Sunday, August 28, 2005

Steve Earle at Camp Casey, Crawford TX (photo by Jeff Patterson, from notinourname.netPosted by Picasa

Pop Culture vs. the War

Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times today (August 27) reads pop music for signs of growing popular sentiment against the war. First, she notes that “the No. 1 music video requested on MTV is Green Day's antiwar song, ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends,’ about the pain of soldiers and their families.” Green Day’s video is indeed powerful, and I find it rather amazing that a 7+ minute video with scenes of Iraq combat is so popular on MTV. (“Wake Me Up” is also the top video on AOL Music’s Top 11.) “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is from Green Day’s dissent-filled rock-opera album, “American Idiot,” which is full of anti-Bush, anti-Patriot Act sentiments: "Now everybody do the propaganda / And sing along in the age of paranoia." The video, however, is not explicitly anti-war, and it could give as much comfort to the pro-war loved ones of soldiers in combat as it could to anti-war families.

Not so for the Rolling Stones, who Dowd also mentions. Their forthcoming album, “A Bigger Bang,” due out on September 6, contains a song called “Sweet Neo Con,” which is a completely unambiguous diatribe against Secretary of State and former National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. Here are some lyrics:

You call yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite
You call yourself a patriot, well I think you’re full of shit
Oh, sweet Neo Con, what path have you led them on?
Oh, sweet Neo Con, is it time for the atom bomb?
You parade around in costume, expecting to be believed
But as the body bags stack up, we believe we’ve been deceived
The horror you’ve unleashed will backfire with more grief
When will you ever learn, Sweet Neo Con, as the world burns?

I LOVED the old Stones, but I think the last decent album they produced was back in 1978. Who would have imagined that the Strolling Bones (Mick, age 62, Keith, 61) could produce something so, well, oppositional. I’ve listened to 29 seconds of the song on, and it ain’t great. Nonetheless, as Dowd notes, it is remarkable that the “N.F.L. did not cancel its sponsorship of the Rolling Stones tour,” despite the song. Nor did sponsor Ameriquest. Nor did the song stop Arnold Schwarznegger from using the Stones’ August 21 kickoff concert in Fenway Park as a fundraising event, charging $100,00 to donors who wanted to sit in his box and watch Mick sing “Street Fighting Man” along with the Guvernator. (Maybe the Stones’ stance isn’t THAT oppositional?)

To my mind, the best Condoleeza Rice song to date is Steve Earle’s hilarious “Condi, Condi,” from his most recent album “The Revolution Starts Now”: “They say you’re too uptight. I say you’re not.” Steve showed up to sing last Saturday at Camp Casey (Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war camp at Crawford, Texas) and you can see clips of him performing “The Revolution Starts Now” and “Rich Man’s War,” on (August 22). (And his entire performance of "The Revolution Starts Now" is at I consider “The Revolution Starts Now” the most important, most consistent anti-war Iraq war album (in any genre) to date. Earle is our Woodie Guthrie, our Pete Seeger, our Phil Ochs, our Country Joe. Dowd also notes that Joan Baez sang at Camp Casey last Sunday, and you can see her singing “Joe Hill” on’s Thursday, August 25th show, and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" at

Dowd finally tells us that Gary Hart, in his very fine Washington Post op-ed piece on Wednesday (“Who Will Say ‘No More’?”), quotes from the anti-Vietnam War song, “Waist-deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool said to push on.” Dowd’s own column is entitled, “Bike-Deep in the Big Muddy.” For some reason, neither Hart nor Dowd credit Pete Seeger, who wrote the song in 1967, performed and recorded it. It is definitely worth reviving, at this moment:

Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a tall man'll be over his head
We're waist deep in the Big Muddy! And the big fool says to push on!

There are two other important anti-war videos I’d like to mention here, that are a few months old but still relevant and well worth viewing. The first is Eminem’s “Mosh,” released shortly before the November 2 election, and a single from his 2004 album “Encore.” The album represents a real decline from Eminem’s earlier work, but “Mosh” is an extremely powerful and compelling call to mobilization, one that is amazingly multi-cultural and diverse in its interpellations.

But the most gripping and politically daring video comes from the domain of (alt)country music. Since 1997, Mary Gauthier (pictured above) has been producing incredibly crafted songs about the down-and-out, with lyrics worthy of the finest southern writers. (She’s been compared to Lucinda Williams, but I think with Lucinda, it’s much more about the voice, and with Mary, it’s about the story.) I’ve followed Gauthier for awhile, but I never expected what I heard, and saw, in “Mercy Now,” the title track from Gauthier’s latest album (February 2005). The first two verses are about how “my father” and “my brother” “could use some mercy now.” It’s another beautiful song, evoking tough luck and hardscrabble lives, exactly what one has come to expect from Gauthier, up to this point. And then, the third verse:

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit
That’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful
Who follow them down
I love my church and country, and they could use some mercy now

And on the video, there are images of the war and Iraq, and as Gauthier sings about her church and country “as they sink into a poisoned pit,” we see photos of Abu Ghraib: the hooded prisoner connected to wires, and Lyndie England laughing and pointing at nude prisoners.

The next verse goes global:

Every living thing could use a little mercy now
Only the hand of grace can end the race
Towards another mushroom cloud
People in power, well
They'll do anything to keep their crown
I love life, and life itself could use some mercy now

(The video here is not so remarkable: there’s no image of a mushroom cloud.)

The sheer radicality of this video, especially when it comes to its depiction of the US’s employment of torture in Iraq, seems to have passed without much comment, and no protest. Perhaps part of the reason that Gauthier is able to do what she does here without arousing outrage is that she simultaneously expresses her love for her country and her church (sentiments not all that common in other genres of US pop music but routinely expected in country) at the same time that she says country and church are “going down,” sinking into a “poisoned pit.”

Mary Gauthier has been nominated for three Americana Music Association awards: Album of the Year (“Mercy Now”), Song of the Year (“Mercy Now”) and New/Emerging Artist of the Year. The awards are September 9, and I wish I could be there in Nashville to see them show the video for “Mercy Now” as they announce the nominees. (Will the Abu Ghraib bits be aired? Who knows?) Final note: The "Mercy Now" video, directed by Demetria Kalodimos, won the Music Video Audience Award at the 2005 Nashville Film Festival in April.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Nadim Khoury, Palestinian brewmaster Posted by Picasa

"We don't have our own country, but we have our own beer."

I just wanted to put in a plug for Taybeh beer, the only locally produced beer from Palestine. The owner/brewmaster is Nadim Khoury, and the beer has been produced since 1995 in Taybeh village, in the Ramallah district of the West Bank. The village of Taybeh is the natal home of Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of tasting Taybeh, but I love the billboard ad in Ramallah, photographed this summer by Minuli Khawaga: Drink Palestinian, Taste the Revolution. Says Khoury, "We don't have our own country, but we have our own beer." Cheers!

Taybeh Beer: Drink Palestinian, Taste the Revolution (photo by MinuliPosted by Picasa

Friday, August 26, 2005

Cover of Mutamassik and Morgan Craft's "Rough Americana" (designed by the nonistPosted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Mutamassik & Morgan Craft in US, February & March '06

I just learned that Mutamassik & Morgan Craft will be performing in the US in February & March of '06. When I learn more details I will post. I am hoping (but it's just a hope) for a gig in Memphis, TN, named after the ancient capital of the Old Kingom of Egypt, from around 3100 to 1300 BC.

Monday, August 22, 2005

"Wildlife" hijab, Posted by Picasa

"Tennis model" hijab from Posted by Picasa

IKEA hijab Posted by Picasa

IKEA hijab from Posted by Picasa

Hijab for IKEA's Muslim staff has designed and produced a hijab that fits in with the IKEA uniform, at the request of IKEA Edmonton (North London). The “branded” hijab was developed to accommodate the needs of IKEA’s Muslim employees. claims to be the world’s leading online retailer of Islamic headscarves. Its line includes “sporting,” “smart,” and “party wear” hijabs. (See

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Mutamassik, photo by Arthur Jaffa (from roughamericana.comPosted by Picasa

Mutamassik, Masri Mokkassar: Definitive Works (Sound-Ink Records)

If the world were more just, the public more discerning, the Italian-Egyptian-American producer/turntablist mutamassik (born, Giulia Loli) would be much more renowned. I first encountered her work on a cut called “Complicity M28 Mix,” from Arto Lindsay’s album “Mundo Civilizado - Remixes” (1997). It starts with a short refrain from an Arab orchestra, then proceeds to wreck, cut up, deconstruct and scratch to bits the original Lindsay cut, on occasion inserting more Arab fragments of voice and orchestra. (The only lyric you hear from Lindsay is, at one point, “silence.”) I found it amazingly inventive and loved the insidiously clever ways mutamassik injected the Arab material into Lindsay’s Brazilian-tinged mix. I’ve been trying to track down mutamassik’s material ever since, but it’s not always been easy to find. A friend sent me “KMT Babomb USA,” an e.p. with two cuts, “Immigrants On Course” and “Sa’aidi Hardcore.” For some reason it took me awhile to get it, but I’ve really come to appreciate how, on “Sa’aidi Hardcore” (the Sa’id is Upper [southern] Egypt, and Sa’idis are considered backward hicks by educated Cairenes), mutamassik manages to interweave rap, drum ‘n’ bass, Egyptian orchestra, and Sa’idi beats so effortlessly.

