Thursday, May 31, 2012

“Taqwacore is dead. Long live Taqwacore”

Siddharta Mitter, writing for MTV Iggy, brilliantly assesses the history and future (if any) of Taqwacore, frequently mis-identified as "Muslim Punk." (But -- how would you identify it?)

...whether Taqwacore is dead or has simply mutated, the intersection of Islam, among other brown identities, and music will remain busy and vibrant so long as there are youth around to rebel against the boxes that confine them. 

“No one wants to be pigeonholed,” [Omar] Majeed says. “Taqwacore itself was a reaction against being labeled—as Muslim, brown, too religious, not religious enough. Now people are doing new things with the moniker. That’s happening, and that’s good.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

Kufiyas and Straub & Huillet's "Moses and Aaron"

New Yorker Films

A review in the New York Times (February 2, 2012) of Straub and Huillet's 1975 film Moses and Aaron reminded me how common it has been for films to depict the biblical Hebrews as Bedouin. This film, however, is anything but what one youtube commenter calls a "sword n' sandals" epic, Hollywood style. The music is by Schoenberg, meaning it is in many ways the antithesis of Hollywood soundtracks.

And the Times reviewer, David Kehr, informs us that the directors "had come to prominence as the creators of a meticulously Marxist-materialist presentation of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, 'The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach' (1968), and the same systematic refusal of transcendence is at work here." And Kehr concludes, "more than ever 'Moses und Aron' seems like one of the monuments of 20th-century cinematic modernism..."

 And yet, those costumes still remind one of Hollywood representations, don't they?

Check out this scene from the film. Love the dancing in front of the golden calf.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Maxi Pries wears the Israeli Keffiyeh" --- wha???

Check out this, er, surprising vid, featuring respected British reggae artist Maxi Priest.

The kufiya he is wearing is the record label Shemspeed. It describes its products thus: Israeli Keffiyeh, with its intricate Star of David pattern in the left piece, and words AM ISRAEL CHAI (Jewish People Live) in Hebrew weaved into its fabric in a variety of colors. Check them out here. Colors include blue-and-white, purple, "Army (IDF)" and "Rasta Tiedye."

But there is more to this product than simple appropriation -- though I think it is certainly susceptible to such a claim. Shemspeed also offers the Peace Keffiyeh, which it describes thus:

Peace is something everyone wants, every language in the world has a version of this world in their vocabulary. One of the long standing feuds have been between Jewish & Muslim people, which is the inspiration behind the peace, shalom, salaam Keffiyeh. Though peace talks have been taking place for years now and the divide has grown even wider with harsh actions & rhetoric on both sides, yet it seems there is a consensus that both sides want peace, the problem is that each side wants it on their terms. 

We are launching a grass rout campaign to try to focus on the similarities on these Semitic people rather than on our differences. At the end of the day the roots are quite similar in nature since both faiths originate with Abraham and with a shared culture (before the Jews settled around the world) history and now the land. The only sustainable option is coming in terms with a peaceful resolution to this long standing divide. Here is our contribution to this effect. 

The peace "kef" comes in both black-and-white and red-and-white.

I do, honestly, appreciate the sentiment. And the fact that the patterns of the "peace kef" include both Stars of David and the traditional kufiya pattern, and that peace is written on the "kef" in both Hebrew and Arabic. This all comes from the orientation of DJ/producer Erez Safar, who is the founder of Shemspeed, also the founder of the Sephardic Music Festival, and is of Yemeni background. This "Israeli keffiyeh" then should not be read simply as an attempt at Zionist colonial appropriation but as an effort on the part of an Israeli Jew of "Oriental" background, i.e., a Mizrahi, to stress the cultural commonalities between Arabs and Jews. 

Before passing even cursory judgment on Safar's and Shemspeed's projects, I'd need to become more familiar with the Sephardi Music Festival and with the artists on Shemspeed's label. I am somewhat familiar with Pharaohs Daughter, who I like, though not wildly, and the Hasid reggae artist Matisyahu, whose music I sometimes like but whose politics, when it comes to Israel, I'm suspicious of.

I'm can't imagine that Erez Safar and Shemspeed will be warmly welcomed by many Palestinians or Palestine activists when they call try to reclaim the kufiya as Israeli, or when they infuse it with Star of David patterns. Or when they marked "IDF" kufiyas. Nor are they on very convincing political ground when they act as if both "sides" are equivalent in their "harshness" of their actions and rhetoric. One "side" is an occupying and colonizing force, with enormous military and economic assets. The other is an occupied people resisting. There is no equivalence.

And yet...I welcome Shemspeed's efforts to push the Sephardi, Eastern, Mizrahi side of Jewishness, to challenge Ashkenazi identity. Even at times, to "Arabize" it. Check out, for instance, the Moroccan-Israeli singer Smadar's "Ghali Ya Bouy." Very hot. And she is from Sderot...

