Monday, February 27, 2006

More "Cairo Station"

Here's a still from a scene I focused on when I talked about Chahine's Cairo Station on Friday: a passenger in the car where the rock'n'roll band is playing, enjoying a Coke that Hanouma has just given him.


Youssef Chahine at Tennessee Tech

I'm just back from a trip to Tennessee Tech in Cookville, TN, along with Joel Gordon (History, University of Arkansas) and Elliott Colla (Comparative Literature, Brown University). (That's the two of them posing on a locomotive at the Cookville Station museum.) We screened Youssef Chahine's 1958 masterpiece, Bab el-Hadid (Cairo Station) on Thursday night and answered questions afterwards. On Friday, the three of us each made short presentations on the film. We've submitted a panel proposal to MESA based on our Tennessee Tech presentations, and hopefully it will be accepted.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Kufiyaspotting #9A: Prefuse 73 -- and starving the Palestinians

From Ben Ratliff's "Playlist" column in today's NYT, a review of producer Guillermo Scott Heren, who records as Prefuse 73, and his new release Security Screenings.

I really like what I've heard of Prefuse 73, although I've not heard the new album. And I like the political sympathies of G. Scott Heren, which can be gauged in this interview with Pitchfork. But today, because the enormity of what is facing the Palestinians seems even more grim, I'm feeling that such kufiya style gestures are pretty insignificant. Of course, what should I expect one, single, solitary producer of music to do?

Here's what's bugging me: Israel is going to do its best to cut off funding to the Palestinian authority, in order to try to "starve" Hamas--which now controls the Parliament--into submission. Today the Israeli government announced it will stop turning over the tax receipts it collects on behalf of the Palestinian authority, amounting to $50 million a month.

Dov Weissglass, advisor to Acting Prime Minister Olmert, explained the Israeli government's logic as follows: "It's like a meeting with a dietitian. We need to make the Palestinians lose weight, but not to starve to death (my italics)."

Bravo to Weisglass for striking a blow against obesity. Those Palestinians have gotten way too fat!

Or have they? The New York Times reported on January 17, "According to recent assessments by the World Bank and the UN Development Program, up to 60 percent of Palestinians now live under the poverty line, which suggests that even those who are employed are barely subsisting."

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported, in its 2006 Humanitarian Appeal, that, "For the fourth consecutive year humanitarian agencies are appealing to donors for funding for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "The labour market is characterized by informal, short-term and low-paid work. Poverty has climbed to 64 percent and unemployment is at 27 percent, almost three times as high as in 2000. The situation is particularly grave in the Gaza Strip, where almost all areas are experiencing high levels of food insecurity."

UNICEF reports (2006): "Malnutrition for children [in Gaza] under the age of five (U5) remains high at 10% and the risk of malnutrition for the very young children is increasing. The most vulnerable age group are children aged 12-23 months with stunting reaching 16%.

"Chronic macro- and micronutrient malnutrition in children under five has continuously increased. One in ten children under five are chronically malnourished (stunted), meaning that about 50,000 children will not reach the standards for growth and development. The heaviest burden is carried out by the children 12-23 months (almost 16% of them are stunted), a critical age when the biological and developmental future of the child is at stake. The malnutrition rat in Gaza Strip, in all urban areas, as well as in girls, are above average levels.

"The micronutrient malnutrition - iron, vitamin A and iodine deficiencies - are affecting around 40% of children U5. These issues are directly related to the household impoverishment and degradation of coping strategies, as well as of practices of breastfeeding and young child feeding."

Clearly, these kids need the help of the "dietitian."

(The last two kufiyaspottings are here and here.)


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Bellydancing: Shakira

Back to the frivolous, and acknowledging another bellydancer: Shakira Mebarak, who goes simply by Shakira. Colombian superstar whose father is Lebanese. She definitely has bellydance moves. I know of only one song where she sings a verse in Arabic: "Ojos Asì," off the album, Dónde Están los Ladrones? It's also the only song of hers I know that has any Arab flavor. But at least the bellydancing moves, which Shakira employs frequently, always do.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Hijabspotting: Cat Power

I frequently kufiyaspot on this blog, but rarely bother with the hijab, or alternately, veil, or alternately, Islamic dress. Hijabs are just too obvious, for the most part, whereas kufiyas, much more subtle. (Not of course if worn over the head, but as a scarf, yes.)

