Sunday, October 04, 2015

Kufiya on Gotham, Season 1, Episode 4: The guy who grabs Fish Mooney

Fish Mooney is trying to flee Gotham by boat. The boat is attacked by mercenaries, and this guy enters her cabin to get her. In the next episode, she wakes up in what turns out to be a prison run by a doctor who is harvesting organs, as well as limbs, and not just selling them but conducting his own terrifying and sadistic experiments on the inmates. Lots of truly horrific things happen in Gotham, but the Dollmaker (Dr. Dulmacher) might rank as the worst, his projects evoking the most awful practices of the Nazi concentration camps. Naturally, I guess, by a kind of unconscious Orientalist logic, the mercenary sent to grab Mooney would be in a kufiya. It's the only one I've spotted, after watching the entire first season of Gotham and the first two episodes of the second. But I'll keep looking!

Saturday, October 03, 2015

RIP Belkacem Bouteldja, pop-rai pioneer

I wrote about Belkacem Bouteldja in my very long post on the origins of pop-rai. Bouteldja was, of course one of the pioneers. His first recording, released in 1965 when the lad was thirteen years old, was a cover of a 1957 recording by Cheikha El Ouachma, from Aïn Témouchent, called "Gatlek Zizia."

Another of Cheikha El Ouachma's well-known songs was "Sid El Hakem" (His honor the judge). According to Bouziane Daoudi (Le rai, 2000), the lyrics evoke the ordinary Algerians' everyday experience of military repression during wartime.

I've just come across Belkacem Bouteldja's cover of "Sid El Hakem," courtesy the latest broadcast (#26) of Toukadime Radio. (Read more about Toukadime here.) It's the first track, check it out, it really kicks. Then compare it to Cheikha El Ouachma's original. Comparing the versions, you'll get a sense of how Bouteldja (and whoever else was involved in the production) was taking the music of the cheikhat in the direction of what, eventually, less than a decade later, became known as pop-rai. Bouteldja recorded another, much more modern, version of "Sid El Hakem," with his collaborator Messaoud Bellemou, probably in the 1980s.

I also recently came across a photo of the cover of an early Bouteldja release, "Milouda Ouine Kounti," from the mid-sixties. Note that it was advertised as "Chant Folklorique Oranais." It's a cover of a song originally done by Cheikh El-Younsi Berkani. Listen here.

While looking around at YouTube vids of Belkacem, I only just now discovered that this giant, this pioneer of rai, passed away in early September.  Of cancer, in poverty. He had complained in the previous month to the Algerian daily El Watan: "je suis seul, sans ressource. Je n'ai ni retraite, ni pension, ni assurance, ni couverture sociale". Although he was well known as one of the pioneers of the now world-famous genre of rai, he never benefited financially. He complained of this in an earlier interview with El Watan in 2009. What a crime that the Algerian state, which puts on big annual festivals to celebrate rai (held, since 2008, in Sidi Bel-Abbès), did nothing to provide this great artist a pension. Read an obit here, in Nouvel Obs. Allah yarhamou. 

Finally, check out this kicking track, from 1976, which Belkacem recorded with the troupe of Messaoud Bellemou, one of the recordings from the mid-seventies that defined "pop-rai."

Monday, September 21, 2015

kufiyas: UK 'Islamic' rappers The Brotherz

I was very struck by the images used by this UK Muslim rap group, for their album, Extreme Gentlemen.

In an interview, The Brotherz note that "The concept of being an "Extreme Gentlemen" is still subtly conveyed based on the association of "extremism" with the scarf and "gentlemanliness" with the suit." Elsewhere in the interview, they make clear that scarf is a "Palestinian" scarf.

I discovered The Brotherz in a 2009 article ("Hip Hop and Urban Islam in Europe) by Peter Mandaville published in The Global Studies Review 5(2). According to Mandaville The Brotherz call themselves "salafi rappers." They also call what they do "nasheeds" -- they use no instruments other than percussion. But there is in fact singing, as well as rapping, on at least this track. It's certainly not "traditional" nasheed.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Paul Poiret and his wife Denise at "Persian Fête" party

(I've posted about this phenomenon previously -- it was very trendy for the adventurous middle and upper classes in the US and Europe to dress up in Middle Eastern fashion. Check out this post and this one. I'm very pleased to find this photo of the Poirets, courtesy Reorient's Instagram feed. You should follow it too.)

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.