Oh, and if you are interested, Shemspeed has other "kef" products (I really don't like this hip abbreviation, sorry), like the Kabbalah Kef and the Kef Shawl and various Kef Skinny Ties. 

Kufiya'd vet at NATO protest in Chicago

At least one of the fifty some vets of Afghanistan and Iraq who tossed away their medals on Sunday, May  20, as part of the anti-NATO demonstrations in Chicago, wore a kufiya. Not one of those military-issue khaki ones, but a red one.

The photo above is a screen save from the following report on the event. Please note the vet who tosses his medal, starting at 0:37. That is Jacob George, from my hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, who has been riding around the country on his bicycle for two years, organizing against the war and playing banjo. Read about his project, called A Ride Till the End, here.


Forty one years prior to this event, on April 23, 1971, as part of an anti-war action organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, over 800 Nam vets tossed their medals, ribbons, discharge papers, and the like, at the US Capitol. The event was widely covered, and part of a major, ongoing mobilization against the Vietnam War. Alas, the anti-war actions in the US these days are, by contrast to those events, are a whimper.

Here's a video of that dramatic event:

dj/rupture - Sufi Plug Ins and Humphrey Davies

1. Via rupture's Mudd Up!, Sufi Plug Ins.

an interdisciplinary project dedicated to exploring non-western & poetic notions of sound in interaction with alternative interfaces...a suite of seven free audio tools for Ableton (Max for Live), including include four distinct synthesizers hardwired to North African & Arabic maqam scales with quartertone tuning built-in, a device called Devotion which lowers your computer’s volume 5 times a day during call to prayer (presets include Agnostic, Fervent, Devout), and a drone tools, Sufi Plug Ins are what you do with them. 

2. On May 16, rupture did a live radio show from Cairo, with guest host Humphrey Davies, one of the preeminent translators of texts from Arabic to English (such as Elias Khoury's Gate of the Sun). The show opens with a divine track from Layla Murad, "Itmakhtari witmayli ya khayl (Strut and prance, Horses!)," from the 1949 film Ghazal al-Banat (which Davies translates as "Candy Floss").

Wayne Marshall (of the blog wayneandwax) tweeted about the show and the opening number: "when the cowbell comes in at 0:07 seconds here, it's so 'take me to the mardi gras' i jump out of my skin." Listen and jump out of your skin too. And be sure to stay tuned for the entire show.

Ghazal al-Banat, btw, is a fantastic, uproarious comedy. Someone has put the entire film up on youtube. (Sorry, no subtitles.) Check out this segment, which features an amazing number from Mohammed Abd-el Wahhab (starting at about 4:30), complete with a huge orchestra and chorus, an army of balalaikas, a division of clarinets, Abdel Wahhab on vocals and banjo...Wow. Ahhh, ya Masr.

And the song continues in this segment.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Facebook and the theory of surplus value

On the occasion of Facebook's IPO, today, May 18, 2012, I want to share something I came across just last night, from an excellent article on the legacy of Karl Marx. ("Marx at 193," John Lanchester, London Review of Books, April 5, 2012). I particularly like statement this because (1) it's a great, teachable illustration of Marx's theory of surplus value and (2) it uses the theory to expose how labor is "hidden" in and by Facebook.

This idea of labour being hidden in things, and the value of things arising from the labour congealed inside them, is an unexpectedly powerful explanatory tool in the digital world. Take Facebook. Part of its success comes from the fact that people feel that they and their children are safe spending time there, that it is a place you go to interact with other people but is not fundamentally risky or sleazy in the way new technologies are often perceived to be – that VHS, for instance, was when it was launched on the market. But the perception that Facebook is, maybe the best word would be ‘hygienic’, is sustained by tens of thousands of hours of badly paid labour on the part of the people in the developing world who work for companies hired to scan for offensive images and who are, according to the one Moroccan man who went on the record to complain about it, paid a dollar an hour for doing so. That’s a perfect example of surplus value: huge amounts of poorly paid menial work creating the hygienic image of a company which, when it launches on the stock market later this year, hopes to be worth $100 billion.

Be sure to read the entire article.

As for the poorly paid Moroccans working for FB, it appears that The Gawker blew the whistle. And The Daily Telegraph did some reporting on this in March.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Syrian revolutionary culture

From Layla Al-Zubaidi, writing in the London Review of Books:

Since the uprising began, every village has come up with its own dabke, a traditional dance in which the dancers, their hands locked together, move in a circle and stamp their feet to the beat of a drum. Every funeral is turned into a protest procession. Among the most common funeral chants is a song written by Ibrahim Qashoush, a singer from Hama, called ‘Yallah irhal ya Bashar!’ (‘Get out, Bashar!’). When Qashoush was found last summer with his throat slit and vocal cords ripped out, the song became the movement’s soundtrack. It even made its way to Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis, where crowds sang it on the anniversary of their own revolution. It became such a phenomenon that the authorities pirated it. Schoolchildren were given it to sing, but with the lyrics altered: ‘Nahna rijalak ya Bashar!’ (‘We are your people, Bashar!’). Abbas said it was because they are afraid of the song: ‘They use it like a voodoo puppet. They think that if they appropriate the symbols of the revolution, they can tame its spell.’

