Saturday, November 30, 2013

drone life Gaza: zenana

By Jonathan Cook, via Richard Falk, on the "unfolding tragedy of Gaza."

Drones are increasingly being used for surveillance and extra-judicial execution in parts of the Middle East, especially by the US, but in nowhere more than Gaza has the drone become a permanent fixture of life. More than 1.7 million Palestinians, confined by Israel to a small territory in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, are subject to near continual surveillance and intermittent death raining down from the sky.

There is little hope of escaping the zenana – an Arabic word referring to a wife’s relentless nagging that Gazans have adopted to describe the drone’s oppressive noise and their feelings about it. According to statistics compiled by human rights groups in Gaza, civilians are the chief casualties of what Israel refers to as “surgical” strikes from drones.

 An unmanned aerial vehicle (Photo: Israel Aerospace Industries)

An earlier post on Israeli drones over Gaza and surfing as a way to avoid them stated that "zanana" translated as mosquito.

Ha'aretz wrote in 2010 that Gazans "have begun using the slang word zanana to also refer to those Gazans who report to the Hamas authorities what people say and do, with whom they meet, who visits them, and whose brother has gone to Ramallah."

The Washington Post in 2011 wrote this: "Roughly translated, zenana means buzz. But in neighboring Egypt, a source of Gaza custom and culture, the term is slang used to describe a relentlessly nagging wife."

I guess it could be all those things. And deadly. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What I'm Doing This Saturday

I'll be at the American Anthropological Association annual meetings in Chicago, and participating in this:

Amahl Bishara is the author of Back Stories: U.S. News Production and Palestinian Politics. Rochelle Davis, the author of Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced. Samuli Schielke wrote The Perils of Joy: Contesting Mulid Festivals in Contemporary Egypt. They are all terribly clever. 

I don't know Joanne Nucho, who is a grad student at UC Irvine and "studies the notion of sectarianism in Lebanon and the way in which infrastructures, services and municipal planning create a sense of community as well as the conditions of possibility for various forms of conflict along sectarian lines." Nor do I know Elif Babul, who teaches at Mt. Holyoke and who wrote in a note to Rochelle Davis, that in her dissertation she "worked on the human rights training programs for state officials in Turkey, organized as part of Turkey's campaign for accession to the European Union." You can check out her pubs here. I'm sure that Joanne and Elif are terribly clever too. It should be fun.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

More on Saâda Bonaire's "Bedouin funk archive" & their "oriental disco-funk tunes"

"Bedouin funk archive" and "Oriental disco-funk tunes" -- this is how Dazed Digital describes the recent eponymous release of this '80s project's canned recordings. They also describe it thus: "Combining the occasionally stony, stark minimalism of European electronics with the groove-laden funk of Turkish and Kurdish folk."

Dazed Digital has interviewed DJ Ralph “von” Richtoven and singers Stephanie Lange (but not singer Claudia Hossfeld) on the occasion of the release. What I found of interest was how they describe the recordings "Eastern" feel. Excerpts follow:

von Richtoven: The band? Well there was no real band. It was a lot of friends from the music scene. I also gathered some traditional Kurdish folk musicians from the local Turkish communist party to play some more Eastern instruments on the tracks. I didn't really want a band – Saâda Bonaire was a pop-art project...

We saw the strong influence that Afro-Cuban sounds had on American music. We could hear the influence that Caribbean and Indian immigrants had on British music in the 80s. In France, they had the Rai music from the Maghreb and a lot of musicians from West Africa. In Germany, we only had Turkish immigrants... millions of them. In the 1970s I studied social work. By the 1980s, I was working for the German government's immigration department. I was responsible for many immigrant social clubs in Bremen. I was also collecting music tapes from Turkey and Egypt since 1975. In theory it was obvious what we had to do: fusion. In reality it was very difficult and almost impossible.