I particularly love mutamassik’s album “Bidoun (Stateless),” a live session recorded live in Brooklyn in 2002 for Bidoun, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (2003). (The fact that this was put out in the UAE indicates the existence of a cool club scene there that I knew--and still know--almost nothing about. I hope someone enlightens us. For a hint, go to On “Bidoun” mutamassik goes beyond Egyptian music and messes with music from all over the Arab world. On tracks one and two she uses and cuts up a folk song (from the Omani Revolutionary Army[!}), with female vocals and ‘ud and percussion, bleeding it cleverly into a US rap cut. (You have to have an incredible archival knowledge, and memory, to identify all the samples, and I just can’t do it. One of the amazing things about Mutamassik as a turntablist is her expert knowledge of both Arab and hip-hop tracks.) My favorite cut on Bidoun is track seven. Here she takes one of Cheb Khaled’s well-known numbers (“Habibti Madjatch,” with Chaba Zahouania) and just lets it run, but cuts it up & fragments the hell out of, slowing it down, repeating sections, ripping them up. I especially like how she makes the accordion-sounding keyboard instrumental prelude stutter and pause for the first 20 seconds or so. I’ve been listening to rai for years, and I find that mutamassik’s cut-up of Cheb Khaled makes me contemplate more deeply the various intricate elements that go into constructing this song.

Then there’s “Rough Americana,” recorded live with her husband Morgan Craft, a guitarist (or rather, “stunt guitarist”) who has played with the likes of Talib Kweli and Meshell N'degeocello. “Rough Americana” is much more experimental, less about the breaks and more about a sound assault/collage. Recorded in 2002, it’s a kind of avant-garde commentary on life and politics in the imperial US, post-9/11, an evocation of a state of emergency. (And mutamassik drags in sounds from all over, not focusing on Middle Eastern material.) I admire “Rough Americana” but I can only listen in small doses. It agitates me, it makes me nervous and edgy, and I suppose that is the point.

“Definitive Works” (released this June) gives us a bit of the feel of “Rough Americana” on the cut, “High Alert A'ala Teta (Interlude For Granma),” which with its helicopters and sirens and other ominous tones, suggests everyday realities in a neighborhood under occupation. Then a belly dance beat picks up, and vocals and Arab orchestra riffs and strange keyboard riffs, and we get a sense of resistant, urbanized, polyglot life. The rest of the cuts on “Definitive Works” are more upbeat than “High Alert.” They do an amazing job of giving us a complex understanding of the funkiness and deep bassness of belly dance and other Oriental rhythms, as these are cut up and reassembled and woven into and out of and supplemented by hip-hop and junglist rhythms. In some ways what mutammasik is doing here is coherent with the project of Natacha Atlas (and others like her): insinuating Middle Eastern music into the Western scene by incorporating it into recognizable frameworks (in the case of mutamassik, avant turntablism), thereby rendering Middle Eastern culture less “foreign” and more human and comprehensible. By fusing elements of Middle Eastern and Western (and in particular, African-American) musics to create a funky hybrid, the us/them, East/West dichotomies are broken down or at least brought into question. Inshallah, and assuming that audiences get it. There’s something more going on here as well, as mutamassik seems to have an additional project in mind: an effort to suggest the African roots of Egypt, to problematize its Arab identity. The belly-dance/hip-hop alignments point to an Afro-oriental as opposed to a purely Arab Egypt. I think this is part of what mutamassik is getting at in the title, Masri Mokkassar (broken Egyptian). She elaborates on these ideas in an article posted on the Rough Americana website (scroll down to “De-Nile”). This project makes sense given the fact that her mother is an Egyptian Copt whose family is originally from the Sa’id, Egypt’s hinterland. (To suggest that Egypt is “African” is controversial in Egypt, to say the least.)

I am sorry that “Rough Americana” and “Bidoun” are not represented here (and so I wonder how this collection then is “definitive”). On the other hand, most of the material here is from sources that I was not able to put my hands on previously, and it’s all, in its own way, great. Perhaps this is not the definitive mutamassik collection, but is in essential one.

Mutamassik and Morgan Craft--unfortunately for us--are now based in Italy, and I don’t know when we in the US will have the chance to see them perform here again.

postscript/APOLOGY: In my article “Islamic Hip-Hop versus Islamophobia,” in the volume Global Noise, edited by Tony Mitchell, I ended by noting that, in contrast to England and France, the US had not seen the emergence of an Islamic hip-hop scene. (I wrote this in ‘98, the book came out in 2001.) I suggest that mutamassik might portend the emergence of such a scene, out of the DJ scene. I know regret writing this, because mutamassik is not Muslim, and because the statement has now taken on a life of its own. Hesham Samy Abdel-Alim has published an article about global, and especially, US Islam and hip-hop in Al-Ahram Weekly (“Hip hop Islam,” 7-12 July 2005). In it he writes, “I am currently conducting research to uncover more of these Islamic nation-building activities within the hip hop nation. For example, what do we know about NYC's Egyptian female rapper Mutamassik (meaning "tenacious" in Arabic)? What are her personal struggles, and how has she contributed to [Islamic] nation-building activities through and beyond her music?” Since elsewhere Abdel-Alim cites my “Islamophobia” article, I assume I am the source of his questions about mutamassik (although I never called her a rapper). Unfortunately, I’ve also seen this article show up on other blogs (like Planet Grenada). Anyway, I feel it was wrong to bring mutamassik up in this context, without explaining carefully how as a Copt she might relate to the larger trend of Islamic hip hop.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy's new novel, No Country for Old Men. I agree with Steve Shaviro that it's the best he has written since Blood Meridian. See Shaviro's blog, The Pinocchio Theory, for a brilliant review (posted July 25). The comments on the review are also worth looking at, especially those of Leo Daugherty (who has his own great blog, Journal of the Third Wolf). Steve and Leo are wonderful guides to McCarthy (in fact it's Steve who first turned me on to McCarthy), and I can add nothing, except to reiterate that this is essential reading.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Cindy Sheehan vigil, Springdale Posted by Picasa