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

By the rivers of Babylon

Journalist writing Rachel Shabi is an Iraqi Jew, born in Israel to parents who migrated there from Iraq in the early fifties and then moved to England. In her book, We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel's Jews from Arab Lands (New York, 2008), Shabi writes that her father lampoons the legend of Iraqi Jews weeping beside Babylon as they remembered Zion.

"They weren't crying, " he says. "They were singing and dancing and drinking arak!"

Can someone, someday, write and record a vision of that brilliant reggae song?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Writers: get up, stand up (for 2 minutes)

Gretchen Reynolds in The New York Times:

In an inspiring study being published next month in Diabetes Care, scientists at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, had 19 adults sit completely still for seven hours or, on a separate day, rise every 20 minutes and walk leisurely on a treadmill (handily situated next to their chairs) for two minutes. On another day, they had the volunteers jog gently during their two-minute breaks.

When the volunteers remained stationary for the full seven hours, their blood sugar spiked and insulin levels were out of whack. But when they broke up the hours with movement, even that short two-minute stroll, their blood sugar levels remained stable. Interestingly, the jogging didn’t improve blood sugar regulation any more than standing and walking did. What was important, the scientists concluded, was simply breaking up the long, interminable hours of sitting...

So every 20 minutes or so, I now rise. I don’t have a desk treadmill; my office is too small, and my budget too slim. But I prop my papers on a music stand and read standing up. I prowl my office while I talk on the phone...

I run for three or four miles most days, too, and grunt through 20 push-ups most mornings.

Gaza Surfing

This is a gorgeous and moving set of photos of Gaza surfers from Andrew McConnell. There are 23 surfers there who own boards, and other surfers who borrow when possible. Supplies are impossible to get in, so international donors have helped supply boards and wetsuits. But the surfers have no wax, so they improvise. This photos shows them melting candles on their boards before they head out onto the beach.
photo: Andrew McConnell

You wonder whether the Gaza surfers know that surf music was invented by the Lebanese-American guitarist Richard Mansour, who recorded under the name of Dick Dale. 

As Dale told George Baramki Azar, "My music comes from the rhythm of Arab songs," he says. "I applied the beat of the darbukkah (fluted drum) to my guitar. This is where a lot of great surf motifs originated."

Probably Dale's most famous song (due to Pulp Fiction) is "Misirlou," which is based on a Greek song (the title, meaning "Egyptian Muslim Girl," comes from the Arabic for Egypt, Misr) that was popular in the Arab-American community since at least the 1930's, and has been recorded in multiple versions. The song emerged from the rebetika tradition, forged in Smyrna, one of the Ottoman Empire's great cosmopolitan cities, which was emptied of its Greek population in the disastrous "population exchange" between Greece and Turkey that occurred after the First World War. Wikipedia has an excellent account of the song, its history, and its multiple versions. This excellent blog posting discusses the song and offers downloads of a number of versions, including one of Dick Dale.

Here's Dick doing the song in the 1963 film, "A Swinging Affair."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kufiyas galore, courtesy The Palestine Poster Project Archives

Dan Walsh, who runs the amazing Palestine Poster Project Archive, has very helpfully put together all the kufiya posters in the collection, available for viewing online here. As of this writing here are 803(!) images, but more to come for sure, in future.

I especially liked this one, but you may fancy others.

To see it full-sized, and with more details on the artist, etc., go here.

More exoticism and humanitarianism: Lauren Bush

Back in 2007, Lauren Bush was spotted wearing a kufiya.

More recently, she has been promoting a designer (feed)bag, the proceeds of the sale of which will help feed starving children. Read about it here, from the blog Africa Is A Country.

The photos promoting the bag are priceless. Both feature Lauren, daughter of Neil, whose married name is Lauren Bush Lauren, who is both a fashion model and a designer. And humanitarian to boot.

Teaching yoga to migrant workers: so exotic

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

literature East and West

Pakistani novelist Nadeem Aslam, who now lives in North England:

'After 9/11 happened...many writers in Britain and Aerica said that they felt their work was meaningless because it was so disconnected from the event. I felt that I had been writing about 9/11 all my life.'

From an article about Pakistani writers in the NYRB. Behind a paywall. Subscribe, already.