Wednesday, November 19, 2014

a mesmerising film about Damascus

by Waref Abu Quba. it will only take 4 minutes of your time.

a four-minute short that merely shows a slice of life in the city. It captures people walking, façades of old buildings, iron doors, shadows of trees, clouds kissing steeples, city lights and calligraphy carved into walls. Filmmaker Waref Abu Quba’s style captures the aesthetics of nostalgia itself due to the way in which images filter and flit across the screen – languorous, soft, full of flux and a kind of bittersweet joy. It is a particularly touching reminder of a city that, due to the ongoing war, has become lost to the world as a place of vibrant vitality, beauty, history and quite simply, humanity. This choreography of images is set to the sound of legendary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, “The Damascene Collar of the Dove” -- from here. and there's more.


The translation of the Darwish poem doesn't quite follow (although perhaps uses) Fady Joudah's brilliant translation, which is here. And here is a randomly chosen verse:

In Damascus:
the stranger sleeps
on his shadow standing
like a minaret in eternity’s bed
not longing for a land
or anyone . . .


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kufiya solidarity: Bolivia at the UN

Yes, I know, a little late in the game...

In July, the Bolivian representative to the UN, Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz, showed up wearing a kufiya, in solidarity with Gaza, which was being pummeled by the Israeli "Defense" Forces. This was all over social media.


And it went further: Bolivian president Evo Morales on July 30 declared Israel a "terrorist state" and revoked Bolivia's visa agreement with Israel.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Recommended music: mahraganat and North African vinyl

1. Another very fine radio show from the estimable Toukadime. Broadcast #18. Vintage North African tunes. (But no playlist yet: come on, pals!). And to show how eclectic their tastes are, they conclude the show with Herbie Mann's "Caravan"! Don't miss this show.

Added Oct. 20, 2014: Here's the playlist:

Tazi Boukhari & Aouicha: Comment Faire?
Guerouabi: El Barah
Mohamed Chemoum: JSK
Mohamed Jerrari: Ya Mariam
Mohamed Jerrari: El Karrita
Mohamed Bergam: Farah El Islam
Bouchaib Bidaoui: Khoutna Yal Islam
Albert Suissa: Dar El Baida
Haja Mina el Gharbaouia & Haja Khadouj Bent Barek, Marechal Kibou: Jini Wlanjik
Albert Suissa: Ya Rabi Tsmeh Fli Daj
Mustapha Nainia - Khouya Bouya

2. The latest Middle Eastern and North African playlist from The Guardian's music blog, by John Doran. Souad Abdallah (Iraq), Maurice Louca (Egypt), Fayçal Azizi (Morocco) -- all interesting, well worth a listen and pursuing further. But what really struck me was the live track from E.E.K. feat. Islam Chipsy -- in concert in London on October 12. This is mad mad mahraganat music, and I've http://www.weather.com/weather/today/Fayetteville+AR+72701:4:USblogged about Islam Chipsy in the past. (Here, for instance, though one of the vids has vanished.) Check out what Doran has to say about them, the 'preternaturally talented keyboard player Islam Chipsy, flanked by drummers Khaled Mando and Islam Tata,' who have been driving crowds in Bristol, London and Newcastle wild. "In Cairo, the three-piece are usually hired to play large outdoor wedding celebrations and their sound has developed in tandem with a need to kickstart parties while often contending with battered old PA systems. Now, through playing indoors through really powerful rigs, their sound has morphed into something that is bordering on overwhelming. The tightly syncopated rhythmical assault is in a lot of ways analogous to carnival or marching musical forms such as soca, New Orleans second-line drumming, dancehall and calypso. However, these beats are played at hyperspeed by two drummers who can switch styles and tempos without dropping a beat, adept at providing a rigid framework for a virtuoso keyboard player whose individual technique includes firing out bewilderingly fast blasts of tone clusters deployed by punching, slapping and karate-chopping his keyboard at such a frightening speed that his hands become a blur of movement. A truly unique experience."

And now: check out the vid, and see whether Doran's enthusiasm isn't warranted.


3. John Doran also has a piece in Vice about the Cairo Liberation Front, a Dutch trio who make up a dance party unit that plays mahraganat. The article title describes what they do as "Wedding Dance Rave," which is certainly as good a synonym for mahraganat as the other synonyms in use, techno shaabi and electro shaabi. There's a mixtape of new (at least I guess new) mahraganat here as well, so download, listen, enjoy, start your own dance party unit if you dare.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Naim Karakand

I highly, highly recommend this article by Ian Nagoski on the Syrian-American violin player Naim Karakand, recently published by Reorient.

It's a pretty incredible story. He emigrated to New York from Aleppo in 1909, and recorded his first side for Columbia in 1912. In 1916, he recorded "Tatos Bishro," which was made famous nearly 20 years later by renowned Egyptian violin player Sami El-Chawa, who also hailed originally from Aleppo.

Among his other recordings is this amazing tune from 1919: "Gazabieh (Pt. 2)," a dance from Gaza. [But see below: added Oct. 14] This one really blows me away. You can find it, and some other tunes by Karakand, on a terrific recording that Ian Nagoski produced for Tompkins Square Records, What Strange Place: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-1929.


In the 1930s Karakand went off to Brazil to join his brother. Then in the 1950s, he was back in New York City, where he played with the Kalimat Orchestra, which accompanied the well-known Lebanese-American fifties musician of belly dance, Mohammed El-Bakkar. Nagoski thinks it is Karakand on violin in all those El-Bakkar recordings. And if that is true, then Karakand appears on the soundtrack to Jack Smith's film Normal Love.

Finally, Karakand plays violin on Ahmed Abdul-Malik's 1958 "East-West jazz fusion" release, Jazz Sahara. Abdul-Malik played bass with, among others, Art Blakey, Thelonius Monk, and Randy Weston. But he also played oud on his solo, East-West fusion, jazz albums. Check out the track "El Haris," from Jazz Sahara. It is not a particularly ground-breaking "fusion," but the violin playing is really to die for.

Nagoski makes the following observation about the importance of the Arab music scene in New York City for fifties jazz: "Unwritten in the history of jazz, it had become fashionable during the 50s among some musicians to attend the many ‘Oriental’ nightclubs, particularly up and down 8th Avenue between 40th and 50th Street, where modal music in various time signatures could be heard. It was no coincidence, then, that in the late 50s and early 60s a string of jazz LPs were released that were both modal and featured 4/4 time signatures. As well, the movement of many African-Americans towards Islam further worked in favour of the incorporation of musical elements from the Middle East in jazz. The influence of Middle Eastern musicians on those of New York is, in retrospect very clear, although it has never truly been delineated." Hopefully someone will follow up on this.

P.S. October 14: I posted the song "Gazabieh (Pt. 2)" on Facebook and it elicited some discussion. Based on comments from my friends Reem and Rochelle (to whom: thanks), it appears that the song is probably not from Gaza. The song opens with the spoken lines, "Come on, ladies, here is a dance tune from Syria." word Gazabieh جاذبية  in Arabic means attractiveness, fascination, or charm. And Gazabieh is probably where whoever wrote the notes on the Youtube post got the "Gaza" idea.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

More Wadad



Awhile back I posted about the Jewish-Lebanese singer Wadad, most famous for her unforgettable song "Tindam."

Now the invaluable music blog Naksh al-Sanadeeq has posted two more songs by Wadad, "Wedding Song - اتمخطري يا عروسة" and "Gypsy Fortune Teller's Song - بصارة براجة", both songs composed by Sayyid Darwish. They are both wonderful versions, and it's great to have access to additional Sayyid Darwish covers, as well as two more tracks from Wadad.

Here's a version of "Gypsy Fortune Teller's Song - بصارة براجة" by Horeya Hassan, and Sayyid Darwish's own version here. And here are the Arabic lyrics, by Yunis al-Qadi. Plus Munira Mahdia's version.

Here's Sayyid Darwish doing "Wedding Song - اتمخطري يا عروسة". Ismail Yasin and Feyrouz do a version of the song as well, but I can't find an online version.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Jewish North African musicians and the 1989 Toledo conference

1. A very nice tribute to Jewish North African musicians by the Israeli writer Ophir Toubul was published on October 9, 2014 by +972. Toubul discusses, among other artists, Reinette L'Oranaise, Maurice El Medioni, Al Gusto Orchestra, Salim Halali and Haim Botbol (please check out the clip of Haim singing in Essaouira, Morocco in 2013).

Touboul provides a sound cloud link to a singer I had never heard of: "Braham Swiri, who put out records in his youth yet lived the rest of his life in anonymity and sold his recordings outside the entrance to Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market."


The track is terrific, and I'm keen to hear more. 

Touboul mentions as well the Israeli Mizrahi pop star Kobi Peretz, and links to his recent cover of Sami Elmaghribi classic song “Omri Ma Nansak Ya Mama.” Very nice, modernized, sounds more Egyptian in style than Moroccan to my ears, and the video is bathed in nostalgia.

I was most moved by the vid Toubul posted of Israeli Moroccan singer Neta Elkayam, performing at  Tel Aviv’s Barby Club just last week. 


It's a track made famous by the Algerian Jewish singer Line Monty called "Ana Loulia." I love Neta Elkayam, but what I found particularly compelling about this concert vid is that she is backed on keyboards by legendary Algerian Jewish musician Maurice El Medioni, who moved from Marseille to Israel over the last year or so, after suffering a stroke. I was recently told by a friend who talks to Maurice regularly that his health is not so good, and that one side of his face is, at least partially paralyzed, so it was great to see him performing. (I mention Maurice in my previous post, on Blaoui El Houari. I met Maurice in Essaouira, Morocco in November 2007, when he performed at the Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques, as you can see here.) Saha, ya Maurice!

Here is Line Monty's version of "Ana Loulia." According to Chris Silver (Jewish Morocco), Messaoud El Medioni, better known as Saoud l'Oranais, recorded the song as early as 1932. Saoud was the uncle of Maurice El Medioni, and the teacher of Reinette L'Oranaise. He moved from Oran to Marseille before the Second World War, and met his end at Sobibor concentration camp (Poland) in March 1943.

Finally here's a bit more of the fabulous Neta Elkayam, doing Haim Botbol's "Alash Klam el Aar," live in Krakow. Oh, man.

2. Ella Shohat published an important piece in Jadaliyya (September 30) on the historic meeting, twenty five years ago, of Palestinians (including PLO officials) and "Jews of the Orient," in 1989. It provides an important compliment to the Touboul piece, dealing with the wider political and historical context. Please read it; I find it impossible to summarize. But I liked this bit:

"One beautiful evening that left a mark on us, embodying what is usually dismissed as “nostalgia” and “sentimental clichés,” was when the Jewish-Moroccan-French singer and composer Sapho graciously delighted us with her singing. I would reflect back on that moment a few years later when Sapho performed Umm Kulthum's legendary song “al-Atlal,” and when she released her album “Jardin Andalou” that fused rock, Arabic, and Andalusian elements. While a long-time supporter of Palestinian rights, Sapho, after that visit to Toledo, began to engage the music of the Judeo-Arab world in which she was raised. To stand up for justice in Palestine was all the more momentous when drawing on the complex memories of Sephardi/Arab-Jews."

I am familiar with Sapho's music, but had not known she was known as a supporter of Palestinian rights. Here's her version of "al-Atlal."

Monday, October 06, 2014

Blaoui Houari, "Isma'a"



Blaoui Houari was born 1926 in the M'dina Jadida district of Oran. He became familiar with bedoui music by listening to records at his father's café; he learned piano and mandoline from his brother Kouider. During World War II he worked as a timekeeper at the Oran docks for the US forces, and meanwhile commenced his musical career backing up a Jewish friend named Sébouan, who sang in the style of Tino Rossi, on guitar. Houari subsequently teamed up with Jewish-Algerian pianist Maurice El Medioni, who had developed a distinctive Oriental boogie-woogie style of playing, with a bit of rumba thrown in, after meeting US servicemen (and particularly Puerto Rican ones) who brought their jazz records with them when US forces occupied Oran in November 1942. Medioni and Houari, the latter on accordion or guitar, started out performing French and American hits, and eventually began to develop a repertoire in Arabic. The genre of music developed by Houari (and also Ahmed Wahby and Ahmed Sabr) is known as ouahrani. Houari and Medioni developed a following in Oran, playing at the famous Café Salva.

Medioni and Blaoui performed as the Orchestre d'Oran. Here's a  youtube video showing their group backing up the well-known Jewish-Algerian singer and violin master of Andalusian music, Cheikh Zouzou, on the song "Djesmi fani." Medioni is on piano, Houari on guitar. This is probably a broadcast from colonial-era Algerian television, which commenced broadcasting in 1957. It shows how versatile these artists were, and also how fluid the categories could be between ouahrani and Andalusian, and other genres as well.


Houari recorded his first sides for Pathé in 1953. 

One of his most famous numbers from this period was "Isma'a" (Listen). Here are two fabulous youtube vids of Blaoui Houari performing the song, on Algerian television. Perhaps from 1957. They show that Blaoui Houari was a very engaging performer, and they also demonstrate how modern, how contemporary sounding, was ouahrani.

In this clip the pianist is most definitely not Maurice El Medioni. You can see the pianist, from the back, at around 1:22.



In this one the pianist is not visible. It could be Medioni, who knows?



Medioni left Oran for France after independence, where he enjoyed a long and illustrious career. He recently fell ill and moved to Israel.

El Haqed in Aljazeera

The Moroccan rapper, El Haqed, recently released from prison for the third time, published an opinion piece today (October 6) in Al Jazeera (English) -- it's translated from French and English by Mark Levine.

He writes:

In 2007, a new kind of rap began to spread, with roots in groups like H-Kayne who rapped about social but not quite political issues. It was authentic rap, not imitating anyone. These dangerous ideas led the system to try to shut us down, put us in a big prison so to speak, a prison for ideas and freedoms to try to hem in our dangerous ideas...
 
And so we called our rap ar-rab muhabsi - "prison rap" - rap that expresses reality and sings about freedom, breaking down the borders and chains. We need to understand the power of prison rap in the context of most rappers being little more than marionettes, wholesale puppets of power. You can count the number of truly political rappers on one hand. And yet, the small number makes our music that much more powerful. The intellectual and cultural prison only made our music more powerful. The state still doesn't get that.

I learned at a workshop this past weekend that, in fact, you can in fact count the number of Moroccan political rappers on one hand. In fact, there are three--El Haqed, Hoba Hoba Spirit, and Muslim--who truly support the Moroccan revolutionary movement. The rest, while they deal sometimes with social issues, scrupulously avoid politics.

Thank gods for El Haqed!

P.S. October 7. Hisham Aidi adds (via twitter) that perhaps there is one more 'revolutionary' Moroccan rapper: Sí Simo of Fez City Clan -- but he raps more about poverty than politics.

P.S. October 11. Please check out this article in Jadaliyaa (Oct. 7) by Jessica Rohan, on the Mawazine Festival. She provides a discussion of rappers, including El Haqed and Muslim, and their positioning in relation to pro-regime rap stars like Bigg and Cheikh Sar. And she provides a link to a song by Sí Simo called "Kilimini," a song about social inequality in Morocco. Rohan tells us that kilimini  man is a "recently-coined slang term for wealthy Moroccans." It literally means “he eats from me,” "suggesting the elite gained their wealth through corruption" and also connotating shallowness.

http://youtu.be/bEV0s0tWZ6E