Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chuck Willis, Sheik of the Blues

Blues/Rhythm & Blues artist Chuck Willis, routinely wore a turban on stage when he performed (he reportedly owned 54 of them), and so was known as "Sheik of the Blues." (Some claim he was known as the Sheik of Shake and Sheik of the Stroll.) Best known for his 1957 hit, "C.C. Rider." He recorded for Atlantic Records starting in 1956. (Atlantic of course was co-founded by the Turk Ahmet Ertegün--who was secular and of course did not wear a turban.) Willis died of peritonitis, at the age of thirty, in 1958.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Turban Alert! The Fabulous Ottomans

A glance at the photo might lead you to think that this group dates from the '50s. But no, The Fabulous Ottomans are a working band, based in Barcelona, Spain, who play the "finest turban headed rhythm & blues."

You can download their very fine track, "Shake Shout Soul," on their myspace page. And also here, at Soulful Torino Records, which is where I found it.

For some reason, turbans were very popular among rhythm 'n' blues artists of the '50s and '60s, among them Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Chuck Willis, and Professor Longhair. Here's a photo gallery. Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds (is this where the Ottomans got their 'Fabulous' moniker?) used to wear a turban, back in the day (I first saw him perform in one in 1978). Meanwhile, here's one of my all-time fave turban wearers, Sam the Sham (Domingo Samudio) of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, of "Wooly Bully" fame. (And I guess, considering what The Pharaohs are wearing, it's a kufiyaspotting too.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Last Kufiya Factory in Palestine

The article reproduced below, by Benjamin Barthe, appeared in Le Monde on February 20 (p. 7), with the title,"Mort annoncée du keffieh 'made in Palestine,'"and--translated into English--on March 14 in the Manchester Guardian Weekly (p. 31). And also check out this article from the Daily Telegraph (January 21), that also covers the threat to Hirbawi's factory. It has a useful photo gallery featuring kufiya wearers in Palestine and in the West (Colin Farrell, Beckham, and Sting).

As the kufiya has taken off in popularity in the West, the beneficiaries have not been Palestinian producers. Palestinian kufiya manufacturers have been getting wiped out of the market, due to a combination of factors: its growing international popularity, since at least the '80s, has inspired other producers, most notably Chinese manufacturers, to join the fray; the lack of protective tariffs for Palestinian producers--the Palestinian Authority has no "authority" to impose import duties, or really to impose much of anything; and the myriad Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, which have ground economic activity to a virtual standstill.

I have a very nice kufiya, made in Hebron, which I bought in the West Bank in 1984, and is of much finer quality than any I've seen since, in the West or in the Middle East. Hopefully it's not too late for me to find another good one when I'm there this June.

Arafat's Scarf Loses Its Cool

Yasser Hirbawi, 78, takes us slowly round the factory, that he has directed for 45 years in Hebron, on the West Bank. In the early 1960s he imported 15 machines from Japan but only four are still running.

His firm is the last manufacturer in the Occupied Territories still weaving the traditional black and white keffiyeh worn by Palestinians. "Competition from Chinese textile products killed my business," he says with a sigh.

In its heyday the Hirbawi family factory produced almost 150,000 units a year. The boom owed a great deal to the Palestine Liberation Organisation's fedayeen and above all to their leader, Yasser Arafat, whose headgear was synonymous with the liberation movement. "All the people throwing stones during the first intifada felt obliged to wear a keffiyeh," says Hirbawi.

In the 1990s the Holy Land's popularity as a holiday destination boosted sales. But 10 years later, with China's economic growth, increasing deregulation of trade and the start of the second intifada, sales plummeted. Locally produced scarves were more expensive than imports, added to which Israeli checkpoints delayed deliveries.

Photo of Hirbawi (from the Daily Telegraph)

"The whole textile trade collapsed in just a couple of years, says Tareq Souss, the head of the Palestinian garment industry. "Our government, which has no control over the borders, was quite unable to cope with the massive influx of Chinese products."

Two other factories are closing. The Hirbawi business is just ticking over, producing 15,000 units a year with a handful of staff. "Even the scarves marked 'Jerusalem Is Ours' that Fateh handed out earlier this year were from China," Hirbawi's son, Izzat, grumbles.

Hirbawi is still hopeful, convinced that higher import duties could rescue his business. But his son's look of resignation suggests that Palestine's last keffiyeh factory is unlikely to outlive its founder.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


(cover of Muslimgauze's Izlamaphobia)

I've been fascinated, intrigued, and puzzled by Muslimgauze since my friend David first taped me one of his CD's, back in 1992. (I can no longer remember which one.) Now, finally, I've found an informative article about Muslimgauze, published in the irreplaceable Bidoun, and by Jace Clayton of the band Nettle.