Vigil for Cindy Sheehan, Springdale AR Posted by Picasa

Vigil in Support of Cindy Sheehan, Springdale AR, Aug. 17

Tonight I rode with a couple friends up to Sprindale, the town immediately north of Fayetteville, to participate in a vigil in support of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of Casey Sheehan, killed in Iraq. Cindy continues her own vigil outside Pres. Bush's Crawford, TX ranch.

Springdale has a reputation (deserved, I guess) for being much more conservative than Fayetteville, the "liberal" college town. Before tonight I had never been to any anti-war event in Springdale, and I don't recall ever having heard of one. Springdale is "heartland," typical of Northwest Arkansas which mostly votes Republican, except for the liberal enclave of Fayetteville. So how was our reception? Mostly positive, lots of honking horns, smiles, peace signs, waves. Only a few negative hand signals. Clearly a reflection of waning support for the war in the heartland.

Levine: Why They Don’t Hate Us

Announcing a new book, just out, from my friend Mark Levine: Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil (Oneworld Publications). I’ve not yet read it, but knowing Levine and his work, I can confidently say that it will be provocative, original, and interesting. I am particularly looking forward to reading the chapter, “Facing the Music: Rock and Resistance in the Middle East and North Africa.” (Levine also has a chapter in the book I co-edited with Rebecca Stein: Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Pam Roast

I’ve never been into celebrity roasts. I think I watched a couple of times back in the days of Dean Martin, and guess I just never got it. But a couple reviews (one in the New York Times) published prior to the Pam Roast piqued my interest and gave me the idea that this roast might actually be interesting transgressive. But ultimately, it was about as dull as I remember the old roasts to have been. I really appreciate good dirty jokes--but where were they? I mean, how many jokes about the size of Tommy Lee’s penis and Pamela Anderson’s vagina and breasts can one take? How transgressive is that?

The only funny comedians (mostly, I think, because they actually worked to prepare real material) were the women: Lisa Lampanelli and Sarah Silverman. Bea Arthur didn’t have to write any material, she just read from Pam’s latest novel. Brilliant. But Courtney Love was a true embarassment. Unfortunately, if viewers were keeping score on the rock musicians who appeared, Courtney made the vastly inferior artist Tommy Lee seem positively smart and literate by comparison. (The song that Tommy Lee and his group “performed”/lipsynched, however, was horribly boring & conventional indie rock.)

At least PETA made some money out of it, I guess. I’m going back to my practice of avoiding celebrity roasts.

(Blue) Collar (Red) Neck

Here’s a research question: why is it that “Blue Collar” now equals “Redneck”? How, why and when did this equation become so common sense that no one questions the fact that the Blue Collar TV (on Comedy Central) and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, the biggest comedy concert of the past couple years, features four southern rednecks. If Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) of The Honeymooners (located in New York City) was the iconic pop culture proletarian of the ‘50s, and “Rosanne” (Rosanne Barr) represented the working class (located in the Midwest) in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, Larry the Cable Guy (from Florida) is the ultimate symbol of the working class in the ‘00s. (Larry’s new CD, The Right to Bare Arms, entered the “music charts” at number 7. This is the best first-week entry of any comedy album in history.)

Other interesting questions: why are there no women on Blue Collar TV or the Comedy Tour? What does this all say about the trajectory of working class politics? And is there more to be said about the blue-red relationship here?