So there you have it: Cool German artists want to emulate the hip reggae and bhangra sounds coming out of England and the "rai" and West African influence on French music. [As an aside, I'm sure this an anachronism, as I seriously doubt that pop rai was much evidence in Germany as early as 1982.] But they "only" had Turks around...who happened to be Kurds who belonged to the Turkish Communist Party?

Don't you wish music journalists asked more questions?

But maybe not, if they don't know the difference between Bedouin and Turks...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Muhammad Assaf, Raise The Kufiya

 Clearly I'm behind on my kufiyaspotting blogs. Just so no one who reads this and is trying to keep track thinks I've missed anything, it's important to note that Muhammad Assaf, the Arab Idol winner, performed the song "Raise The Kufiya" (‘Alay al-kufiya) as his final song.

It starts with a mawwal, for which Australians for Palestine has provided this translation.

And here's the Arabic for the song, plus translation (which I've adapted from a couple sources, here and here).

raise the kufiya raise it high, wave it in the air.
 علّي الكوفيّه علّي، ولولح فيها

sing the Ataba and Mijana enjoy it
وغنّي عتابا وميجانا، وسامر فيها

Shake your shoulder gently, Jafra, Ataba and Dahiyya [traditional dances]
هز الكتف بحنيّة، جفرا، عتابا، ودحيّة.

let the gun contribute and make it more fun
 خلّي البارود يهلل ويحلّيها

raise the flag in Ram-Allah and in the mountain of fire [Nablus, a nickname dating from the 1936-39 revolt]]
علّي الراية بِـ رام الله وبِـ جبال النار

your proud aqal [head band for the kufiya] is a symbol of determination and persistence
وعقال العزة عقالك، عزم وإصرار

the first shot is a tale of a journey
والطلقة الأولى فيها حكاية مشوار

when the time comes, we'll turn things upside down
وعند الحق نخلّي العالي واطيها

we planted orchards of figs and olives, we brought wheat seeds and lemons
احنا زرعنا البيارة تين وزيتون، وبذار القمح علينا وبيدر ليمون

When you call my country we'll be ready
رهن الإشارة يا وطن إحنا حنكون

Lighting the path of victory on the day of battle  
يوم العرك دروب النصر نضويها

The esteemed Palestinian singer Reem Kilani has penned a very interesting piece on Assaf (whose talent she greatly admires), in which she worries about how he might be put to use by the Palestinian Authority.

Assaf’s repertoire may be very versatile in terms of Arabic music, but he must ensure that his repertoire on stage encompasses all Palestinians, and that off-stage, he doesn’t allow himself to become the musical mouthpiece of the PA. Mohammed Assaf might have won the tarab of the Arabs, but he must keep the spirit of duende. For himself and for Palestine.

10 taboo Arabic songs: Habiba Msika

The very fine on-line publication Ma'azef (in Arabic, and because I read Arabic very very slowly I haven't explored nearly enough) recently published a piece called 10 taboo songs: ١٠ أغاني محرّمة.

I was most interested in item 4, a song by the Tunisian Jewish singer Habiba Msika called "'Ala Sarir al-nawm dala'ni."

Habiba Msika (1903-1930) was quite the sensation in Tunis in the twenties, wearing Paris fashion when the norm was for respectable women to be covered up, taking up with lovers in a fairly public fashion. In 1925 she appeared onstage in a production of Romeo and Juliet, playing Romeo opposite the Libyan Jewish actress Rachida Lotfi's Juliet. Their onstage kiss caused an uproar, and her côterie of fans, known as the "soldats de la nuit," who included many young Tunisian dandies, had to rescue her from outraged members of the audience.

In 1930 a jealous ex-lover entered her flat, poured gasoline on her, and set her on fire. She died the next day. (And you can read more about her fascinating career here.) Tunisian director Salma Baccar made a film about her, La Danse du feu (1995), which I would love to see. (This might be a clip from the film.) And the blog Jewish Morocco reflects on how Habiba Msika is "remembered" in Tunisia today, here.

(And someone please help me with a vernacular translation of that song!)

Added, a few hours later. See the comments from Hammer. The song could be translated as "On My Bed He Spoiled Me." I.e., he shtupped me. Hence the "taboo" nature of the song.

Dub Snakker Does the Bendaly Family's "Do You Love Me?"

In 2007 I asked here whether the video of Lebanon's Bendaly Family's "Do You Love Me?" (1978) was the best video clip of Arabic music ever.

Now Dub Snakker has done a re-fix of the song, which he calls "Do You Wubb Me," and which was recently broadcast on Quarter Tone Frequency Vol. 2. You can listen to it at 46:40. Thanks to Jackson Allers for playing it. The entire show, featuring independent music from the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon is well worth a listen, but I was particularly moved by this track.

You can download Dub Snakker's release Khat Thaleth, a 23 track compilation of politically conscious Arab hip-hop, here.

The Bendaly Family's official website is here. And check out Rene Bendaly's very wild 1982 release "Tanki Tanki" here.

And one more, also very wacky, Bendaly Family's "popcorn" version of the great Saudi singer Muhammad 'Abdu's "Ab'ad Kuntum wa-al la Aqrabiyin." Nuts. [addendum Nov. 16: thanks to Hammer for this translation of the title - 'Whether You Were Near or Far' -- see comments.]

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Saâda Bonaire

This is a publicity photo for the early '80s synth dance band Saâda Bonaire. Problematic, isn't it? Especially given the name, the first half meaning happiness in Arabic (سعادة).
The 'ayn is often rendered as "â" in French.

I guess this photo (evoking what? catwoman in burka?) goes with not only the name of the group but also their track "The Facts," which is a wild synth-pop-goes-world dance number, entirely of its time, synth with "Eastern" instruments mixed in. Fact recently announced the "rediscovery" of the group and the release, over thirty years after their recording, of a single released in 1982 (two sides, it was the days of vinyl) and 11 previously unreleased tracks. All produced by the amazing Dennis Bovell, who also worked with The Slits and The Raincoats and Pop Group among others.

Of the tracks that I have managed to hear so far, it's "The Facts" that has that Eastern feel. Fact says it "is a decisively weird collision of Pet Shop Boys-influenced FM synth, pummeling disco rhythms, deadpan female vocals and, yep, Middle Eastern flutes and what sounds like Oud. It shouldn’t work at all, but we’re glad it does." I don't think it's flutes and I think it is a bouzouki (or in Arabic, buzuq), but Fact does get the idea. It does, somehow, work. (But I admit, I love that 80s synth sound.)

And it seems, according to this source, that the musicians on the recordings were "culled from the local immigration center." Hmmm, I wonder how much they were paid...
culled from the local immigration center
joined by dozens of local musicians culled from the local immigration center. - See more at:

Here's the video for the song, featuring the two German vocalists, Stefanie Lange and Claudia Hossfield, in various states of undress. Very eighties. You've been warned.

Stefanie Lange and Claudia Hossfeld

And here is the cover of the release, just out on November 12. Yep, Arabic on the cover.

Here's a photo of Saâda Bonaire without the weird "burqa":

And a couple more Saâda Bonaire tracks on youtube. "Invitation" (with bagpipes that also "work" and what sounds like a sampled Middle Eastern female vocal). "You Could Be More As You Are." And "Funky Way," which is very dub, but with "Eastern-sounding" horns, and the best track of theirs I've heard so far.

However, I just bought the album (it came out two days ago, 12 November), so maybe I'll find more that I like.

Note: for some strange reason "Funky Way" is not on the just-released album. So grab it from youtube. You've got the link.

ADDED November 16: You can now stream the entire album here.


The Center for a Public Anthropology (based at the University of Hawaii and run by Dr. Robert Borofsky) recently released a study of social science faculty media impact at public universities. The aim, as Borofsky stated, was to permit the public to assess “the degree to which those who draw on public funding participate in public conversations in return.”

The project involved using the Google News archive from 2006 to 2011 to find how many times  faculty members were cited in any of 6,000 news sources, and then dividing the average number of citations for a school by the percentage of National Science Foundation funding the institution received. Schools then were ranked and, within schools, the political science, anthropology, psychology, economics and sociology departments were also ranked using the same system.