Muslimgauze was the one-person project of British experimental-electronic music artist Bryn Jones, who died in 1999. Much of the music is loaded with samples of Middle Eastern music, and of music he played himself on various Middle Eastern instruments. Some of the music is quite obscure, all electronic beeps and bleeps, but a lot of it is very creative and difficult to describe samples and loops that are heavily Middle Eastern and highly avant-garde. He was extremely prolific--180 releases at last count, and more to come.

When I first became acquainted with his music, I assumed that the titles were more provocation than representative of Jones' actual beliefs. I've downloaded a number of Muslimgauze titles from emusic (a great Muslimgauze source), and here are a few: "Izzedin Al-Qassam" from the album Alms for Iraq (Qassam was an Islamic militant who ignited the 1936-39 revolt in Palestine; the rockets that are fired on Israel by Hamas militants are named after him); "Army Of Females Wearing Latex Gadaffi Masks"; "8am, Tel Aviv, Islamic Jihad," from the album Gun Aramaic; the album Hebron Massacre (a reference to Baruch Goldstein's slaughter of 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994); "Lion Of Kandahar," from the album Iran (a reference to the Afghani anti-communist jihadi with the National Islamic Front, Haji Abdul Latif),; "Curfew, Gaza," from the album Zul'm ("oppression," in Arabic); "Believers Of The Blind Sheikh" (a reference to the late Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yasin); the album Vote Hezbollah, and so on. It turns out that all these citations were not just punk provocation, but actually indicative of Jone's actual political beliefs. He was a hardcore supporter of Palestinians and critic of Israeli actions, to the point of asserting that he wouldn't talk to any Israelis, and expressing admiration for the likes of "leaders such as Arafat, Khomeini, Qaddafi, Saddam, Abu Nidal, etc, as well as organizations such as the PLO, Hamas, and Hizbullah."

Jace Clayton suggests that
"Muslimgauze's music is too weird, too intrinsically vague to serve any political purpose. We face an awkward possibility: to hear Muslimgauze, we must not listen to Bryn Jones...Nor pay much attention to his cover art."

(cover of Hamas Arc)

And here's Clayton's judgment on the music:
"Listening to songs like '8A.M., Tel Aviv, Islamic Jihad' helps one understand the strange genius of Muslimgauze. He had no interest in making Middle Eastern-sounding music. Jones was after Middle Eastern-sounding sound. He fetishized the poor (re)production quality of its cheap cassette tapes, obsessively reproducing those sonic effects. He made audio environments instead of songs."

Unlike another of my favorite provocateur musicians, Aki Nawaz of Fun'Da'Mental, Jones' politics were retrograde, unsophisticated, and reactive. Luckily, and also unlike Aki, Jones didn't actually participate in any political movements. Instead, he was a recluse who, given his amazing output, must have spent most of his waking hours producing music. The music, the sound, however, is well worth checking out. I recommend getting on to, where you can listen to 30 seconds worth of every Muslimgauze track they have available (at present, 27 albums, plus some EPs and compilations.)

The authorized Muslimgauze website is here; wikipedia on Muslimgauze here, with links to additional articles.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Winter Soldier Mark 2

Please check out the videos of testimony by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), at the Winter Soldier Testimony, held March 13-16. It's very moving, especially when you hear soldiers describing the atrocities and abuses they were involved in, and when they apologize to the Iraqi people. No doubt there is material here to make a film as powerful as the original Winter Soldier, the account of the VVAW Winter Soldier Investigation held in February 1971. Don't miss it if you've not seen it.

I've seen no media coverage to speak of, but the BBC did cover it. (The report is marred only by an attempt to be "even-handed.")

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Watch Clan from Marseille

Check out this vid, and watch out for this group. They're from Marseille, and Tim Whelan from Transglobal Underground co-produced their new album, Diaspora Hi-Fi (Piranha). I'm trying to find a copy. Meanwhile:

And here they are, presenting Diaspora Hi-Fi in Agadir, Morocco, performing with the Moroccan group Amarg Fusion.

Listen to The Gossip's "Careless Whisper" (George Michael Cover)

Fabulous, no? Lead singer Beth Ditto and guitarist Brace (Nathaniel) Paine hail from Arkansas. Vintage hawgblawg photo here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Colonialism in Iraq?

An interview with Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, US commander in the north of Iraq, was broadcast today on NPR's Morning Edition, as part of NPR's coverage on the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq (Operation Desert Fox). Several of the things Hertling said struck me as reminiscent of classical colonialist discourse. Entirely unselfconscious, commonsensical, self-evident, and as as with all ruling ideology, it all just goes without saying. I consider Hertling's statements, the way he frames the discussion, symptomatic of what the Iraq adventure is all about.

You need to listen to the broadcast--note that NPR's written summary of the interview leaves these statements out. (Just click on "Listen Now" up at the top.)

Here's what struck me:

"We brought our seven governors together in the Tikrit and we helped the ministers...come up here and we had an all day event with them where some key concerns were aired...we're beginning to see some results... [emphasis added]"

[Comment: Who's really in charge here? Whose governors are these, are they "our" governors or are they the northern Iraqis' governors? And of course, the ministers needed the US military to arrange for them to meet with the governors and get things going.]

"in the Arab's a different culture of--you've got to change the way you think about things. Under Saddam, the central was government was viewed as successful if you saved their budget."

[Comment: The "Arab mindset"--another US military officer who's read Raphael Patai's The Arab Mind, the classic Orientalist anthropological text. And yet, by Hertling's own accounting, as he says in the next sentence, it's not really an "Arab" mindset but a mindset particular to the Saddam regime.]

"there are very few banks over here..."

[Comment: few banks in Iraq, it must be a primitive place!]

"We're really sort of the bridge between the central government and the provinces in trying to get the right things happening."

[That's us, just the facilitators, the guys trying to bring "good government" to Iraq.]

Let's stop this colonialist nonsense. The fifth anniversary of the war is tomorrow, and throughout the country there are demonstrations and vigils, coordinated by and a number of other organizations. (Find your local vigil here.)

In Fayetteville, the vigil will be held tomorrow (the 19th) at Federal Building on College Ave, corner of Mountain St. and College Ave from 4 to 6 PM.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hummos-spotting: Dearborn Wal-Mart

This AP story, about the Wal-Mart supercenter that opened last week in Dearborn, appeared today in my local paper (the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette). Maybe you saw it too. What is notable about this store, serving the largest Arab-American community in the US, is that Aisle 3 features lots of Arabic food items, including hummos and baba ghanouj.

And: "The Dearborn store also sells Arabic music [Haifa Wehbe, I hope: hawgblawg] and plans to offer Muslim greeting cards. But the modifications go beyond merchandise: It has 35 employees who speak Arabic - noted in Arabic script on their badges. The store also has hired a local Arab-American educator to teach the staff cultural sensitivity."

But will it have a negative impact on the neighborhood stores that have traditionally supplied mamoul and fava beans and Turkish coffee to Dearborn's Arab community? According to Patricia Edwards, "portfolio manager and retail analyst in the Seattle office of San Francisco-based investment manager Wentworth, Hauser & Violich, which has 537,000 shares of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. stock," "Wal-Mart is a little kinder and gentler than they were 10 years ago. They are fierce competitors ... but I don't think they're trying to do a scorched earth policy..."

Do you believe her?

Does corporate "recognition" of Arab-American identity constitute a progressive political move? What would Naomi Klein (No Logo) say? Discuss.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Kominas' "Wild NIghts in Guantanamo Bay"

Very exciting news (Thanks, John!)--the groundbreaking taqwacore ("Islamic punk") band, The Kominas, have finally released their first CD, Wild Nights in Guantanamo Bay. I've not yet heard it (it was only released on March 10), but you can listen to some of the songs that appear on it, like "Suicide Bomb the Gap" and "Sharia Law in the USA," on The Kominas' myspace page. I'm especially partial to the latter. Unfortunately, you can no longer download their material for free. So buy the album here.

More info on The Kominas is available from wikipedia. It states that the group is on "gigging hiatus" because bass player Basim is currently in Pakistan. Don't know whether that is true. I hope not for long.

And don't you just love this cover?

(Earlier Kominas posts here and here.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Real Hipster Intifada

"Solidarity isn't a fashion accessory"--finally, someone gets it right! Thanks to John for alerting me to this event. Don't miss it, if you're in Austin this Friday. It benefits the UT Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Middle East Children's Alliance. Given the focus of these groups, I imagine that a lot of the money raised will go to Gaza.

I don't know these bands, but let's give them props for performing at a Palestine event. Check them out: Cry Blood Apache, Canopy, Headdress, Blacklisted Individuals. (I can't find Hill Ma.)

Image found at Riseinhope's flickr site.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Jeff Chang Speaks in Fayetteville, Wednesday March 5

This is pretty exciting news, that Jeff Chang will be speaking here on Wednesday March 5. (Yes, I'm a bit late in posting this.) Chang's book, Can't Stop Won't Stop, is one of the best recent books on hip-hop, and his blog is invaluable. (He's also the author of the more recent Total Chaos: The Art And Aesthetics of Hip-hop, which I've not yet read.) This is not to be missed. Here's the info from the flyer that has been sent and posted around campus:

Difficult Dialogues Presents

JEFF CHANG, cultural journalist and author of the book

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

Jeff will speak about Hip-hop as a tool for activism and political change

MARCH 5TH, 2008

3:30 p.m., informal student Q&A
7:00 p.m., presentation with Q&A
Willard J. Walker Hall
(across from the Harmon parking deck)

Free Admission, open to the public

In the introduction to Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, DJ Kool Herc says, “Hip-hop is the voice of this generation…It has become a powerful force. Hip-hop binds all of these people, all of these nationalities, all over the world together.”

Difficult Dialogues is funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation.