Thursday, November 27, 2008

Report on the Andalucias Atlanticas festival in Essaouira

I went last year but couldn't make it this year. A friend who was lucky enough to go sent me this report, with accompanying photos:

"The last days of October and early November saw terrible weather Morocco, with various parts of the kingdom seeing heavy rains, flashfloods and mudslides. The normally windy city of Essaouira was no exception, but as the winds howled and rains poured, several hundred spectators sitting inside the massive tent set up for the Andalucias Atlanticas festival, were enraptured by some of the greatest voices in Andalusian music in Spain and the Maghreb. This year's festival payed homage to Samy El Maghribi, a pioneering figure in Moroccan music, who passed away earlier this year. The first evening of the festival (October 30) saw Abdelkarim L'Amarti, whose orchestra plays gharnati and hawzi, joined by Yolande Amzalag, the daughter of the late El Maghribi, who sang some of her father's earliest classics.

Yolande Amzalag

Samy El Maghribi's repertoire was vast, ranging from chaabi to melhoun and including one of Morocco's most memorable songs of independence ("Alf Hnia wa Hnia" which El Maghribi wrote in 1955 in celebration of King Mohammed V's return home after French-imposed exile.) A special tribute to El-Maghribi was also paid by Maxime Karoutchi, a rising star of the Judeo-Andalusian repertoire (see links below).

Marina Heredia

The audience was also regaled by the fiery vocals and dancing of Marina Heredia and Pasion Vega, two leading flamenco performers.

El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers

But the highlight of this festival was undoubtedly the performance by El Gusto, an ensemble of 40 musicians of Jewish and Muslim background, who sang together in the kasbah of Algiers in the 1950s and have recently been reunited by Safinez Bousbia, a young Algerian filmmaker. El Gusto - often described as the North African "Bueno Vista" - includes prominent figures of Algerian chaabi and hawzi music including oud virtuouso Rachid Berkani who performed with Farid al Atrache; mandole-player Abdelkader Chercham, who teaches chaabi repertoire at the Algiers' conservatory of music; pianist El Hadi Halo, who also happens to be the son of Mohammed Al Anka, a legend of Algerian chaabi- and three living legends of Judeo-Andalusian music: guitarist and vocalist René Perez, guitarist and vocalist Luc Cherki, and pianist Maurice Medioni [who could not make it to the festival]. In keeping with El Gusto's - and the festival's spirit of convivencia - the performance began with a blessing sung jointly by an imam and a rabbi, and then, with rain lashing outside, El Gusto played classics by North African legends like Mohammed El Anka, Dahmane El Harrach and Salim Halali. The lead vocalist Abdel Madjid Meskoud drew warm applause with his moving rendition of the late Kamel Messaoudi's classic "Noujoum el Lil."

René Perez

René Perez and Luc Cherki had people on their feet when they played their signature numbers "Elle Est Parti (Mchat Aliya)" and "L'Oriental."

Luc Cherki

Luc Cherki sang a new song ("La Ville d'Essaouira") he had composed for the festival and in honor of this charming town that he first performed in 1963 (when it was still called Mogador) when he was invited by Salim Hilali. El Gusto ended their performance with a stirring rendition of "Ya Rayeh," the song first composed by Mohammed Al Anka, popularized by Dahmane el Harrach, and recently revived by French-Algerian artist Rachid Taha. The festival was an inspiring success."


Karoutchi singing Samy El Maghribi's melhoun number

Karoutchi singing Salim Hilali medley - Ya Kalbi/Raymonde Rametni

And check out this performance of El Gusto on BBC, preceded by an interview with Damon Albarn, who produced their album (which is terrific!):

I'll announce the dates and the program for next year's festival as soon as I know them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chronicle of Higher Education on my MESA kufiya talk

Back from the Middle East Studies Association Annual Meetings last night. And I just learned that the Chronicle of Higher Education blog covered my talk on the kufiya: "What's in a Scarf: Scholar Ponders the Meanings of the Kaffiyeh," by David Glenn. Read it here.

Here's my favorite quote: "Mr. Swedenburg publishes comprehensive-verging-on-obsessive coverage of kaffiyeh sightings on his blog."

Only "verging" on obsessive??

In that spirit, I learned awhile back that Sarah Jessica Parker appeared in a kufiya-style tanktop in an episode of "Sex in the City." I don't know which episode, so I asked a friend who owns DVD's of all the season and watches obsessively to keep an eye out. I still haven't got a report. Someone who was at my talk said that she had noticed the kufiya in an episode, and had heard that there were protests, and so the kufiya top was deleted from the DVD version. I'm on the case.

And check out the comments of the Chronicle blog article. One commenter says s/he saw "Jerry Springer: The Opera" at Studio Theatre 2ndStage in D.C. in August, and that "Satan makes his entrance accompanied by an entourage of gunmen wearing keffiyahs wrapped to cover everything except their eyes." I'm on the look out for that too.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

kufiya note #7078 (plus turban and hijab chic)

I'm still slogging away, when I can, on the MESA paper, and am finding ever more material.

Here's another photo of Chris Brown, which I found courtesy of the blog Flypaper, dated February 26, 2008. Here is an earlier post of mine of Chris B. You learn from these photos that he owns more than one.
Flypaper posted the Brown photo again, along with a shot of Beyoncé in a turban (original is from here), and some hijab fashion, under the title "Middle Eastern chic" (April 29, 2008). Symptomatically, not "Arab" chic. As Sunaina Maira notes in her article on Belly Dancing and Arab-Face, “Despite the recent proliferation of belly dance classes and clothing, hookah bars, and Arab music in urban U.S. popular culture, the word 'Arab' is hardly ever used in connection with these products and practices, and they are more commonly glossed as 'Middle Eastern.'” (Check out wayneandwax's post on Arab-Face here and download Maira's article here.)

Arab seemingly is too dangerous an identification to market, or blog. Nonetheless, I appreciate Flypaper's move to link the kufiya trend to other clothing trends. (I posted previously about turban style and hijab chic here. J-Lo and Prince beat Beyoncé to the punch.)

Here is a shot of Cameron Diaz, kufiya draped, appearing at Pangea Day in May, courtesy Popsugar. Pangea Day is a "global event bringing the world together through film, which on May 10, 2008, linked live events in Cairo, Kigali, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro. It was initiated by Jehane Noujaim, director of Control Room (the documentary about Al-Jazeera). Check out the excerpts from the films that were shown--this is not just some flaky, ignorant Hollywood stuff that Cameron is participating. (And what about the fact that she wears a kufiya to an international event organized by an Egyptian?)

And back to Flypaper: the next post following the one on "Middle Eastern chic" is one about the "new Pashmina," as reported on by the London Times (April 26), which writes, " Except there’s a new way to wear scarves that’s almost universally foolproof – not knotted in a neat choker that ends up slipping round your neck, but folded into a big triangle at the front and tied, Middle-Eastern style. This is a cunningly brilliant route to prints and colours you wouldn’t otherwise be seen dead in, but know will cut a dash." Note, again: not folded Palestinian style or Arab style but Middle Eastern style.
Flypaper, helpfully, provides a photo of this triangle-in-front style, which the Times does not do. (Pashmina is a very pricey type of cashmere shawl, from the Kashmir, that became popular in the West of late. Maira writes that they showed up in clothing stores and street fairs in New York City in 1997-99, as part of the Indo-chic trend (p. 345, "Henna and Hip-Hop: The Politics of Cultural Production and the Work of Cultural Studies," Journal of Asian American Studies, October 2000).

More recently, reported (August 18, 2008) on the first look at the "killer scarves" for fall 2008, and, whaddyaknow, the "triangle in front" (here labelled "triangle wrap") shows up again:

"Scarves were even seen wrapped tightly around the neck, in a fringed belted version and also in a triangular look that resembles the VERY CONTROVERSIAL keffiyeh (that I love to don)."
The controversy refers to is, of course, the Rachael Ray/Dunkin' Donuts one. Note that the scarf and cap on the lower right (shoulder love) have a kufiya-looking pattern. And is the "head's covered" scarf more "hijab chic"?

That's not the end of it, for the post features more scarves, including the Peace Treaty line. Pictured is the Capsicum Peace Treaty scarf (shades of Urban Outfitters' "anti-war woven scarf").

And if you go to the website ( you can find "triangle wrap," kufiya-style scarves, including this one, the Netanya.

And there's more to the kufiya/pashmina connection, or merger. Bluefly is also marketing a red, cashmere kufiya (only $99, on sale), as part of its Kashmere line.
Finally (for now), you can buy the trompe l'oeil kufiya t-shirt now from

As Fredflare says, "Unless you've been living under a rock somewhere, you've seen (or worn) this ubiquitous scarf. Now you can rock it all year long on a super comfy 100% cotton t-shirt by Newbreed Girl!" The kufiya is no longer just for fall/winter! (But see this earlier trompe l'oeil here.)

Apparently, kufiyas aren't going away any time soon. The "triangle" style of wearing them is getting, almost, branded. They are getting merged with Indo-chic pashminas. Viral...

Nor, I would maintain, does the fact that celebrities wear them necessarily mean that kufiyas are disconnected from progressive, or at least humanitarian, politics. Check out Pangea.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ghanian rapper Kwaw Kese: kufiya, big pimpin'

Check out this vid, in which Kwaw Kese (from Ghana) is kufiya-clad most of the time. The song does remind one of Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'," doesn't it?

Found it courtesy of the very fine blog, The Elephants Child. I know nothing about Kwaw Kese, except that he's a "hip life" artist.

Kufiya-clad American Leftist, circa 1987

I found this in Fred Davis' book, Fashion, Culture and Identity (1992), in his chapter on Antifashion (p. 163). Jennifer Berman's cartoon, from In These Times, is entitled "The American Leftist (Progressivus Sandinistis Supportoris)." It features two male leftists in stereotypical late 1987 attire; I show (of course) only the one wearing what the cartoon calls a "Palestinian style scarf." (Unfortunately, it's not drawn very accurately. At the time it would have been a real black-and-white checked one.)

Among the other international characteristics of these two stereotypical leftists, according to the list at his left, is that they know: "some of the words to 'the Internationale'"; "at least 5 people who have been to Esteli [Nicaragua]"; "protest chants in Spanish" and "love Thai food."

More evidence that the kufiya was everyday eighties leftist attire, especially in the key movements of the era, the Central American solidarity movement and the nuclear disarmament movement. Contrary to what some accounts I've been reading say (including wikipedia--at least, as of today), its use in the US pre-dates the first Palestinian intifada, which broke out in December 1987.

Kufiyaspotting #43: Free Paris Hilton

I'm scheduled to give a paper at the Middle East Studies Association Annual Meetings in a couple weeks, entitled "Kufiyaspottings: Solidarity, Commerce, Banalization." I'm in the process of writing the thing, and so I've been reading over my old posts and also looking again at the work of the folks over at Kabobfest, who also do a lot of kufiyaspotting. And they turned me on to this:

It's hard to know what to say. Other than that Paris has managed, in my opinion, to outdo all other kufiya stylings in sheer trashiness. You simply can't beat it.

Except that Paris herself is not in fact the author of the "Free Paris" t-shirt. It is produced by Dissizit. (But alas, no longer up on their website.) I give them a tip of the tarbush, for they have managed to channel the true inner spirit of Paris.