Tuesday, June 24, 2014

More (free) cool music: Moroccan Street; For Stuart Hall; Egyptian trip-hoppy Nadah El Zhazly; more mahraganat

1. Thanks to Tim Abdellah Fuson and his invaluable blog Moroccan Tape Stash, a link to samples from the Moroccan Field Recordings at the Pitt Rivers Museum. The recordings in question were made in 1961 by an Oxford University "expedition." And Tim does us the favor of describing and adding his own keen insights into these recordings.

2. Nabeel Zuberi, author of, among other things, Sounds English: Transnational Popular Music (2001, University of Illinois Press), has done a wonderful mixtape in tribute to the late Stuart Hall. As you would expect, it's very political, transnational Caribbean, etc. And illuminating -- I was not familiar with most of the material, except for Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth's "Good Life" and Linton Kwesi Johnson's "Reggae Fi' Peach." And I was familiar with some of the artists. And I loved these lines from a great track by Eddy Grant, "Living on the Front Line":
Me, no want nobodys money
There lord they sugar me no want to see
Me, no want to shoot Palestines
Oh I have land, oh I have mine

3. Thanks to Sherine for alerting me to this article in Mada Masr about Egyptian singer Nadah El Shazly, who I had never heard of. The article doesn't mention it, but the clear influence, at least as far as "Western" sources, seems to be trip-hop, of early to mid nineties vintage. Particularly on the songs "Shorbet Rosas" and "Ghaba." (Check them out on El Shazly's Soundcloud page.) They also remind me of the work of Lebanese group Soapkills (vocals, Yasmine Hamdan), who I think wore their trip-hop influences on their sleeve. There is more going on than that, of course, and El Shazly is capable of other sounds as well, as in her collaboration "Athar Nowaa" with Egyptian rapper El Rass.

4. And Cairo Liberation Front (who are Dutch) have a new mahraganat mixtape, available here. With music from Islam Chipsy and Sadat & Alaa Fifty Cent and more.


Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Cool vintage downloads, Middle Eastern music

I recently ran across a couple of very cool sites for vintage downloads.

First is this one, Vintage Arab Pop Music.

It is mp3s of 50+ 78s from the 1930s-1950s. Unfortunately the person who has posted them does not read Arabic, and some labels do not use Latin characters. There is some wonderful stuff here from well-known artists like Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, Umm Kalsoum, Sabah and Fayrouz -- and a lot by artists I did not know. A great source to explore.

The tracks I found most interesting were two by Hanan and Fayrouz (yes, the Fayrouz). In English they are identified only as "Swing" and "Rhumba."

The "swing" track in Arabic is غيب يا قمر (Ghayb ya 'amr), and the "rhumba" is يا سميرة (Ya Samira). The label says they were written by the Rahbani Brothers, and according to this post on Soundcloud they date from between 1951 and 1954, that is, very early in Feyrouz's career. I'd like to know more, both tracks are so delightful. Harmonies! Especially on "Ghayb ya 'amr," which has a bit of an Andrews sister feel to it.

The Arabic lyrics for "Ghayb ya 'amr" can be found here. (I think the translation is more or less, disappear, O moon, but hopefully someone who reads this will come up with a more colloquial translation.)

The other site is Naksh al-sanadeeq.

This is tumblr account so new stuff keeps showing up. It's a pretty wide variety, stuff like Sayid Darwish, Warda, Nass El Ghiwane, and so on.

But it's what you might not have heard of before that might be the most interesting. I'd never heard of the Syrian singer Mayada El Hennawi before, and I just love this album of hers: Moush Aweidak/Ashwak.

And I had never before heard Egyptian composer Riad el Soumbati performing his composition Al-Atlal, made famous of course by Umm Kalthoum. His version is great, fabulous oud playing.

One warning about this site: some of the records are scratched and skip or stick...But ma'leesh.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Youth of the Gulf, Youth of Palestine

 Still from Jumana Manna's "Blessed Blessed Oblivion" (2010)

A couple days ago a short post I wrote for the Merip blog on youth in the GCC countries and Palestine got published. It's about youth in the Gulf who are civicly and politically engaged, and Palestinian youth who are, mostly, disengaged and who would be considered by pundits and social workers, "delinquent."

Here's the final sentence: "Maybe analysis of Arab youth should start with learning who they are, rather than only respecting them when they conform to our preconceived ideas of what constitutes civic engagement."

Please check it out.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Interview with lawyer of El Haqed (Al Haqed/L7a9ed) + more

Freemuse's Daniel Brown (son of Kenneth Brown, editor of Mediterraneans/Méditerranéennes) interviewed Mohemed Messoudi, the lawyer of imprisoned Moroccan rapper El Haqed, on May 27 and a member of the Administrative Committee of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights. Here is some of what we learn:

Did El Haqed recently compose and release songs that could have angered the authorities?
“He has just released an album called Walou which means ‘Nothing’ (nothing has changed in the fields of justice, education, democracy, there is too much corruption and we are living under a dictatorship, with torture, etc…). The presentation (sic) of the album has already been banned by the Moroccan authorities. There has also been several of Haqed’s concerts that have been vetoed.”

How would you describe the current situation for musicians in Morocco?
“It’s simple: If you sing for the governors and the statesmen you are given the support that you need – money, publicity and the possibility of performing at festivals and on stage. You can even be decorated. If you take the opposite stance and dare criticise the current political, economic and social situation in the country, you run the risk of going to prison and you are banned from playing or appearing in any (official) media.”

...can this album [Walou] can be found in stores?
“No, you can not find this album in stores in Morocco, as Haqed criticizes the Moroccan political system, no distributor agrees to cooperate with him, the only option is direct sale to people who are interested in his music and also via social networks facebook youtube, and so on, and yes, there were sales using its own means.”

NOTE: go here, on Youtube, for the song "Walou," and it will lead you to all the other songs on the album. Nearly 71,000 views of the song. Let's bump those numbers up!]

What is the popularity of El Haqed?
“Considering he is banned by all media and official festivals because of his activism and political positions, EL Haqed finds his popularity via social media. His songs are listened to by thousands of people on Youtube. His first arrest was adopted by Amnesty International and several  international and national human rights associations.”

What are the political views of Haqed?
“He criticizes the corruption, which reigns the political, economic and social life. Considering his reputation and sincerity to the Moroccan people – his voice and his songs disturb authorities more and more.”

Here is a link to a petition to sign in support of El Haqed.

When the interview was done El Haqed was scheduled to appear before the court for a hearing on May 29. Facebook connections now say that it has been rescheduled for June 6. [Update, a few minutes after the original post: Mark Levine notes that the postponement means that El Haqed conveniently will be kept out of public view until the Mawazine festival (see below) is almost over.}

At his first court hearing (he was arrested May 18) he is reported to have said to the judge "Prison won't make me cry. I am free wherever I am. What makes me weep is the plight of the [Moroccan] people."

Meanwhile, international artists like Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo, Alicia Keys, IAM and Robert Plant are appearing at Mawazine, the state-sponsored festival in Rabat, from May 30 to June 7. There has been a campaign to get at least some of these artists to at least say something in solidarity with El Haqed, but to date I've heard nothing of such a response. If it were Russia and Pussy Riot, of course, there would be a big international fuss. But even the most progressive artists (seriously, IAM!) seem to think that the makhzen is "moderate" and so shouldn't be criticized. The not so progressive I guess are just happy to get the pay check. 

It is not of course El Haqed who is the target of state repression. According to this report from ABC on May 29, 

Morocco's most prominent independent rights group, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, has been sounding the alarm since March, saying that many of its young activists around the country face police intimidation.

Veteran activist Samira Kinani cited the case of Oussama Housne, a 22-year-old activist who, in a video posted online, said he was snatched by three men, beaten and tortured.

Last month, police arrested 11 young activists who had joined a large labor union demonstration and chanted anti-monarchy slogans, later sentencing them to up to a year in prison for illegally protesting and attacking police.

"It is a campaign of repression against the weakest young members of the February 20 movement," said Kinani. "Unlike us they did not live through the dark period of King Hassan II and they aren't scared to express their opinions against the king for example, so I think they are trying to scare them into quitting activist circles."

My previous post on El Haqed, with details on his arrest, is here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Another Palestinasjal (Swedish for Palestinian Kufiya) in the Sunday New York Times

Actresses Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne (in kufiya). Credit: Magnolia Pictures

It's the same film as before, Lukas Moodysson's We Are the Best!, about three Swedish girls who start a punk band in the early 80s. I spotted this, along with Marc Spitz's review, in the print edition of the New York Times on Sunday, May 28, 2014. It sounds like a great film.

And I will tell you once again: in Sweden they simply call the kufiya a Palestinasjal or Palestinian scarf. The film is based on a graphic novel by the filmmaker's wife Coco Moodysson's, which recounts her experiences as a young punk in the early 80s. Kufiyas were there, as they were in the US.

Madonna, NYC, early 80s.

