Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Mashrou' Leila (Lebanese alt-rock band) & Orlando on NPR

The great Lebanese alt-rock band Mashrou' Leila is on tour in the US (and bands like this, of course, always skip Arkansas in such cases), and they played DC and showed up in the NPR studio to do a Tiny Desk concert. Their appearance (Monday June 13) coincided with the news of the Orlando massacre. Their lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is out gay, and they have been the subject of some controversy in Lebanon for their queer positivity.

Anastasia Tsioulcas (NPR Associate producer), who you should, btw, follow on twitter -- @anastasiat -- writes:

The group opened its Tiny Desk set with "Maghawir" (Commandos), a song Sinno wrote in response to two nightclub shootings in Beirut — a tragic parallel to what happened in Orlando. In the Beirut shootings, which took place within a week of each other, two of the young victims were out celebrating their respective birthdays. So "Maghawir" is a wry checklist of sorts about how to spend a birthday clubbing in their home city, but also a running commentary about machismo and the idea that big guns make big men.

"All the boys become men / Soldiers in the capital of the night," Sinno sings. "Shoop, shoop, shot you down ... We were just all together, painting the town / Where'd you disappear?"

It's a terrific song, very moving, and wow, so appropriate.

In an article about Mashrou' Leila by Kim Taylor Bennett, on Vice's musical channel Noisey, the group elaborate further about the song:

"‘Maghawir’ narrates a possible version of a club shooting in Beirut, drawing on references to real Lebanese case histories from two different shootings that took place within the same week, both of which resulted in the deaths of extremely young victims, each of who was out celebrating their birthday.

"The lyrics are formatted to read like a list of steps to follow on a night out in Beirut, satirically referencing the hordes of tourist-targeting bucket lists that overshadow readership on Lebanon like 'Things to do in the city of nightlife,' while maintaining a conscious attempt to sketch out the more tangibly tragic facets of such rampant and un-policed violence and gun ownership by accentuating the innocence of the victims involved—be that by opening the lyrics with a happy birthday wish, or only alluding to the actual death of the victim by running the metaphor of losing someone in the crowd of a club.

"On the other hand, the lyrics constantly brings up gender to situate the events within a broader discourse on gender and the recruitment of Lebanese men into locally-revered militarized masculinities, where said violence often becomes not only common, but rather part of a list of gendered provisions for the preservation of men’s honor, as demonstrated in the case studies the song refers to, where both assailants shot in retaliation to having their pride (masculinity) publicly compromised.

"In marrying the lyrics with upbeat dance-worthy music, the song gestures towards the evident normalization of such behavior, wherein lies the critique of the 'capital of the night,' by questioning whether or not violence is just another thing we can dance to, another element of the country’s nocturnal paysage under the continued patronage of the political elite which often chooses to protect criminals because of vested political interests."

Three different transliterated and translated versions of the song are here.

Also, check out this very smart article from Good by Tasbeeh Herwees, who interviewed Mashrou' Leila when they performed in Los Angeles in November 2015, on their first US tour. (They're now on their second.) A few choice excerpts:

The musicians, however, are rarely asked to talk about technique and style. “We’ll go to France, someone will ask how we feel about Charlie Hebdo,” says Sinno. “Or we'll go to Italy and someone will ask us if we can buy CDs where we come from. It's embarrassing.”

With the advent of the 2011 Arab uprisings, Mashrou Leila’s fans conceived new explications for the music. “The interpretations go their own way,” says Abou-Fakher. “[Our music] gets appropriated for movements in Egypt at a particular time or to a cause in Palestine at another time.” Songs that previously gestured at discontent were reappropriated as calls to revolution. They were played at political rallies in Cairo, Tunis, and Amman, where the band has massive—and growing—audiences. “Inni Mnih,” a song on their 2011 album El Hal Romancy—in which Sinno sings, “let’s burn this city down and build a more honorable one”—was misread as an anthem for the Egyptian revolution. Once, at a music festival in Beirut where the group Gorillaz was also playing, the band sang an Arabic rendition of Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” as a tribute. The clip found its way online, where it was reinterpreted as a rallying call for protesters in Tunisia. “It gets all these political associations slapped onto it,” Sinno says...

