Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Beirut Blues

the ruptured sessions vol. 5 CD release party by tsweden
the ruptured sessions vol. 5 CD release party, a photo by tsweden on Flickr.

I arrived in Beirut on March 15. It's now the 24th, and I'm about to leave. 

I didn't get to see any live music but I did meet some cool people with connections to the music scene, and I learned a fair about.

1. I missed both performances that Ziad Nawfal was involved in, including the one above. But I did get hold of most editions of the Ruptured Sessions. Check out the Ruptured website -- Ruptured has produced a number of recordings, they put on radio shows and concerts. It's an important hub of music activity in Beirut.

2. I met DJ Sotosura my first night here, chatted with him a bit, and got my hands on his brand new mixtape, Al 3arabi Mo5. You can listen to it here. Very cool session, with def artists like boikutt (Palestine), Deeb (Egypt), El Rass (Lebanon), and El Far3i (Jordan). One of the very encouraging things I learned is how much collaboration is going on between rappers from these and other Arab countries. The rap scene is bringing back a kind of cultural pan-Arabism. 

3. As far as Lebanese rappers, Sotosura (who is Palestinian) particularly recommend El Rass. And I highly recommend him to you. 
 4. I met someone actively involved in AMAR, the Foundation for Arab Music Archive and Recording. This is a fantastic project. They have just started producing podcasts; the first one, on Al-qaṣīda ‘alā al-waḥda, was released on March 21. Even more impressive is their first recording, a boxset devoted to Shaykh Yusuf al-Manyalawi, one of Egypt's great early twentieth century musicians. It includes 10 remastered CDs and a booklet written by Muhsen Sawa, Frédéric Lagrange, and the Foundation's president, Mustapha Said. It costs only $60, a real bargain. A collection of the music of Abd al-Hayy Hilmi should be out very soon. 

5. I met Jackson Allers, who has been in Beirut for the last six years, and has been actively following and involved in the Beirut (and Arab more generally) music scene, and especially the rap scene. He's working on a book about Arab rap, which I look forward to eagerly. Meanwhile you can follow him on his blog Beats and Breath -- Iqaa3 wa Nafas. Essential reading.

And Jackson recently took over as managing editor of World Hip Hop Market, also a great website, dealing with global rap, but really, not from the point of the view of the capitalist market. At least not big capitalist. 

Check out, for instance, his interview with Syrian-American producer dub Snakkr, producer of another pan-Arab collection of hip-hop, called Khat Thaleth (Third Rail). It's a great collection too, and you can find it on iTunes and emusic and all over. Go get it. (I blogged about it earlier: you can get a promo with 7 of the 23 tracks here.)


It was great to get a bit of an introduction to the scene in just a few days, even if I didn't actually get to see any live music. But I did collect a packet of CD's. And ma'leesh, I'll be back inshallah.   

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

more kufiyas from Kanye and Hova

I never got around to posting about Jay Z & Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild" video from May 2012.

It is full of kufiyas. The video is all street confrontations between police and a mixed-race, all-male bunch who look like (or are made to look like) anarchists. Since it's from corporate rappers, I think it's all about a commercialized exploitation of the energies of Occupy Wall Street and street battles in London. And aestheticizing the hell out of it, while at the same time trying to show just a little bit of sympathy for the rioters who get beat up by the cops. I don't know whether I'll have the energy to spend much more time thinking about it. Here are some kufiya shots. The vid is below.

Relative calm هدوء نسبي

This song, the title track to Ziad al Rahbani's 1985 album, Houdou Nisbi (relative calm), speaks to the situation in Lebanon right now. Deadly civil war right next door in Syria. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in the country. Sectarian strife threatening to spill across the border into Lebanon. Etc.

The album simply brilliant, and it at times reminds me of Serge Gainsbourg. I picked it up at the Virgin Megastore on Hamra St., Beirut, yesterday.

And isn't the cover brilliant?

Sunday, March 17, 2013


kufiyaspotting by tsweden
kufiyaspotting, a photo by tsweden on Flickr.
kufiya on the cover of Charlie Ahearn's "Wild Style The Sampler"

Note added April 19:

From the same era, here's one of Afrika Bambaataa in kufiya.

And Madonna, using it as a scarf. Madonna, for the record, was part of the general scene. Both she and Bam played at the Roxy in New York City around the same era.

You also wonder whether this guy on the cover of Ahearn's book wasn't channeling the Attica prison uprising of September 1971.

