Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ann Wright and GI's Against the Vietnam War

Ann Wright, Arkansas hero, retired Army Colonel, who resigned from the State Department to protest her opposition to the Iraq War, and who ran Cindy Sheehan's camp at Crawford, Texas last summer, has got into trouble again. This time, she was detained, and charged with sedition, at Fort McNair, for passing out flyers for the new film, Sir! No Sir! The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the War In Vietnam.

This was reported by Democracy Now! yesterday. But the reason you should watch this segment is because it features a long clip from the film, Sir! No Sir!. The film, as is obvious from the title, is a documentary dealing with the very strong opposition that emerged, inside the US military, to the war in Vietnam. There is an interview with Jane Fonda, active in a troupe called FTA (Fuck/Free the Army), that used to travel around the country and perform for GIs (in one scene you can spot Donald Sutherland). The film tells an untold, suppressed, and essentially censored story of the GI antiwar movement, of the hundreds of underground papers put out at bases and on ships, of the some half million cases of desertion. It puts the lie to the myth that veterans who came home from the war were spat on by antiwar protesters (most famously, in the Rambo films). Fonda was not anti-military, her anti-war activity involved her working very closely with GI's. H. Bruce Franklin's essential book, Vietnam and Other American Fantasies (2001), devotes chapter 5 to the story of antiwar activity inside the military. Although I was involved in the antiwar movement when I was in the US (68-69, 71), I didn't know or remember this story, or at least, the extent of GI activity. (I teach this book in my Popular Culture class, and students love it.) I can't wait to see this film! See the official website for information on screenings, and for a preview.

Tag: ,

Cheikha Rimitti, R.I.P.

Two of my favorite Middle Eastern artists pass away within 8 days of each other! Cheikha Rimitti died of a heart attack in Paris at the age of 83 on May 15. She was a performer right to the end; she had just performed in Paris two days before she died. Rimitti was one of the great cheikhas of modern rai, releasing her first recording in 1952, but it was her 1954 release, "Charrak, Gattaa," that made her renowned, and infamous, throughout Algeria. The song was considered by some to be an attack on the preservation of female virginity. After independence, her music was banned by the NLF from the airwaves, because of its vulgarity.

Rimitti had a reputation for bawdiness, and her name reportedly came from her habit of demanding more drinks: "Remettez!"--"Give me another." Cheikha Give Me Another Drink. Her reputation for excess should not be exxagerated, as it is all too often in publicity about rai. After an accident in 1971, Rimitti gave up drinking and smoking, and went on hajj in 1976. I even have a cassette, purchased in Paris' Barbès district, which she recorded under the name Hajja Rimitti.

Rimitti recorded in the traditional cheikha style of Oran, singing typically to the backing of the gasba (read flute), guellal (a small metallic drum) and a rebaba (one stringed violin). After "pop rai" blew up, first in Algeria by the late seventies, and then on the world music market by the late eighties, Rimitti began recording with the type of electric backing typical of contemporary rai. A failed experiment, in my opinion, was Sidi Mansour (1994, with Robert Fripp and Flea). I find her electronic recording Nouar (2000) much more compelling. I've only listened to her just released N'ta Goudami a couple times, and I rather prefer Nouar. You can listen to all of N'ta Goudami and several cuts from Nouar and Sidi Mansour if you go to Cheikha Rimitti's official website and go to "Discotheques." I prefer Rimitti's traditional, unplugged recordings, but all of her recordings feature her deep, amazing, scorched voice.

If you want to see what Rimitti was like in performance, check out her performance at the Kennedy Center in July 2002 (you have to scroll down a ways, and then when you open the file, the Rimitti segment starts at about 51 minutes). Remember that she was 79 years old at this performance. The band vamps a bit too much, but the belly dancer who shows up for some of the songs is a real treat.

We'll miss you, Rimitti.

Tags: , ,

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hamza El Din, R.I.P.

Hamza El Din passed away yesterday, May 23, of complications from brain surgery, at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley. I'll post more details if/when I get them.

Hamza was a giant of Nubian music, whose career spanned over four decades. I did a slide show/talk at University of Pennsylvania in December 2001, which was followed by comments and discussion by Hamza. Hamza started by saying, "I'm the one who wrecked Nubian music." He went on to explain that before him, traditional Nubian music consisted of singing to the accompaniment of the tar or frame drum, and sometimes the kisr or lute. Hamza was the first to set Nubian songs to the backing of the 'ud. Hamza moved to the US in the early '60s, and was a fixture on the US folk music scene, playing clubs in the Village. His first two albums were released on Vanguard, the leading folk label of the time. Hamza worked as an ethnomusicologist at the University of Texas and the University of Washington, and he played at Woodstock in 1969. He was friends of the Grateful Dead and used to play concerts with them, and played at the Pyramids in Cairo with the Dead in 1978. He later moved to Japan where he resided for a number of years, studying Japanese traditional music. I saw him perform in Cairo in 1994 (I think) with a group of traditional Japanese musicians. I also got to know him and hang out with him a couple of times, courtesy of my advisor, and Hamza's old friend, Bob Fernea.

Allah yarhamu!

Tags: ,

Haifa Wehbe, 50 Cent in concert in Beirut

What I reported as a rumor earlier now seems to be really happening. Both 50 Cent and G-Unit list a concert in Beirut on June 10th on their websites, and a friend of mine who just arrived in Beirut says yes, it's happening. If she goes, I'll try to get a report. Majnun!

Of course, Beirut has long hosted touring acts from the West, most notably at the Baalbek Festival. I saw Miles Davis & Co. perform at Baalbek in the summer of 1973. This was the Miles of the On the Corner era. It was funky and crazy and one of the most amazing concerts I've ever attended. (And the setting: the Roman ruins of the Temple of Bacchus.) I also saw Stockhausen perform in Lebanon, at the Jeita Caves. What's notable about this concert is that a major Lebanese artist is performing along with the touring US rap stars. Have the cultural power dynamics shifted, just a bit?

Tags: , , , ,

Monday, May 22, 2006

Robert Neralich, keynote speaker, Fayetteville High Commencement

Robert Neralich, keynote speaker, Fayetteville High Commencement
Originally uploaded by tsweden.

5-20-06. Note that Principal Willison is looking at his watch and Superintendent New looks unhappy. Perhaps it was when Neralich said to the students, "Do not attempt to respond to the critical council of obedient servants, good soldiers, corporate quantifiers and dress-for-success bureaucrats who will urge you to extinguish the candle of your creative potential."

Tags: ,

Evan's graduation, Fayetteville High

Evan's graduation
Originally uploaded by tsweden.

My son graduated on Saturday, and here he is, after commencement, with his mom. (The purple cord indicates he graduated with honors.) Besides the fact that I enjoyed the ceremony because I was proud of my son, the commencement keynote speaker was the best I've ever heard. Dr. Robert Neralich, humanities teacher at Fayetteville HIgh (and Evan's Asian Studies teacher), spoke in favor of controversy, and managed at the same time to create some controversy. At various points people booed, one person yelled, "get off the stage," and there was also a lot of cheering and clapping. Neralich started by taking aim at the U of A: "Many of you are aware that a professor at the UA [Kabin Thomas] was recently dismissed from his teaching post. I was appalled by his statement that one reason for his firing was that his administrative superiors [my Dean] did not approve of his unorthodox teaching methods and preferred faculty members who were not controversial. As a teacher, I am profoundly distressed that the term 'controversial' can be rendered so readily in a negative sense. When I think about controversial people, the names that occur to me constitute many of the world's greatest benefactors." Would that there were more Neralichs teaching students like my son.

Tag: ,

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Joel Beinin sues Horowitz's publisher

I caught this from The Angry Arab: Joel Beinin has sued the book publishers of David Horowitz's new book, Campus Support for Terrorism, for using his photo (he's on the lower left) on the cover. An article in the San Jose Mercury News quotes David Horowitz as stating that Beinin "supported terrorism," along with other typical Horowitz lies and distortions.

Some academics think it's a kind of honor to show up on Horowitz's various lists, but I disagree. It's McCarthyism, it's dangerous, and at the least, it's a horrible nuisance to be targeted by him.

Tags: ,

Veiled Michael Jackson shops in Bahrain

This Sunday's New York Times had an interesting article about Michael Jackson's very troubled financial situation. But what really struck me was this photo which accompanied the article. It shows Michael and one of his children shopping in Bahrein, where he now lives. Will this fuel even more rumors about Michael Jackson having converted to Islam? Or will Muslims eager for converts be worried that they might be welcoming a cross-dresser into their community?

Tags: ,

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Profits of rage

I know, this is a very old-school, and not very original, pun. But it's what comes to mind as I try to catch up on my reading today, going through the December 15, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone, which attempts to assess the topic, "Hip Hop Now." As I read about Jay-Z and his clothing lines and his two Manhattan penthouses worth $17.5 million, I understand better why I have so much trouble getting interested in hip-hop these days. All the endorsements and the bling-bling and the bizness deals make the whole notion of "keeping it real" appear totally ludicrous, and so even when I hear great rap music, it just makes me long for the days of rap oppositionality and marginality. But maybe my idea that part of the pleasure of listening to creative tunes could be connected somehow to progressive politics is hopelessly naïve.

Here's one item from that Rolling Stone issue that really struck me: "Last year, brand names got mentioned nearly 1,000 times in the hip-hop-dominated Top Twenty singles chart, according to the San Francisco marketing firm Agenda. The year's most blatant product placement surfaced in Petey Pablo's massive hit 'Freek-a-Leek': 'Now I got to give a shout-out to Seagram's gin,' Pablo announced at the track's end,''cause I'm drinkin' it and they payin' me for it.'" The product placement deal was cut by Tony Rome of Maven Strategies.

I think I'll go indulge my melancholy and drink some Seagram's.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What's the point of a peace movement if they can't find Iraq on a map?

"After more than three years of combat and nearly 2,400 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, nearly two-thirds of Americans aged 18 to 24 still cannot find Iraq on a map, a study released Tuesday showed.

The study found that less than six months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 33 percent could not point out Louisiana on a U.S. map."

Source: CNN, May 2.

Tags: , ,

Zena al-Khalil at Espace SD, Beirut

I subscribe to the Ashkal Alwan (Lebanese Association for the Plastic Arts) newsletter, which, if I read it, keeps me informed of all kinds of artistic activity, in the Arab world and the diaspora. I'm particularly moved by this piece by Zena al-Khalil, which is now on exhibit at Espace SD, Beirut. It's a Warholesque collage of a Maronite Christian fighter in the Lebanese Civil War, circa '74-'77 (you can tell from the hair) and the Holiday Inn, located in Beirut's famous hotel district, which was destroyed in the early months of the war. (The band I belonged to in Beirut, the Bliss St. Blues Band, played at the Holiday Inn in '74 for the American Community School High School prom.)

Zena al-Khalil, born in '76, says in her statement:
I was born in war.
Everything around me now is war.
War has always been.
I cannot remember a time when there was no war.
Besides being a painter and an installation and performance artist, Zena is a Greenpeace activist.

Tags: , , ,