Thursday, May 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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