Friday, June 11, 2010

Back on the tarbush/fez tip: Shafiq Husayn (plus Edward Said and a kufiya)

Thanks to Omar for turning me on to the video of Shafiq Husayn's "The U.N. Plan," from his album Shafiq En A-Freek-A.

I've mostly paid attention to the video and the general sound, so I'm turning to this account of the lyrics, courtesy The Quietus.

'The U.N. Plan' is about being stuck in a rut, "living in circles". A tight, delicious groove and surging drums accompany vocals about remembering to be a star. They duel with reflections in reverb, saying things like "her name was boo and she left me all alone to expand", as if a consciousness were struggling to put positive light on a situation.

As for the video, there are a number of intriguing elements. Shafiq appears in it in five guises: as a kind of Lonnie Liston Smith in red turban and camo fatigues; as a kind of Rasta-ish boho wearing a knit hat with Ethiopian colors; a somewhat similar look to the former, but with a red hat (you can see this guise in the frame of the embedded video above); in dark glasses and red beret; and finally, and most remarkably, as an old-school Afrocentric intellectual, complete with Malcolm-style glasses and a fez (tarbush).

The provenance of Shafiq's very intello look here is given in an earlier frame, with the titles for the video, when we see this title page, from a text by the Moorish Science Temple, founded by Noble Drew Ali. The fez was part of the outfit worn by adherents of Moorish Science. And in fact, in the photo above, not only does Shafiq recall Malcolm X, but also Noble Drew Ali (see the photo from this previous fez post.)

With these images Shafiq is conjuring with the racialist theories of Moorish Science, which proposes that African-Americans are of Moorish origin. But he also conjures up the image of post-Mecca Malcolm, who abandoned the racialist doctrines of Elijah Muhammad and advocated progressive alliances with peoples of all races. The gentleman sitting at the table with Shafiq-in-fez could be Arab or Hispanic or South Asian. The video also shows images of the Buddha and a text about Tibet.

And then the Shafiq-in-beret is shown with a woman wearing what may be an Islamic headscarf (worn pretty loosely). In one scene the two of them are shown in front of a mural that depicts a woman in red kufiya, who appears to be depicted with "African" features. (The woman also appears with Shafiq-in-red-hat.)

We see a shot of another page of a book toward the end of the video, another text that the Shafiq-in-fez is presumably reading.

Look closely, and you will see that it is the top of page 175 of Edward Said's Orientalism, from Chapter Two, "Orientalist Structures and Restructures." The passage is about Chateaubriand's visit to Egypt.

How cool is that, Edward Said in a music video? Of course, it would be a video from an artist who belongs to the afro-futurist ensemble Sa-Ra Creative Partners, a group that evokes the name, sensibilities, and mythologies of Sun Ra and his Arkestra. A group responsible for production on Erykah Badu's incredible New Amerykah: Part One.

There is no doubt more to say about how expansive and complex is Shafiq Husayn's "U.N. Plan," but I'll leave it there for now.

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