Cheikha (rai) 45" record jackets

Several writers on rai have observed that it was common practice in the '80s for the jackets of rai cassettes of the chabas (female rai singers of the "pop-rai" era) to feature European-looking models or a picturesque view of the Algerian countryside, while photos of the chebs (male singers) themselves adorned their cassettes. When I was combing through rai cassettes in the Barbès district of Paris in summer 1992, I saw dozens of examples, but unfortunately I don't think I bought any (or if I did I can't locate any) and I can't find any online. (You'll just have to believe me).

Lately I've been checking out vintage recordings of songs by cheikhas, the female singers of rai who preceded the chabas, and notice something interesting -- that the practice of decorating the chaba cassettes in this manner was probably simply a continuation of the way in which 45" cheikha record jackets were decorated. Check these out, for instance. (I can't source all of these, some are from Youtube videos, and some from this great website, Mes 45 Tours, and some from Toukadime's instagram site. Check both out for more fabulous record jackets.)

What is interesting here is that whereas the chabas were doing numbers of a decidedly "modern" character (with Western instruments and all), the recordings of the cheikhas are all backed by simply gasba (reed flute) and guellal (hand-held frame drum) and are much more "folkloric." (The cheikhas however were entirely the product of "modern" processes, in particular, the dispossession of the Algerian peasantry, and the subjects of their songs equally "modern": love, the problems of marginal women, drinking, migration, etc. In any case, the apparent discrepancy between the covers of these 45's and the "sound" of the music is quite remarkable. (And hopefully someone who reads this will have something more to say on the subject.)  

Cheikha Yamina el-Abbasia (the Abbasia refers to Sidi-Bel-Abbès). I don't have even any rudimentary information about her.

Cheikha Habiba Labassia was a star of the sixties. I'm fairly certain this is not a photo of her. It shows that not all jackets depicted Europeans, but this gallery demonstrates that it was pretty routine.

Another Cheikha Habiba Labassia (Abbassia) cover.

And one more. Super song.

Cheikha Habiba Saghira ("Little" Habiba, in reference to the "big" or original Habiba, Habiba Labassia), who was a star of the seventies and eighties. Another cover that does not feature a European, but it is a young and glamorous girl who is no doubt not the cheikha.)

Another Habiba Saghira. This is a great song, "Yasker ou Yebki," (He drinks and cries)

Cheikha Zallamite (or, Zalamite), from Saïda. I can't find this song, but check out this.

Cheikha Djenia (1954-2004) was born in Marhoum, a village close to Saïda, and her career lasted from 1970 until her death. Read more about her here. Here's one of her "folkloric" recordings.

And with Djenia we actually have a recording with a picture of the star in question. And as you can see from this video her performing live, you'll note that she eventually went electric.

Chaba Zoulikha. This is interesting because (1) it's possibly a photo of Zoulikha herself and (2) Zoulikha (1957-94) was not a rai chaba, but a Berber singer of chaoui music from the Aurès in Eastern Algeria. Check out the video of her live performance of the song "Soba Rach Rach" (in Berber song, not Arabic). I don't know why she is advertised here as though she was a rai singer, as she is almost always referred to as simply Zoulikha.

And of course the most famous of the cheikhas, Cheikha Remitti (more commonly spelled Rimitti). A great recording from the sixties.

And another one from Remitti. Great song.

And this is a photo of Rimitti that probably dates from before she became famous in the world music scene, in the late eighties.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pope and Baby Jesus Kufiya vs. Hillary Clinton

Yes, Pope Francis was in Palestine. He famously made a stop at the infamous separation barrier/apartheid wall at Bethlehem, and prayed as he rested his head against this.

Please contrast the Pope at the Wall to Hillary Clinton and what she said about it 2005, when as a Senator she visited Israel: "This is not against the Palestinian people," Clinton said as she gazed over the massive wall. "This is against the terrorists. The Palestinian people have to help to prevent terrorism. They have to change the attitudes about terrorism." 

Meanwhile, the Pope also conducted a mass at Jesus' birthplace, in Manger Square in Bethlehem, in front of a mural featuring the baby Jesus wrapped in kufiya swaddling clothes.

By contrast, when Hillary visits Israel/Palestine, she prefers to look tough, even visionary, in front of the wall.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

mahraganat fatty: Hamboullah

There is a side to Egypt's mahraganat (electro shaabi) scene that is not likely to be exported, or to even get much outside exposure. This guy: Hamboullah.

Why won't he? Beer belly. Balding. He doesn't look like a rock star. (Compare him say to MC Sadat.) But check it out: as of this posting, over 1.7 million views. He's popular enough in Egypt. And amazing. (Thanks to Hammer for pointing him out to me.)