A more accurate icon of the working class in today’s South, as everyone who lives here knows, would be a Mexican immigrant working in construction or on the poultry dis-assembly line at Tyson Foods or as a janitor at Walmart. For the poultry side of this story, look for my colleague Steve Striffler’s book, Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food (Yale University Press), due out on September 26.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Banksy against the wal  Posted by Picasa

another Banksy grafitto

Above is another graffito from guerilla artist Banksy. As a Northwest Arkansas resident, I really appreciate the smiley-face Walmart reference. I’m so pleased that my Representative, John Boozman (R), was able to get $35 million earmarked for Walmart as part of the new federal highway bill, just signed by President Bush. The money will pay for widening and extending the road in Bentonville (just north of here) that leads to Walmart Headquarters. Way to go, John! I’m also very proud of the fact that, according to Forbes magazine’s latest accounting, five of the ten richest Americans are Waltons, and that three (or four?) of them live right here in NW Arkansas, in Bentonville. (It used to be four, but John Walton died in a plane crash in June. I guess John's heirs continue to live here.) The total worth of these Waltons was estimated, back in November, at $72 billion.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Map of Israel's "separation barrier," a.k.a. apartheid wall Posted by Picasa

Banksy graffiti, the wall at Ramallah Posted by Picasa

Banksy's graffiti on the apartheid wall

Guerilla artist Banksy recently took a vacation in the West Bank, and put some brilliant graffiti on Israel’s apartheid wall. More of Banksy’s wall graffiti can be found here.

Meanwhile, US media attention is focused on the Gaza settlers. It is illegal, according to the Geneva Conventions, for an occupying power to settle its own citizens in occupied territory. The state of Israel, as well as US taxpayers, have provided massive subsidies to Gaza’s settlers who mostly live in villas, over the last thirty plus years. Now they are being compensated at the tune of $200,000 to $300,000 each, and we (US taxpayers) will pay a good portion of the bill.

a bigger picture of the book cover Posted by Picasa

Belly dance into your sultan's heart with Özel Posted by Picasa

Özel Türkbas shows how to make your husband a sultan Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 12, 2005

How To Make Your Husband A Sultan

This, no kidding, is the title of a bellydance record released in the US in the '60s. It has been recently reissued by Traditional Crossroads, whose catalogue is quite good, especially when it comes to Turkish music. Here's the company's publicity:

How To Make Your Husband A Sultan

With Özel Türkbas

The 1960s classic that first introduced Americans to authentic Turkish bellydance, and to some of the great Turkish nightclub musicians of the 20th century, including the legendary Turkish-Gypsy clarinet player Mustafa Kandirali--all under the guise of that swing-era staple, the art of domestic seduction. Produced by and featuring the famous Turkish dancer Özel Türkbas, first brought to America to dance by Italian movie director Franco Zeferelli, the album sold 150,000 copies in the US (and a million in Turkey), spawning the craze for bellydance and Turkish music that continues today.

Notes include Özel’s original bellydance instructions with pictures. “A practice run through with the record,” she promised, “and tonight you can be bellydancing for that luckiest of men--your sultan!”

I listened to a bit of the music on the website, and it sounds good., which is a reliable source of world music, gives it a good review too.

Özel Türkbas put out another record called "Dance into Your Sultan's Heart." She moved to the US in the '60s, and apparently retired in Lido Beach, Florida.

Miles Davis: Arkansas

Miles Davis: "Those dark Arkansas roads. That's the sound I'm after."

(Thanks to David McMurray for alerting me to this quote.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Gene Pitney, “Mecca

I host a world music show, “Interzone Radio,” every Tuesday night from 6-8 PM, on the local student radio station, KXUA 88.3 FM. (You can listen online at One of the songs I played tonight was Gene Pitney’s “Mecca,” which reached #12 in the US rock/pop charts in mid-April 1963. I played it because it’s an early example of rock ‘n’ roll “exotica,” and just really weird. It opens with a vaguely Eastern sounding oboe, playing a riff that sounds like what passed for snake charmer music in all the cartoons I saw growing up in the ‘50s. But it’s the lyrics that are the most remarkable:

I live on the West side, she lives on the East side of the street
And though they say that East is East and West is West
And never the twain shall meet
Each morning I face her window and pray that our love can be
'cause that brownstone house where my baby lives
Is Mecca, Mecca to me

Oh she's my dream goddess and her ruby lips are so diviine
And though her folks say we're too young to know of love
I worship at her shrine
Each morning I face her window and pray that our love can be
'cause that brownstone house where my baby lives
Is Mecca, Mecca to me

According to wikipedia, some consider Pitney’s “Mecca” to be a precursor to the explosion of Eastern-tinged rock psychedelia, said to have been inaugurated by the Beatles with their 1965 album Rubber Soul. I think it’s a mistake to see the incorporation of “Eastern” music into US popular culture as a kind of revolution launched by drug-taking, free-thinking hippies. Contrary to the arguments in Edward Said’s book Orientalism, US pop culture has been much more open and sympathetic to Middle Eastern influences than is often imagined. Belly dance music from the Middle East, for instance, was quite hip in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. (Some documentation of this is given in Incredibly Strange Music Vols. I & II [from RE/Search].) Check out to see the risqué covers of belly dance albums that were popular during this period, and for downloads. In the late 50s and early 60s, it was quite the thing for urban and suburban Americans to visit bellydance clubs in the city, particularly in New York. (And note that this was decidedly a middle class activity, not that of a youth subculture.)

So I would argue that Pitney’s Top Forty hit about a man in love who prays in the direction of Mecca does not prefigure sixties Eastern psychedelia but in fact fits with cultual sensibilites at the time. Note finally that the song was co-authored by Neval Nader (with John Gluck Jr). I’ve been unable to find out anything about Nader, except that he and Gluck penned hits for other singers like The Romantics and Bobby Vee during this period. Nader is an Arab name, most likely Lebanese, and Christian.

(Thanks to Bob Vitalis for turning me on to this song.)

Me, Jesus & The Gossip, July 28, 2003 at Rubber Gloves, Denton, TX

photo by Kelley O'Callaghan Posted by Picasa

Sleater-Kinney in Lawrence, The Gossip in Little Rock

Sleater-Kinney plays the Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS on October 11 (The Gossip opens). Tickets available through Ticketmaster. The Gossip are scheduled to play Vino’s in Little Rock on October 10. Tix not yet available but check back at

the new book! Posted by Picasa

Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture

The book I co-edited with Rebecca Stein, Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture (Duke University Press) is now out. To read a description, check the Duke University Press website ( and search for Swedenburg. Here's Lila Abu-Lughod's blurb: “This theoretically savvy, eye-opening tour through popular culture in and about Palestine and Israel confirms at once the inherant inseparability of culture/politics and the gripping mutuality of Israel/Palestine.”

Natacha Atlas - Transglobal Underground (DVD)

This DVD was put out simultaneously with the CD, The Best of Natacha Atlas. If you are not familiar with Natacha, The Best of is a good place to start, but all of her recordings (except the Remix Collection) are fabulous. If you are already a Natacha fan, this DVD is well worth getting your hands on.

It’s not perfect, however. I’m just not a big fan of the songs Natacha does in English and French, and there are too many of these here: “When I Close My Eyes” (twice--as a video and in concert), “One Brief Moment,” “I Put A Spell On You,” and “Mon Amie La Rose” (twice). I’ve always found Natacha’s Arabic numbers much more compelling and innovative. Fortunately there are enough Arabic numbers here to make the DVD worthwhile. Best of the Natacha Atlas videos are the first four, “Mistaneek,” “Yalla Chant,” “Leysh Nat’arak,” and “Amulet.” “Mistaneek” and “Amulet” both show Natacha singing and belly dancing in a nightclub. “Yalla Chant” is shot in black-and-white and shows Natacha sitting in a typical London teashop, with a typical multiracial clientele. It features a cameo from Fun^Da^Mental’s Aki Nawaz, who shows up as one of the patrons. “Leysh Nat’arak” (which translates as, “why are we fighting?”) shows footage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This makes sense for a song whose lyrics include the following lines (I translate from Arabic: “Why are we fighting/When we’re all together?...Between me and you there’s a long history...Let’s return to peace/Let’s make peace, we are brothers.” The video for “Mish Fadilak” is the least interesting of the Arabic numbers, because it is just too glitzy and overproduced, with seductive dancers covered in dark gauzy materials, with belly dance outfits underneath. It looks like it’s made to compete with the racy “video clips” so popular now in the Arab world (on this, see, but for me, it’s not what Natacha Atlas is all about.

There are four Transglobal Underground (TGU) videos from ‘93-’94, in the days when Natacha was featured in the group as singer and belly dancer. (She turned to solo work in 1996). The vids are not terribly interesting or innovative, but are fun to see, and they give you a sense of what Transglobal was about in its early days. Best of all is the video for “Temple Head,” which mostly shows footage of TGU in concert, and gives us a visual representation of all the dizzying global elements that went into TGU’s music. For a couple years, TGU and its “global dance fusion” really blew it up in England, but then the very white and very English Britpop (Oasis, Pulp, Blur and the like) came along and marginalized TGU and similar bands. But check out TGU’s latest release, Impossible Broadcasting, which represents a return to the kind of great music they were putting out over ten years ago. (As for Britpop, Damon Albarn of Blur at least has moved away from “classic British rock,” as evidenced by his work with Gorillaz and the Moroccan elements on Think Tank, Blur’s 2003 release.)

Then there are six songs from a Natacha concert recorded at Union Chapel, London in June 2003. I find this material a bit disappointing, I’m afraid, as I saw Natacha perform in concert in Detroit the following month, and the Detroit concert was much more rocking, raucous, and funky than what is shown here from Union Chapel. In summer 2003 she was touring in support of her May release, Something Dangerous, which I think is the funkiest and most experimental of Natacha’s releases to date. When I talked to her backstage in Detroit after the show, she said she’d been listening to Missy Elliott a lot while working on Something Dangerous. But the live footage at least gives a good taste of the overall funky vibe of her US concerts on the number “Eye of the Duck,” from “Something Dangerous.” It has a dancehall feel, provided by vocalist Chardel (from Jamaica) who opens the song. The rest of “Eye of the Duck” is a wonderful duet between Natacha (singing in Arabic) and Inder Goldfinger (singing in English). Goldfinger used to work with Natacha in the Transglobal days. Another invaluable feature of the concert footage is the consistently brilliant keyboard work of Gamal El Kordy. I got to meet Gamal after the Detroit show, and was simply amazed to learn that he used to play accordion and keyboards with vocalist ‘Abd al-Halim Hafiz, one of the giants of Egyptian music. Gamal looks to be in his mid-fifties, like your regular middle-aged Egyptian, and it is hard to believe the wild sounds that emanate from his keyboards. And hard to imagine that he got his start as a teenager, playing accordion for ‘Abd al-Halim. (But maybe it’s not so strange. In the interview footage, Natacha says that Jay-Z was also an influence on Something Dangerous. Jay-Z’s 2000 hit, “Big Pimpin,’” is based on a sample from the ‘Abd al-Halim Hafiz song “Khusara.”)

Finally, there’s footage of an interview Natacha did with an Egyptian t.v. station, in Arabic (and a lot of English). There’s some interesting material here, most notably the info that the title “Something Dangerous” really was meant (as many suspected) as a statement about the run-up to the Iraq war. And what I didn’t know is that the title song includes some samples from anti-war demonstrations.

This is meant just to be a rough description of this DVD. In sum, if you dig Natacha, I think this is worth getting.

(There is lots written on Natacha Atlas, and a “google” will get you lots of sources. I wrote an article that focuses mostly on her first release, Diaspora (but also discusses Halim and Gedida), entitled “Islamic Hip-Hop vs. Islamophobia: Aki Nawaz, Natacha Atlas, Akhenaton.” It appears in Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, ed. Tony Mitchell.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Origami, 8/1/05, Cain's Ballroom Posted by Picasa

le tigre, electrelane & origami: cain’s ballroom, tulsa, 8/1/05

Last week (August 1) I had the great pleasure of seeing Le Tigre, Electrelane, and Origami perform at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. Outside of Tulsa, Cain's Ballroom is probably best known as (1) one of the eight spots that the Sex Pistols played in 1978, their only US tour (at least with Sid Vicious in tow) and (2) the headquarters for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from 1934-1943. Although I’ve lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas for nine years, and Tulsa is just a two hours’ drive away, it was my first venture there for a show. I try to keep abreast of good music shows in the region, and my impression is that groups like Le Tigre rarely tour this part of the world.

I loved the fact that it was an all-women show. On the coasts and in larger cities, I’m sure such bills are much more common, but not here in the heartland. Fayetteville, for instance, has a pretty lively and creative music scene, but there are few good bands with any women. I loved Woods Afire, which was fronted by two female vocalists, but it recently disbanded. The all-female Pink Mafia is great fun but doesn’t perform that often. So the “cool” music here is mostly guy-dominated.

This was an all-women show but it was not about selling sex. It’s not that the women performing were unattractive, but “attractiveness” was not the point, and was not the enticement. Rather, what was at issue was the music, which was terrific. If there was a point made about gender, it was that women can play instruments and can produce innovative, vital and challenging music. (From a certain perspective, it seems obvious that “women can play instruments,” but in fact women are very rarely given props or even encouragement for doing so. Whenever music magazines like Spin or Rolling Stone produce lists of the Top 100 Guitarists--and the guitar is *the* rock instrument--only 2 or 3 female guitarists show up.)

Origami, who opened the show, are from Melbourne, Australia. I was not familiar with their music before I saw them. They play energetic punk that is somewhat “pop”--and I mean that entirely in the best sense. Origami’s EP, Cruising for a Bruising, is well worth getting. The lead singer (can’t find her name) is a terrific performer, and a Yank who’s lived in Melbourne for the last 8 years.

Electrelane (Brighton, England) is much better known, and is touring in support of their latest album, Axes. It’s a bit hard to describe or put your finger on exactly what Electrelane are up to, and what that means, I think, is that they are making music that is quite unique. You simply can’t fit it into a genre or really say that it’s “like” anything you heard before. I was pretty familiar with Electrelane’s recordings, but wasn’t fully prepared for what I saw on stage. I want to say they’re a bit like Stereolab, but that’s not right, because they are much more “avant” and unpredictable. Based on their recordings, I expected more vocal harmonies, but only the keyboardist, Verity Susman, sang. The songs, or really I’d rather say, composition, are quite complex, they ebb and flow, they rock out and then they go disjointed and jangly. At times the group reaches that kind of rock groove, really basic yet banging and mesmerising, that Velvet Underground was so famous for achieving, a groove or plateau that so many groups have tried to imitate ever since and so few ever achieve. Electrelane, I think, is one of the few who do achieve it. All the girls are very proficient on their instruments, but there are few “solos” and never any long solos, and so it’s really all about ensemble playing. I found it really a joy to watch a group of women who are great players but none of whom is trying to stand out like a “guitar god(dess).” That said, Verity Susman’s keyboard work is really impressive, because she often goes into dissonant, avant, and unexpected places.