But here's a case where the symbolic usage of the hijab is pretty inscrutable, and more interesting to discuss. It's from a video for Cat Power's song "Living Proof," off her new, widely hailed album The Greatest, recorded in Memphis.

As Kelefa Sanneh notes, the Cat Power vid opens with what appears to be a tribute to a video by Mafia rappers Three 6 Mafia video that features group members drinking coffee syrup out of baby bottles. Chan Marshall (who records as Cat Power) is wearing a 2Pac hoody and drinking cough syrup out of a baby bottle together with a black man. (Cough syrup is the preferred intoxicant of the great rappers in Houston who produce a southern brand of hip-hop known as "screw.") But the more remarkable feature of the video is this. Chan Marshall takes off her hoody and puts a large white cross over her back, and, dressed in a red catsuit, races around a track with several women dressed in the kind of veils and Islamic dress typically worn in Iran. (The outfits look a bit sloppily conceived, not exactly what women wear in Iran.) Chan comes in second. She and the veiled first and third place medalists raise clenched fists, evoking the black power salutes of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

I have no idea how to read this vid. Is the cross carried by Chan/Cat supposed to represent a burden, the analog of the religious burden of the Islamic dress worn by the other runners? Is Chan/Cat's red catsuit also supposed to represent a burden, the female burden of "looking good for men"? One of the veiled women is shown jumping over a hurdle in the course of the footrace. Does this suggest that Islamic dress is not a burden for women, since it doesn't hinder them from participating in athletic activity? Do the clenched fists a moment of female solidarity, transcending religious divisions? And why is Chan/Cat drinking cough syrup with her black companion/boyfriend?

I have no idea what the answers are, but I love the questions the video raises...


Even more queer cowboy...

Here are three verses from "Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other)" that don't show up on Willie Nelson's version of the song (see below) but are on Pansy Division's. I don't think Willie was editing, he just couldn't fit all the verses into a 3:33 song. Pansy Division is a punk band and storms through the verses much more quickly.

Ten men for each woman was the rule way back when on the prairie,
And somehow those cowboys must have kept themselves warm late at night.
Cowboys are famous for getting riled up about fairies,
But I'll tell you the reason a big strong man gets so uptight.

Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other
That's why they wear leather, and Levi's and belts buckled tight.
There's many a cowboy who don't understand the way that he feels towards his brother,
There's many a cowboy who's more like a lady at night.

Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other,
Even though they take speed and drive pickups and shoot their big guns;
There's many a cowboy who don't understand the way that he feels towards his brother,
There's many a cowboy who keeps quiet about things he's done.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More Queer Cowboys from Willie

Willie Nelson has recorded a wonderful new song called “Cowboys Are Secretly, Frequently (Fond Of Each Other).” It was debuted on Howard Stern's morning Sirius Radio program yesterday, Valentine's Day. Listen to it here, or buy it from iTunes.

The song was written by Ned Sublette, author of the essential, and critically hailed, Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo. Ned Sublette, like Buddy Holly, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely, hails originally from that crucible of US popular music, Lubbock, Texas.

According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, Willie was inspired to record the song after his friend and tour manager of thirty years, David Nelson, told him that he was gay. The Morning News also reports that this is the first time a major country artist has recorded a "gay-themed" song. "Before that," the article goes on, "the closest is Garth Brooks' 1992 single 'We Shall be Free,' a cry for peace and equality with the pro-gay line 'When we're free to love anyone we choose.' Though it didn't focus exclusively on gays, the tune stirred some controversy; some radio stations across the country wouldn't play it. We Shall be Free' peaked at No. 12 on Billboard's country singles chart, ending a string of Top 10 hits for Mr. Brooks."

The song was earlier recorded by the queercore band Pansy Division, and appears on their 1995 album, Pile Up. I'm not sure that the lyrics are exactly the same on the Pansy Division and the Willie versions. [Correction: I've checked more carefully--see above.]

But here are a couple good lines, on both versions:

"Well, a cowboy may brag about things that he does with his women,
But the ones who brag loudest are the ones that are most likely queer."


"Well there's always somebody who says what the others just whisper,
And mostly that someone's the first one to get shot down dead"

My cowboy hat is off to Willie!