As reported in the University of Arkansas Newswire on October 11, 2013, the University of Arkansas social scientists ranked 5th in the country, out of 94 research universities, behind Rice University, Southern Methodist University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Texas, San Antonio.

As is typical in such cases, the top three faculty at the University of Arkansas were named in the Newswire: Janine Parry and Andrew Dowdle from political science and my colleague Peter Ungar from anthropology. Among departments at the University of Arkansas, political science ranked #1. Anthropology ranked #2.

Curious, I decided to dig a little deeper, and discovered this:

Yep, I was number 4. I didn't make the headlines. Of course, I did have a lot fewer cites than the top 3, but 50% more than the numbers 5 and 6.

It's not that I really care about such things (well, that's not entirely true, if this ranking helped me get a larger merit raise that would be great). The point for calling attention to it is (1) because who else will, since I missed the top three cut-off (the tyranny of trinitological thinking!) and (2) my citations are in all likelihood due to this blog; the fact that I display here my obsession with kufiyas; and that during 2007-2008 there was a "kufiya craze" and a fair amount of media attention to the phenomenon. I was interviewed by various media reporters about the kufiya, most notably in the New York Times.

There is no lesson here, or at least, there is no "model" for anyone who wants a similar amount of media attention so they can impress their college dean. The media attention was really quite random. Moreover, the NSF funding that also factors into the equation has nothing to do with me. Most of it, when it comes to my university, is probably from my anthropology colleagues, especially those in Biological Science. There is no direct line between NSF funding and media impact with an impact on the public.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"I'm Stoned" by MC Sadat and Figo (Mahragan)

I'm stoned, I'm drunk...Stoned, drunk...Dear Mr. weed dealer/Give me two bags/Cuz I invited my friends/For a beer and two joints.

heaven knows I'm miserable now

I found this in tumblr but can't find the site now. 
Probably it was ordered to take all its riffs on The Smiths down. 
Grab this fast if you like it.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Leila Mourad's brother Mounir: another Egyptian Jewish artist

I recently learned that the great Egyptian singer and actress Leila Mourad's brother Mounir Mourad was also a prominent showbiz figure in Egypt, a singer, actor, and composer.

Son of the great Egyptian Jewish singer and composer Ibrahim Zaki Mordechai (known as Zaki Mourad), Mounir was known for, among other things, his efforts to incorporate jazz music into Egyptian popular music.

He wrote the music for one of Shadia's big hits, "Wahed, Etneen" (One, Two), which you should check out. The Hawaiian guitar at the end of the song is just perfect.

Like his sister Leila, Mounir converted to Islam after he married. His wife was the actress Soheir El Bably.

But unlike Leila, it seems that Mounir was not accused of relations with Israel, and so he remained active as an artist at least into the 1960's. His film appearances are quite delightful, and I've found several on youtube. They show him doing fare that is somewhat more "modern" (not sure how else to put it) than that done by his sister, and would seem to put him on the avant-garde side in the Egyptian popular music scene.

Check out this jazzy number, "Ayna Tadhhab Hadha al-Masa'" (Where are you going this evening?) from the 1955 film Appointment with Satan (موعد مع ابليس), which features Mounir on vocals (and he co-wrote the music with Mahmoud El-Sherif).

This is another delightful one, "Isti‘rad al-Batta" (Duck Review -- not really sure how to translate this), from the film Bint al-Hitta (Local Girl, 1964), with Mounir on vocals (and he composed the music). It's also notable for the dancing of the divine, inimitable Samia Gamal.

This long number is really a scream. It's called "Skatch al-Kura (Ya Hadarat al-Mustama‘in)" or Football Sketch (O Distinguished Listeners), sung by Mounir, and again, his composition, and one showing his equal facility with modern show tunes and traditional Egyptian mawwal. It's from the film Naharak Sa‘id (1955), and it's a marvelous musical production, beautifully filmed, by director Fatin Abdel Wahab, who later married Mounir's sister Leila (I'm not sure which year, but definitely after this film was made.