In “Djin,” the third track, Sinno sings, “I don’t do sodas, I don’t do teas / I drown my sorrows, forget my name and give myself to the night / liver baptized in gin, I dance to ward off the djin.” The lyrics are an exercise in demystification, an attempt to dismantle the myth of Beirut as a playground for Western jet-setters and nightclub-hopping tourists. “At the very beginning, we were sort of pissed off about the way Beirut is always portrayed as this party destination,” says Sinno. “For people who live there, there's a lot of actual politics that get negotiated in these spaces, in bars and clubs.”

The “danciest” song on the album is also one of their most sobering. “Maghawir”—which begins by narrating a night out in Beirut—is about nightclub shootings in Lebanon. “Shootings in clubs in Beirut happen more frequently than I think people would like to admit,” says Sinno. Only last month, a club shoot-out in the city killed eight people. “Wear your black suit and come down,” Sinno sings on the track, “bearing that when snow caps the hill / all the boys become men / soldiers in the capital of the night.”'s what Sinno said in the group's Washington, DC concert on Monday, according to CNN.

He reacted strongly to a crowd following the mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub, lamenting the attack against the LGBT community as well as the rhetoric against Muslims and Arabs that followed.

"Suddenly, just because you're brown and queer you can't mourn and it's really not f---ing fair," Sinno said on stage while performing at the band's sold out show Monday night at The Hamilton in Washington. "There are a bunch of us who are queer who feel assaulted by that attack who can't mourn because we're also from Muslim families and we exist ... this is what it looks like to be called both a terrorist and a faggot." 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

May 11 is World Kufiyah Day

Who knew? I only just found out, thanks to Elliott.

World Kufiyah Day was started by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, a Montreal-based organization with university chapters across Canada. The group started World Kufiyah Day to bring awareness and solidarity to Nakba Day, which is May 15. 

Read more here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

#dronelife: "Drone Bomb Me" by ANOHNI

A remarkable video of a gorgeous and terrifically brave song by ANOHNI, formerly known as Antony, best known as lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons. I can't embed it but you can watch it here. Directed by Nabil Elderkin--who has directed a lot of great videos, including the stunning "Two Weeks" by FKA twigs--and starring supermodel Naomi Campbell.

The vid is visually stunning, the singing sooooo beautiful, but the lyrics, damn!

Love, drone bomb me
Blow me from the mountains
And into the sea
Blow me from the side of the mountain
Blow my head off
Explode my crystal guts
Lay my purple on the grass

I have a glint in my eye
I think I want to die
I want to die
I want to be the apple of your eye

So drone bomb me
(Drone bomb me)
Blow me from the mountains
And into the sea
Blow me from the side of the mountain
Blow my head off
Explode my crystal guts
Lay my purple on the grass
(Lay my purple on the grass)

Let me be the first
I'm not so innocent
Let me be the one
The one that you choose from above
After all
I'm partly to blame

Has there been a more stunning pop culture response to the drone program than this? I don't think so.

Lest we forget, the cruel stats of the US drone program, from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Pakistan, since 2004:
Total strikes: 423
Obama strikes: 372
Total killed: 2,497-3,999
Civilians killed: 423-965
Children killed: 172-207
Injured: 1,161-1,744

Yemen, since 2002:
Confirmed drone strikes: 113-133
Total killed: 514-747
Civilians killed: 65-101
Children killed: 8-9
Injured: 94-223

Possible extra drone strikes: 81-97
Total killed: 337-489
Civilians killed: 26-61
Children killed: 6-9
Injured: 78-105

Other covert operations: 15-72
Total killed: 156-365
Civilians killed: 68-99
Children killed: 26-28
Injured: 15-102

Afghanistan, from 2015:
Total strikes: 293-295
Total killed: 1,321-1,800
Civilians killed: 61-62
Children killed: 4-18
Injured: 160-165

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Trump opposition at Chicago: kufiyas

This gif was flying around FaceBook, from the Chicago events last night at UIC, where Trump got shut out. Notice that, behind the guy whose sign gets torn up is a guy in glasses, holding aloft a kufiya-patterned scarf, with the collars of the Palestinian flag on either end. Behind him someone is holding is a Mexican flag. On the left, you can spot a woman wearing a cap with "African" colors. The protests against Trump were an occasion for the mobilizing of Muslims, Arabs, Hispanics and blacks, with identity symbols much in evidence. But photos and video footage of the protests also show that it was very much a coalition of people who came out, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-varied coalition.

I wasn't surprised to see video footage of protesters wearing kufiyas. Below are screen shots of two, that I found on this broadcast. I'm sure there were more.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Supermodel Gigi Hadid, Palestinian (and the kufiya proves it); Zayn Malik's "Pillowtalk"

Supermodel Gigi Hadid has been coming out as Palestinian (or, half-Palestinian--her mother, Yolanda Foster, is Dutch, her father is real estate developer Mohamed Hadid), ever since December 2015, and her Palestinian-ness has been getting a lot of attention in the media, as reported by Khelil Bouarrouj on the blog of the Institute for Palestine Studies. Gigi's instagram photo of her (and her girlfriends') henna'd hands is what prompted all the attention, but she has also posed in a Coco Chanel designed kufiya-styled top. (More on Chanel's kufiya-styled line in a future post!)

I hope Bouarrouj is correct in his optimism that it's good for Palestinians when some high-profile figures like Gigi celebrate their heritage.

Meanwhile, Gigi's boyfriend (or is he?) Zayn Malik (ex-One Direction) has a new single "Pillowtalk" that was (from January 28-29) at position #1 on the Billboard + Twitter Trending 140 chart. Zayn Malik's dad is British Pakistani. In Zayn's video he is snoggling with the half-Palestinian Gigi Hadid. Both of 'em are blonde -- is this how "Muslims" subversively penetrate mainstream Western popular culture? The vid was only released on January 28, and as of this posting on January 31, it had over 23 million views. So I guess it's rather popular. What does it say when people named Malik and Hadid sit at the commanding heights of US-Euro popular culture? What do people who click on that YouTube video think of Donald Trump's Islamophobia?

UPDATE February 1: I've been informed that the reason Gigi was wearing that kufiya-themed outfit was that she was flown in to Dubai to showcase it for the Chanel resort collection. Nothing at all to do with Palestinian pride. (Thanks, Mezna!)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A new generation of Palestinian strugglers and their kufiyas

The Electronic Intifada recently (January 28) published a set of stunning photographs, courtesy ActiveStills, of young Palestinians confronting the Israeli forces of the occupation as well as the security forces of the PA, over the last four months. They are amazing photos (by Anne Paq in Bethlehem, Ezz Al-Zanoon in the Gaza Strip, Mohannad Darabee in the Ramallah area, Oren Ziv in Bethlehem and the Ramallah area). I find EI's report somewhat disingenuous, however, in that it fails to mentions one key aspect of the recent upsurge in confrontations -- that many have called this the "knife intifada," given that it has been characterized by a series of lone wolf knife attacks, as well as car rammings and shootings, aimed at Israelis, both soldiers and civilians, and has resulted in the deaths (between September 13 and January 5) of 25 Israelis. The period of course has been marked by clashes between groups of Palestinians (usually, rock-throwing) and Israeli soldiers, and of course Palestinian casualties are far higher, totaling over 160. (EI does mention the numbers of Israeli dead, but not the nature of the killing.) Since the fact that knife attacks are a significant element of the current struggle, it seems odd to me that EI doesn't discuss them at all. Instead, the quite striking images of Palestinian resistance seem to be the story.

And while I admire the courage as well as the stylistic flare of those Palestinians now fighting the occupation, at the same time it pains me to think that these young people represent yet another generation of Palestinians condemned to confronting violence. This occupation is about to be (in June) 49 years old. FORTY NINE. How can this keep going on and on and on and on? What does it mean for us to admire the bravery and fortitude of this new generation of heroic Palestinian strugglers? I would much rather not see such photos any more, instead I want to see photos of young Palestinians dancing and partying and studying and enjoying "normal" life. I am sick of it. And yet...don't they look flash?


North of Ramallah, near Beit El settlement

 North of Ramallah, near Beit El settlement


“We cover our faces because the occupying authority might [otherwise] arrest us. We also 
fear our own [Palestinian] authority would arrest us in the same way.” Bethlehem

North of Ramallah, near Beit El settlement 
(the insignia of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is on the headband)



Gaza Strip, east of al-Bureij refugee camp


Gaza Strip, east of al-Bureij refugee camp