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Academic Discussion of Israel Boycott? Not OK!

It was announced Thursday that an AAUP-sponsored conference on academic boycotts, scheduled to be held in Bellagio, Italy, on February 13-17, would be "indefinitely postponed." According to Haaretz, it was the successful pressure of US Jewish groups, including the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and American Jewish Conference, that led to the "postponement."

Here's how Abraham Foxman, National Director of the ADL justifies his organization's opposition:

"We were troubled to learn that eight of the 21 participants in this conference support the use of boycotts against the state of Israel...We support academic freedom, but one needs to proceed with caution when the views being included are far outside of the mainstream, or when the message involves anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, or questions Israel's right to exist."

The eight pro-boycott academics in question are:

Omar Barghouti, Tel Aviv University
Yehudith Harel, Tel Aviv University
Rema Hammami, Birzeit University (Palestine)
Lisa Taraki, Birzeit University (Palestine)
Sondra Hale, University of California, Los Angeles
Shireen Hassim, University of Witwatersrand (South Africa)
Hilary Rose, City University (London)
Ur Schlonsky, University of Geneva

I know Rema Hammami, an anthropologist who did her Ph.D. at Temple University, and Lisa Taraki, a sociologist, and I've met Sondra Hale. At least three of the eight are Jewish, and two teach in Israel. It is typical of the defamation that ADL routinely circulates that the eight are smeared with accusations of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and denial of Israel's right to exist. Not a shred of evidence is adduced, and I strongly doubt that any exists.

There was, however, a cock-up in the organization of the conference. According to the AAUP,"due to an egregious error, we had included in the pre-conference packet a deeply offensive article by a Holocaust denier. The article had been collected during our research for the conference, but it was never intended for distribution to the participants or, indeed, to anyone else. We notified all the participants in the conference at once of this blunder and that the article had been pulled."

Haaretz claims that the article was passed out (it's not clear how or to whom); according to the AAUP, the article was pulled and never intended for distribution.

The AAUP, having acknowledged its mistake, intended to proceed with the conference, but according to the ADL statement, Ford, Rockefeller, and Nathan Brown did not agree. Apparently this is what caused the "postponement."

AAUP attempted to organize a conference to discuss the question of academic boycotts. AAUP is on record as being against such boycotts. The discussion at Bellagio in no way would have resulted in any change in its policy or any other group's policy regarding boycott, it would have simply been an airing of differences. The AAUP mistakenly put in an inappropriate article that had nothing to do with its own positions or the political positions of the participants. The AAUP caught its own error and apologized. The ADL and like-minded Jewish groups apply pressure and--a predictable denouement.

The affair is entirely representative of the skittishness and lack of courage prevalent in the US academy, when it comes to even discussing applying pressure to Israel for its occupation policies in the West Bank and Gaza. (We will get to celebrate the 39th anniversary of the Occupation this June.)

The US Presbyterian Church, which voted in June 2004 to divest from companies doing business with or in Israel, is so much more courageous than the US academy.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine Threatens Israel Boycott

An article in today's The Independent reports: "A group including some of Britain's most prominent architects is considering calling for an economic boycott of Israel's construction industry in protest at the building of Israeli settlements and the separation barrier in the Occupied Territories."

Israeli architect Eyal Weizman, director of the Center for Research Architecture at Goldsmith's College, London, agreed: "A boycott would be totally legitimate...The wall and the settlements have been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice and we should boycott any company which does business, any architects that participate - anyone facilitating these human rights violations and war crimes."

Weizman was featured in an excellent New York Times article ( Jan. 1, '06) on the debate over the role of Israeli architects in the building of the apartheid wall.

Charles Jencks, a member of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, is one of Britain's leading landscape architects. He is the author, among other books, of The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (1977), often credited with having popularized the term, post-modernism. Jencks is quoted by The Independent as saying: "There reaches a certain point where an architect can't sit on the fence. Not to stand up to it would be to be complicit."

Jencks described what the Independent politely calls the "separation barrier" as "a contorted, crazy, mad, divisive, drunken thing".

Jenckes went on: "In 10 years' time its builders will see it as a great folly... Architecturally it is madness. I understand fully that security is the problem for Israel and they have the right to protect themselves. But this is not the solution...It is an extremist measure which forments extremism, by incarcerating and intimidating Palestinians." Jencks "called for architects to gradually increase pressure on Israeli."

(Chalk up one for post-modernist theorists.)

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AFSC Nominates Jeff Halper, Ghassan Andoni for Nobel Peace Prize

The American Friends Service Committee announced on February 3 that it had nominated Ghassan Andoni and Jeff Halper for the Nobel Peace Prize. Andoni is a Palestinian, a Professor of Physics at Birzeit University, well known for co-founding the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Jeff Halper (pictured) is Israeli, Professor of Anthropology at Ben Gurion University, and co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD), which is exemplary among Israeli peace groups for its activism on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (I can't find a good photo of Andoni.)

As an aside, because I'm particularly interested in this, Halper was a pioneering scholar in the field of Mizrahi, or "Israeli Mediterranean," music (the music of Jews of "Eastern," mostly Arab, origin). Here are a couple references:

Jeff Halper, Edwin Seroussi, and Pamela Squires-Kidron, "Musica Mizrahit and the Realignment of Israeli Society: The Case of Hayyim Moshe." 1789-1989 Musique, Historie, Democratie, 3 vols., ed. Antoine Hennion. Paris 1992, vol. III, pp. 669-672.

Jeff Halper, Edwin Seroussi, and Pamela Squires-Kidron. "Musica Mizrahit: Ethnicity and Class Culture in Israel." Popular Music 8/2 (1989), 131-141.

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Church of England Votes to Divest from Caterpillar

War on Want reports: "The General Synod of the Church of England voted yesterday evening (6 February 2006) 'to disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc, until they change their policies'...Caterpillar has been singled out by the United Nations for complicity in human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Thousands of Palestinian homes and vast swathes of agricultural land have been destroyed by the Israeli military using armoured Caterpillar D9 bulldozers." In addition, it was an IDF Caterpillar that killed Rachel Corrie on March 13, 2003.

Read about War on Want's Caterpillar campaign here.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

10,000+ Mobile Homes Stockpiled in Hope, AR

I can't believe the national media has not picked up on this one yet: Arkansas Congressman Mike Ross has written three letters to FEMA's interim director since December asking why 10,000 plus mobile homes are being stockpiled at the Hope, Arkansas airport (pictured above.) FEMA hasn't yet answered his letters, although a FEMA employee recently contacted Ross's office to say they are fixin' to.

This news comes as FEMA is starting to stop paying for hotel rooms for Katrina victims who have not found housing.

Says Ross, “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in all my life, and it makes me angry — angry as a taxpayer and angry for the victims of Hurricane Katrina...There’s no reason why FEMA — after five months — should not have been able to build some manufactured-housing parks.”

This was published in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, but the article--unbelievably--is available by subscription only.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

'Ud Spotting: Fannypack, "So Stylistic"

The first 15 seconds of the Brooklyn girlgroup Fannypack's "So Stylistic" (title track from their 2003 Tommy Boy release) is a sample of an 'ud solo. Seven seconds of just 'ud and derbouka, and then joined by Fannypack's characteristic, retro, early '80s electrobeat. I have no clue as to the provenance of this sample, but it is great. Cut'n'mix the 'ud everywhere, I say.

But why the 'ud, in Fannypack's delicious, carefully crafted, and eminently fun, old school sound? Is it just a bit of exotica? A random, weird sample, meant to trick the listener into thinking the song is heading somewhere else? Or does it reflect the fact that the 'ud is to be heard all over Brooklyn--in all those great Arab shops on Atlantic Avenue as well as in Rashid's Music Sales, which opened on Atlantic in 1947 and relocated to 155 Court St. in the late nineties?

The answer is, probably all, or none of the above. (Thanks to Steven Shaviro for turning me on to Fannypack.)

(And by the way, weren't fannypacks one of the most unattractive inventions of the late '80s? I'm so glad they've vanished from the scene.)

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U-Cef: New release (shortly!)

U-Cef, the Moroccan musician/producer based in London, has a new release scheduled, called Halalwood. U-Cef's first full-length release, Halalium (2000, Apartment 22), is an amazing blending of various genres of traditional Moroccan music (including Gnawa) with hip-hop and drum 'n' bass. U-Cef is not of course unique in his efforts to put together Moroccan folk and Afro-Euro funk, but he is definitely one of the best practitioners. I got to hang out for him for a few hours in July 2003, in London's small but cool Moroccan district, and in the course of the afternoon he introduced me to Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and Steve Hillage (producer of Rachid Taha). Both Albarn and Hillage appear on the new release, as do Natacha Atlas, Rachid Taha, and Justin Adams (who also guests on Halalium).

U-Cef played at the 2005 Essaouira Festival of Gnawa and World Music.

Check out U-Cef's new website. If you go here you can download a sample from Halalium. Halalium is highly recommended, so go get it so you'll be primed for Halalwood when it comes out.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Wu Man: Live in Fayetteville

I got to see Wu Man, the pipa (Chinese lute) virtuoso, perform last night at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville.

I was introduced to the work of Wu Man by my ethnomusicologist colleagues Rembrandt Wolpert and Elizabeth Markham, who run the Center for the Study of Early Asian and Middle Eastern Music at the U of A. They brought her here a couple years ago, and she performed at the celebrated Mildred B. Cooper Chapel, designed by renowned architect Faye Jones, in Bella Vista.

What I particularly admire about Wu Man is her ability to move easily between the classical Chinese pipa (pronounced 'pee-puh') tradition and the Western avant-garde. At the Cooper Chapel she performed music from the Tang Dynasty (7th and 8th centuries), recovered by Rembrandt Wolpert. On her album Pipa from a Distance (Naxos, 2003), she performs both the classical repertoire as well as wailing like Hendrix on electric pipa ("Shanghai Blues"). She has collaborated with Philip Glass, the Kronos Quartet, and Yo-Yo Ma. She even shows up on anarchist theorist Hakim Bey's album T.A.Z. (The Temporary Autonomous Zone), where he reads passages from his book of the same name.

Wu Man's concert last night similarly ran the gamut from the classical tradition to the avant-garde. In the avant vein, she performed a composition by Eric Moe, "The Sun Beats the Mountain Like a Drum," with a taped "electroacoustic sound" accompaniment.

Most amazing though, in a concert with NO low points, was "Ancient Dances," written by composer Chen Yi (commissioned by the Walton Arts Center) in collaboration with Wu Man. It's inspired by three poems by the famous "drunken" Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai. Wu Man performed this piece accompanied by John Hanks (of Duke University) on percussion and with a video by Catherine Owens (who has worked with U2, among others), based on Chinese calligraphy and artwork, playing in the background. The effect of the music and video was magical and almost overwhelming. (Given my lack of background in Chinese and avant-garde music, I'm left incapable of offering any kind of meaningful account of the music.)

I'm not a big fan of the Waltons, to put it mildly, but I really like the fact that the Walton Arts Center has recently begun commissioning works like "Ancient Dances." Wu Man will perform "Ancient Dances" at Carnegie Hall, New York City, April 6-8, 2006.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Hizbollah Gimme Cap

My friend Elliott brought me this Hizbollah baseball cap from Lebanon. Since Hizbollah is classified as a terrorist organization by the US government, it's important to note that Elliott bought the cap not from the party, but from a street vendor in Beirut. (I can't remember who is pictured wearing the hat.) The cap features the Hizbollah flag, which reads, "Hizbollah (the party of God) are the victors: The Islamic Resistance Movement in Lebanon." 23 Hizbollah members sit in the current Lebanese parliament, and two members of Hizbollah are ministers in the Lebanese government.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"Paradise Now" Nominated for Oscar

I am blown away: the Academy has nominated Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now for an Oscar, in the Foreign Language Film category. This is the first time a Palestinian film has ever been nominated, a truly historic event. I have seen it, but have not had the time to write any kind of review. And I won't now, except to say that it is great, and entirely worthy of winning the Oscar. I doubt it will win (I don't know anything about the quality of the other films nominated for best foreign film), and no doubt there will be political maneuvering against it, but the mere fact of nomination constitutes a victory in and of itself.

As for the other categories, I'm hoping that Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Capote, Transamerica, The Constant Gardener, and Syriana (especially George Clooney as supporting actor) win awards, and I hope, against hope, that Munich wins nothing.

(Earlier posts on Paradise Now, here and here).

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