After Origami and Electrelane, my friend Dave and I really felt we had already got our money’s worth. And then Le Tigre showed up, and took things to another level.

Before I write about Le Tigre, a digression. I teach a course on Popular Culture, and one of my interests in that regard is gender and popular music. I try to keep up with the academic literature in this field, and my sense is that academics interested in this subject mostly write about female artists who are active and vocal about issues of gender and sexuality. In a certain way, this makes a lot of sense. Firstly, because the connection between the gender/sexuality politics and the music is quite obvious when it comes to certain artists like Le Tigre. It is apparent in the lyrics and the artists in question are very clear about the political implications of what they are doing. Second, since the gender/sex politics of the music is clear and direct, the effects of the music are (or appear to be) fairly transparent. That is, audiences, or at least some in the audience, must be sympathetic with the political messages being conveyed by the music. It is for such reasons, I suppose, that bands like Le Tigre and in particular the most well-known member of Le Tigre, Kathleen Hanna, get the most attention from academics interested in music/gender/sexuality. Le Tigre’s messages are (mostly) quite clear, and Kathleen Hanna is outspoken, and a good interview subject. Partly in reaction to the fact that Le Tigre/Kathleen Hanna receive the bulk of academic coverage when it comes to women rock/punk bands, I am interested in trying to figure out the gender/sexual significance and “messages” of bands whose politics are not worn on their sleeve. I am a big fan of Le Tigre, but I think that other female led bands need to be given much more attention. I think it is a mistake (for academics as well as progressive journalists) to privilege the feminist politics of Le Tigre at the expense of other female artists, and that it is necessary to explore other modes of doing politics and performing gender and sexuality.

I write this in part as a disclaimer: because so much is written about Le Tigre that I feel I have nothing to add. But nonetheless, I write. Le Tigre opened with “On the Verge,” the opening song from This Island, their latest album. It is just a kick-ass song, a great way to start the show on a very high energy level, and the level just never flagged. I’ve rarely seen a show where so much attention was paid to so many domains of performance. Outfits: The first half of the show, the girls wore matching, designer, abstract-sixties-pop art hand-sewn outfits, then switched to their divine olive-green-and-black “Stop Bush” outfits. Choreography: Always, great coordination, great dancing. Their show in fact reminds me, in a way, of the B-52’s, but with a lefty-lesbian twist. I think JD Samson, involved in the “Dykes Can Dance” Troupe, is mostly responsible for orchestrating Le Tigre’s dance moves. Video: For every song, a video is shown on the screen behind the band. I think JD Samson produces these, too. The vids are really effective for the agit-prop that Le Tigre does. On one song (and I forget which one) the lyrics were projected, making the (political) message very clear. On another song (again, don’t remember which) the video showed photos, book jackets, and album covers of artists/authors/theorists who Le Tigre wanted to name-check (Patti Smith, Jean Genet, Sonic Youth, Ella Fitzgerald, Angela Davis, Simone de Beauvoir, Nina Simone, Public Enemy, KRS-1, Gretchen Philips, Carly Simon, Gloria Steinem, Dolly Parton, Michel Foucault, Alice Walker, Janice Joplin). Best of all was the video for “New Kicks,” the anti-Iraq war song from “This Island,” which features footage of the huge mobilizations prior to the Iraq war and excerpts from anti-war speeches (by the likes of Amy Goodman and Al Sharpton). I wish more bands would pay such careful attention to all these aspects of performance.

And then there was the music itself, which was just outstanding. There are three songs from “On the Verge” I am not very fond of. “New Kicks” is great but after you hear it once or twice, I find it gets boring. But in performance, it was really effective, and I felt for a minute or two that I was back in an anti-war demonstration, venting against Bush and US imperialism. I don’t care much either for “Nanny Nanny Boo Boo” or “I’m So Excited,” but both are more interesting in the concert context. “Sixteen” is a song from “On the Verge” that I hadn’t really paid much attention to, I guess because it is more subtle and low-key than the others. Watching it performed, I learned to love it and appreciate its loungey sensibilities. Finally, hearing/seeing Kathleen sing “Seconds” live reminded me that Kathleen is one of the great female punk singers ever.

The audience was all ages, and at Cain’s, this means ALL ages. There were lots, lots of 10-12 year old kids. I found it very encouraging that they were there to see Le Tigre, and digging it. So, lots of diversity in age. (But--as is usual in the heartland when you see white bands--zero racial diversity. All white.)

I hope more bands like Le Tigre will find their ways to Cain’s in future. Here’s my wish list: PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Sleater-Kinney. Please, alternative/hip bands, get your asses into the heartland and the red states. We need you! Stop privileging the coasts.

A final note. The third or fourth song in Le Tigre set was “What’s Ya Take on Cassavetes.” Lots of people seemed to know the number and the lyrics. But I bet almost no one in the audience had ever seen a John Cassavetes film. The three young people I went to the show with are very cool, but none of them had ever seen a Cassavetes. This must change...