Monday, June 27, 2011

Coke & Pepsi and the Egyptian Revolution (+, yes, kufiyaspotting)

Like all companies trying to make money in the new Egypt after Mubarak, Coke & Pepsi are trying to ride the revolution. (Thanks to Robin for calling them to my attention.)

Check out this ad from Coca-Cola, with the theme, "Make Tomorrow Better." We see the middle class youth of Egypt (the presumed revolutionary subjects) ushering in a new dawn. Note that the focus is entirely on Cairo's downtown, which has both been a site that the upwardly mobile in neo-liberal Egypt have been fleeing for the upscale satellite suburbs, and which is also the focus of plans for gentrification. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, note the penultimate shot, which shows Tahrir Square, with a crowd (meant, of course, to evoke a demonstration, right before the last shot of a young person drinking a bottle of Coke.

Then check out this Pepsi advert. Again, the middle class youth of Egypt are the subject. They are shown to be adding color (literally) and life to Cairo's downtown (which has, in fact, been renovated in recent years). They possess the trappings of advanced modernity (flat screen televisions, laptops) and also evoke the youth of the revolution. This young woman carries the iconic cellphone (the "twitter revolution") and, yes, yes, you guessed it, she wears the requisite iconic accessory of the revolution, the kufiya.

And towards the end of the video, youth begin to gather at a street intersection in what looks like it could be a demonstration, and from a balcony looking over the intersection, a young man gives an enthusiastic revolutionary salute, with a can of Pepsi in his hand.

The overall theme is "express yourself." Among the lyrics of the song are the lines, "you are the new, you are the unique," and "tomorrow is waiting for you." And here's the vid:

Don't be too surprised, or dismayed. Both Coke and Pepsi attempted to ride the waves of the sixties counterculture and oppositional movements in the US.

Here's a "psychedelic" ad from Pepsi, from 1969.

And one from Coke, featuring Lady Soul Aretha Franklin, from 1968, when she had only recently crossed over, as a sign of Black Pride.

Big capital will, of course, inevitably, try to profit from the revolutionary fever...

Update (one hour later): Just a bit after I posted the above, I came across an article from Al-Masry Al-Youm on the same subject (although less critical), entitled "Soft-drink giants ride wave of post-uprising optimism." “It’s about empowering youth to come up with ideas and do something about them,” said Karim Khouri, managing director at Impact BBDO, the agency that designed ads for Pepsi.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Songs of the Syrian Revolt

It's thanks to Iman that I know about these two songs.

The first is by Syrian singer Samih Choukeir. I knew nothing of him before hearing this song. What I now know is based on this wikipedia entry, in Arabic. He is an established artist in Syria (or at least he was--who knows, after this song!), active since 1982, composing for the theater and t.v. serials as well as performing his own compositions. He studied art in the Ukraine (like so many other Syrians, who got advanced degrees from Eastern Bloc universities prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union) and is married to a Ukrainian woman. He does not belong to any political party in Syria but appears to be on the Syrian "left." (Here's his official bio in English.)

The song, "Ya Hayf (Oh Oppression)," is dedicated to the martyrs of Dera'a, March 15. Dera'a is where the Syrian revolt started. (It's also where T.E. Lawrence was tortured, if you remember the film Lawrence of Arabia.)

This one features someone leading a call-and-response song at a pro-democracy demonstration in the city of Hama, uploaded on June 23. It's entitled, "Bidkum Bashar (You want Bashar)." The singer chants various lines of government propaganda, and then chants Bidkum Bashara, and the crowd responds loudly, "La wallah" (No, by God!). It's quite wonderful.

(Again, I hope someone will translate these into English, and other languages, at some point.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Turban Makes a Glorious Comeback (last fall!)

Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

I clipped this article from the New York Times last fall, but it got misplaced in some pile or other, and I've just recovered it. I think it's still of interest.

It focuses on the claim of June Ambrose (pictured above) who, it says, wore a turban every day during New York Fashion Week. And it traces the current trend to a Prada show in 2006, which wasn't picked up, but then began to catch on by 2009. Kate Moss wore one at the Met gala in May 2009. And it started showing up on the street, on young women.

The new fashion connected them to "sophistication linked with Hollywood glamour of the 1920s and ’30s, when women like Garbo, Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford wore them. “From way back, turbans signified a woman who was very educated and worldly,” said Caroline Rennolds Milbank, the fashion historian."

The article goes on to say that, 'Because turbans have historically been associated with Arab dress, it is tempting to connect them with the conflict in the Middle East. “They make a strong political statement, like wearing harem pants,” Ms. [June] Ambrose said. “We take an element of other cultures and internalize it”'

For his part, the curator of the Costume Institute at the Met, Harold Koda, 'isn’t convinced that they have anything to do with politics: “It’s not a part of a Kumbaya fashion movement. I think it’s more of Poiret’s view of Orientalism than women watching the news and referencing what’s going on in Afghanistan. It’s an exoticism, a sense of the other that is visually compelling.”'

Fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank meanwhile 'noted that in the past, Western culture looked at the Middle East for its exotic form of dress, which was seen as sexually liberating. “If you look back at the portrayal of women in films like ‘1,001 Nights,’ ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ or even the television show ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’ the West depicted those women very sexually with sheer fabrics and an exposed midriff,” she said. “Going back to the turban is a return to the allure and sexiness of a foreign culture.”'

My opinion is not that it's a question of either/or. Probably the trend has something to do with Middle East politics--in some displaced fashion. And no doubt it's also rooted in the history of popular Orientalism in the US. Check out the slideshow that goes along with the article for more turbans. I particularly liked the photo of Nina Simone wearing one.

(credit: Associated Press)

I've posted a few times on turbans, as well as related Orientalist fashions. Re Maria Montez and Lana Turner, here. Rudy Ray Moore and more here. Beyoncé here. Kim Wilson. Chuck Willis. The Fabulous Ottomans and Sam the Sham. Prince and Prada. Ongoing obsession.

Gaza (dancehall version)

(Niketa Thomas, New York Times, June 19, 2011)

There's no evidence that Vybz Kartel gives two whits about Palestine's Gaza. Gaza is the name of Vybz's dancehall posse, as well as the name of the section of the Waterford housing scheme in Portmore, Jamaica, where Vybz Kartel grew up. He is also known as Gaza Emperor. Gully is the name of the actual gully which bisected Cassava Piece in St Andrew, where Vybz's rival Mavado grew up, and it's the name of his posse. Gaza/Gully feuding is constant in Jamaica. Read more here. (Thanks to Wayne Marshall for the reference. Don't blame Wayne for the fanciful account of the 'real' Gaza.)

(There is also a 'Tel Aviv' area in central Kingston.)

Vybz has released two albums called Pon Di Gaza. Please check out his Mavado dis song, "Pon Di Gaza":

Chic of Araby

Italian designer Walter Albini created this in 1976 (photo from the New York Times, Oct. 12, 2010). Read more about him here. You'd think that, today, the more germane term would be hijab chic.

The phrase, Chic of Araby, isn't original. In fact, the Times used it for a men's fashion spread in Spring 2010. Below is a representative photo. Very Lawrence of Arabia retro. More here. (Maybe the Times got the name from the John Abercrombie 2009 track.)

Is White the New Black?

"Beyond the Pale" -- Kelefa Sanneh in The New Yorker, April 12, 2010.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Kurdish Kufiyas/Puşis

(Photo by Jodi Hilton for The New York Times. Caption: "Kurdish youth commemorated the 1977 May Day massacre last month during a march to Taksim Square in Istanbul")

This photo appeared in a recent article in the New York Times about the Kurdish struggle in Turkey for cultural autonomy, and particularly in the field of music.

I found the article quite enlightening, but I was, of course, particularly struck by the photo, which features Kurds wearing very stylish kufiyas. These are known in Kurdish as puşis. The puşi is traditional wear for men in Kurdistan, and is often taken as an insignia of Kurdish identity. In my investigation of kufiyas, I've not yet devoted much time to the Kurdish angle.

An article in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet states that kufiyas/puşis have also become trendy in Istanbul, and that the origin of the trend is via the West. One vendor claims that it was due to the fact that Angelina Jolie was spotted wearing one. (I've not seen a photo of this. But I will look.) The kufiyas, in multiple colors, are made in Syria, the article claims.

But apparently, based on the evidence in this photo, it's not simply about trendiness. These Kurds are trendy, yes, but they are also political activists.

To be continued.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

not your 'typical' electronics musicians

photo: Abdel-Rahman Hussein

Meet Yara Mekawie and Ola Saad, performing "abstract minimalist electronica" at the 100 Live Electronic Music Festival in Cairo last Thursday (as reported by Abdel-Rahman Hussein in Al-Masry Al-Youm).

Surprised by their "Islamic dress"? Yes, contemporary Egypt continues to surprise.

The 100 Live Electronic Music Festival is put on by 100 Copies Music, the Cairo label devoted to experimental music, and the label associated with the music of Ahmed Basiouny, who I have posted about several times, a martyr of the revolution.

I've not been able to learn much more about these two artists, who perform as RGB, other than what is written in Al-Masry Al-Youm. What I find of note is this:

1. RGB's music is very conceptual. Their performance was not, they say "about making music." “It’s about the sound and trying to convey colors through it,” Saad told Al-Masry Al-Youm. Mekawie concurred, adding, “When you hear what we do, the intent is for you to see light.”

2. They cite Ahmed Basiouny as their inspiration.

3. According to Hussein, "their work evokes Brian Eno and Robert Fripp’s “sonic landscapes” pioneered in the 1970s, but is more minimalist, less textured."

4. Most interesting, perhaps, is that the duo claim that the fact that they are women, and the only women in the festival, is "irrelevant." "The important thing is what we do."

The fact that they wear "Islamic dress": not even mentioned. At all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sennheiser headphones kufiya

Thanks to both @southsouth (who blogs here) and @wayneandwax (he blogs here) for informing me about the kufiya in the packaging for Sennheiser headphones. (Sennheiser is a German company.) I've used @southsouth's photo, which is to be found here. Wayneandwax's is here.

Hip, eh? Powerful bass goes perfectly with a kufiya, no?

And thanks to all my kufiyaspotting friends and comrades.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Oh so hip Wal-Mart

Another Wal-Mart Shareholders' Meeting has descended upon my hometown, Fayetteville. And more pop stars have joined the Wal-Mart Hall of Shame, lending their voices to shill for one of the world's premier anti-labor corporations. This year brought us: Will Smith, Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keyes, Darius Rucker, and Bob Seger. Previous years have brought such luminaries as J-Lo, Beyoncé, Kool and the Gang, Journey, Shakira, Taylor Swift...the list goes on and on.

Okay, let's forget about workers' rights, for the sake of argument. The Walmart Visitors' Center in Bentonville, on the site of Sam Walton's original Five and Dime store in that city, sits right across the street from a statue to Confederate soldier James Berry, erected on the town square in 1908 by the Daughters of the Confederacy. You can see how close that monument to the heroes of the War of Treasonous Secession is to the monument to corporate America from the photo above, which I shot on a visit to Bentonville a couple weeks ago.

Seriously, Will & Fergie & Alicia, couldn't you at least ask why Wal-Mart, with all its corporate power, doesn't insist that the statue to those who fought for their Confederate home and fatherland be taken down? Do you really need the money that badly?

And seriously, why does no one ever seem to complain about the fact that our beloved pop stars cavort so shamelessly for corporate power?

And then there's the issue of Crystal Bridges, the museum of American art that will open in Bentonville this November. It was initiated with funds from Alice Walton (daughter of Sam, founder of Wal-Mart, and the 8th richest American -- 3 of her siblings are alson in the top 10), and just received another huge endowment from the Walton Family Foundation. It will be a fabulous museum, and the architecture and the site promise, according to all reports, to be amazing. (Expect a report in the New Yorker soon.) And at the same time it will serve the function of art-washing: to clean up the Wal-Mart image through the Walton family's "disinterested" support of culture and the arts.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Lady Gaga gets the Bollywood treatment

Read about it (and watch the vid) in/on the Wall Street Journal here.

India is an appealing target for entertainers, as it has 700 million people under the age of 30.

And watch the Salim and Sulaiman Desi remix of "Judas" here: