'Mark talked Tony into licensing Fadela and I remixed it,' says Pickering."

Mike Pickering was Factory's A&R Chief. Tony Wilson was part owner and manager of Factory.

As for Mark Kamins, the legendary New York producer and DJ, here's the story of Harem, in his own words:

I went to open my own club, which was called the Harem, and I rented out a belly dance studio in Time Square at 48th Street and Eighth Avenue. God, why did I leave? I just think I got fed up. Well, actually, I started getting a lot of work in the studio and I wanted to DJ something new. I started this club called the Harem where I had five Turkish musicians behind me who played live with instrumental house tracks that I would play. It was completely spontaneous. It was about me being more of an artist than a DJ. There was an English band came down – “pump up the volume, pump up the volume, dance” – remember those guys?...

M/A/R/R/S, OK. They came one night with a white label. And I played the white label, and then I would play an Egyptian singer, a cappella on top of M/A/R/R/S. So they went back to London and remixed it with my Arabic a cappella. That’s when I made my record United House Nations, which was one of the first releases on Circa, where I took house beats and I sampled music from all over the world. So I took that hiatus, I would say, for one year and the Harem became the hippest club in New York. We shut it down after we did a party for New Order. We shut it down after one year, at the peak.

"Pump Up the Volume" from M/A/R/R/S, you may recall, samples Dunya Yunus' "Abu Zuluf" from the album Music in the World of Islam, 1: The Human Voice. You can check this out here.

The one "Middle Eastern" recording that you will find on Kamin's United House Nations LP is "Muhammad's House" by Sheik Fawaz, released in the US in 1988. I in fact purchased it back then, there wasn't anything else much like it coming out at that time. Check it out:

Here is the jacket for the Factory release of "N'sel Fik" (You Are Mine). Like all Factory products I've seen, it has a great design. But...(and thanks to Geir for making me notice this) Fadela is spelled incorrectly in Arabic. It should be فضيلة  and not  فظيلة

Although credited to Fadela, the track in fact is by Chaba Fadela and her husband Cheb Sahraoui (the couple married in 1982). I believe that this is the version that Factory released (the discography says the Factory track is 7:10, and this one is 7:09 -- close enough).

Below is perhaps the first recording of the song, off of a 1982 cassette. Note the spellings here: Chaba Fadila, and "N'sal Fik." According to maghrebunion, who posted in on Youtube, the male singer on this recording is Cheb Hindi, and Cheb Sahraoui is on the accordion.

I presume this is not the version recorded by producer Rachid Baba Ahmed. According to Abdi and Daoudi (1995), Rachid Baba's recording came out in 1983, and it was, they say, the first rai international hit. They say that Rachid wrote it, but other sources credit it to Cheb Sahraoui, and I believe the latter is correct. I guess that when they say 'hit' are referring to its release on Attitude (France), Factory (UK), and then on two very influential and groundbreaking rai albums put out in the West, in the earliest wave of the world music rai phenom: (1) Rai Rebels, released on Virgin in the UK in 1988, and on Earthworks in the US in the same year. Although this LP features a photo of Khaled on the cover, the opening track is "N'sel Fik," credited here to Fadela and Sahraoui; (2) You Are Mine, a Chaba Fadela album put out in 1988 by Mango in both the US and UK. Since "N'sel Fik" is translated as You Are Mine, that makes it in fact the title track of the album. Interestingly, the recording here is credited to Chaba Fadela, although her husband of course also sings on it. 

The jacket for Rai Rebels provides a translation of a few lines of "N'sel Fik," and as far as I can tell by checking other translations, these seem about right:

Cheb: Looking to God, waiting, you are mine
Chaba: I saw you in the dark and my heart stopped
Cheb: I didn't say a word, but her eyes said it all
Chaba: You are mine, your body and your soul
Cheb: In the evening we go to her place and spend the night

Based on the evidence of the video below, clearly shot in a studio in Algeria, it would seem that the version of "N'sel Fik" that was exported abroad was basically the same as what was released in Algeria -- in 1983, if we are to believe Abdi and Daoudi. The vid shows Fadela and Sahraoui doing the song and Rachid Baba on the mixing controls. 

Here's the vid:

On the other hand, if you check out this vid, of a TV show tribute to Rachid Ahmed, one might think that the 1983 version was somewhat different. Rachid in the interview footage says that Sahraoui brought in his wife to the studio, when he was to record "N'sel Fik" for a cassette to be put out by Rachid et Fethi, his company. Rachid had not met Fadela before. He suggested to them that they sing the song as a duo. They did it as a trial, and it was perfect the first time, did not need to be re-recorded. The version you see them do here, however, is a bit different from what was released on Factory in 1987. Check it out, Rachid speaks about the song starting at 7:13.

Rachid Baba Ahmed and his brother Fathi fronted a band called Les Vautours (The Vultures) and then went on, in the early 70s, to enjoy some modest success with rock recordings released under the name, Rachid et Fethi. (Check out some footage of them here.) The brothers went on to open a very advanced, 16-track studio at Tlemcen (their home town) as well as a record label (Rallye). In 1976, a rai cassette producer sent Rachid a young rai singer Cheb Sahraoui. At that point Rachid had no interest in rai, but was instead into the synthesized pop of the likes of Jean-Michel Jarre. Rachid commenced to work with rai singers, recording their vocals and them sending them off as he and his studio musicians laid down the instrumental tracks (see Abdi & Daoudi 1995). I believe that Rachid is the one who is primarily responsible for really changing the sound of pop-rai (I posted earlier about pop-rai's seventies origins) both through this production method and also by the heavy use of synthesized keyboards, electric guitar, and the like. Baba was assassinated in February 1995, probably by militants of the Armed Islamic Group.

Rachid produced many, many great pop-rai tracks, but "N'sel Fik" remains one of the greatest.