According to the wikipedia article about Mounir Mourad, he wrote the music hits not just for Shadia, but several for Abdel Halim Hafez (including the great "Dahk wa La‘b") as well as hits for the likes of Warda, Muhammad Qandil, Hani Shaker and others.

Finally, download a zany instrumental with insane Farfisa, called "The Factory Theme," here.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Satanism, West and East

Dangerous Minds has recently been reporting on US hysteria over Satanism (I guess it's a Halloween season theme)? One of them is on a 1970 film, in the pseudo-documentary/ethnographic Mondo Cane vein, called Witchcraft '70. The other is about an evangelical preacher, Dr. Jerry Johnston, and a video he is in that dates from the late 1980s.

In both cases it is all moral panic: Satanism and animal sacrifice, human sacrifice, ritualistic sex, drug use and abuse, desecration of Christian symbols, and so on. In Witchcraft '70, it's hippies who are the focus, and we see nude hippy Satanists doing hallucinogenic drugs and a ritual that involves the violation of nubile young women. In the Johnston vid it is heavy metal music that is associated with the evils of Satanism. In both instances, Satanism is presented as a danger that threatens young people, and urges more sober adults to be on the look-out for the warning signs.

I presented a paper at the American Anthropological Association meetings in 2000 on the 1997 crackdown on Satanic heavy-metal fans in Egypt. I've never published the paper, but you can read an account of it here.

Below is a photo of one of several popular exposés of Satanism that I found in Cairo in summer 2000. This one is entitled: Satan Worship: Rituals of Sex and Blood.

As I am considering reworking the paper for eventual publication, I find it interesting to what degree the 1997 panic over heavy metal Satanism in Egypt (and another, much less hysterical one in 2012), Morocco in 2003, Lebanon in 1996-98 and 2002, and 2012, among others, have their ideological origins in the various panics over Satanism (probably dating from the late sixties) in the US. The discourse, East and West, is remarkably similar, as are the themes and motifs.

The big difference, of course, is that in the case of the US, the danger is internal, whereas in the Arab World, the danger is presented as external: Satanism is an alien, Western, sometimes Zionist, threat.

(Some of these issues are also discussed, of course, in Mark Levine's Heavy Metal Islam.)

More, inshallah, later.

P.S. added 11/11/13: I just came across this source on Egypt's heavy metal, which I've not yet read (but I just ordered the book on Interlibrary Loan): Benjamin J. Harbert, "Noise and its Formless Shadows: Egypt's Extreme Metal as Avant-Garde Nafas Dawsha," in Thomas Burkhalter et al, eds.,  The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, Modernity, Wesleyan University Press. (The book comes out this Wednesday!)

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Line Monty, friend of Farid al-Atrash

I was poking around on ebay earlier today and found this photo, from the back cover of a Line Monty album that was for sale (for more than I wanted to pay, alas).

Line Monty (d. 2003) was one of those many terrific Algerian-Jewish singers of the twentieth century. According to wikipedia (French), she was a friend of the great singer and oud player Farid al-Atrash (a Syrian, but whose career was almost entirely in Egypt). The wikipedia article states: 'En Égypte, son ami Farid El Atrache lui fait répéter une de ses compositions et les Égyptiens, ignorant qu'elle possède aussi cette culture écoutent "la Française qui chante si bien l'arabe."'

This is the album in question. (The title track is the only French song on the album; the rest are Arabic.)

I highly recommend getting anything by Monty. I've been unable to track down much about her biography at the moment, but in future, inshallah. I do know that she was frequently backed by Maurice El Medioni on piano.

Meanwhile, here is one of her great songs:

As for Farid, he had a secret love affair with Moroccan Jewish singer Maya Casabianca (who grew up in Israel as Margalit Azran), who was a big star in France in the sixties. But that's another story. 

(F.N.: Umm Kalthoum met Salim Halali once.)