Madrid demonstrators, Wednesday March 13, 2013

on the plane from Paris to Beirut on March 15, I got the IHT and spotted this. I'll be talking about kufiyas at AUB on Thursday.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Malik, gone for 6 months


It's been six months to the day since our beloved animal companion Malik passed away. He was a big dog, weighed nearly 100 lbs., probably a Catahoula-Great Dane mix. But who knows, he was picked up on the street by our neighbor, abandoned as a small puppy along with his sister near the Veterans Hospital in Fayetteville. Probably he was abandoned by a breeder, due to the fact that he had a deformed iris, which meant that his right eye had a bit of trouble with bright sunlight.

Malik means "king" in Arabic. He was no royalty as a puppy, he chewed on everything, was unbelievably rambunctious and energetic. Over the 11 and three-quarters years that he lived with us, we must have walked nearly 10,000 miles. When he grew up, however, he came to project an aura of dignity, and so came to grow into his name. He was a trooper right til the end, still full of life and full of joy, eager to walk. Except he really couldn't, his back legs were giving out, probably due to pressure on his spine and nerves, from the large fatty tumor that grew on his back over the last year of his life. At least three vets who I consulted told me it was inoperable, so there wasn't much we could do.

Malik went with me to Georgetown University when I spent the year there as a visiting professor from August 2011-May 2012. He was such a fabulous companion, and he loved our daily walks in DC, along Rock Creek, in Georgetown, along the Potomac. I will treasure that memory forever. 

Miss ya, buddy. You were the best.

misc. kufiyas: Paul Robeson in "Jericho" (1937) (+ Princess Kouka)

Robeson as Jericho, Princess Kouka as Gara

I've not yet seen it, a friend (Bob) just recommended it to me. It is supposed to be one of Robeson's best film roles. He plays a US GI who gets court-martialed, ends up in North Africa, hooks up with the Touareg, marries into the tribe, marries a Touareg woman, and becomes their leader. And leads them to victory. Can't wait to see it, it's coming soon via Netflix. Bob says that the exteriors were shot in Cairo and that the crew was there a month and that Robeson was looking forward to making another movie with Umm Kalthoum.

Meanwhile, Princess Kouka, pictured above, is a well-known Egyptian actress, born Tahia Ibrahim Bilal. Among other things, she appears in the wonderful 1955 film A Cigarette and a Glass (Sigara wa Ka's), starring Samia Gamal and Dalida. Kouka plays Azza. You can rent it from Netflix, and I highly recommend that you do so.

Here's a scene for the film. Kouka sings the title song while holding, yes, a cigarette and a glass. And Samia Gamal dances. Of course it's sublime.

Dalida also has a great, sultry singing scene in the film.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Good reads: Ellis Goldberg on Egypt's democratic transition

The title is: "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Democratic Transition."

It's one of the best things I've read about Egypt recently.

Here are a couple teasers:

The dominant concern in Egypt today is the high, and increasing, level of polarization. It seems to be common in the US and Europe to describe this a conflict between the country’s minority urban secular middle-class and its religious (Islamic) majority. That Egypt has become increasingly polarized is apparent but it is doubtful that the polarization that paralyzes the country is between the secular middle-class and the rest of Egypt. Much of the violence in the streets today is occurring outside of Cairo in the Canal Zone and the provincial cities of the Delta, places not known for their large, secular middle-classes. The violence is often specifically between the Muslim Brotherhood, its direct supporters and its occasional allies on specific issues, and the restive lower middle and working classes in these cities. 


Today’s polarizing conflicts in Egypt are far from limited to differences between the MB and a secular, middle class (or Facebook) opposition. It is possible that, for example, many of the young people who showed up to dance the “Harlem Shake” in front of the Muslim Brothers’ national headquarters were engaged in middle class mockery. If that were the opposition with which the MB had to contend they would be in a very different situation than they find themselves. The dock workers who have several times shut down the port at Ain Sokhna (most recently in mid-February 2013) were interested neither in embarrassing the MB nor in line dancing. Nor are industrialists like Magdi Tolba dancing for joy: the weakened pound is causing nearly as many problems as it solves for textile exporters like him.

Kufiyas in Wallander #1

I recently watched the Swedish Wallander series on netflix (I much prefer it to the PBS version starring Kevin Branagh) and spotted kufiyas a few times. Here's a photo of one time: it's Hanna, the daughter of the character Katarina Ahlsell, the district prosecutor (played by Lena Endre, who is also in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy -- she plays Erika Berger, co-owner of Millennium and some-time lover of Mikael Blomkvist). Here Hanna is taking a photo of her "boyfriend." I'm not sure which episode this is from. Sometime I'll go back and check.

In Sweden they simply call a kufiya a Palestinian scarf, or Palestinasjal.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Raw 45s and 78s from Morocco

You should, if you are not already, be following the music blog ShellacHead which features vintage 78s from all over the globe. Check out its latest offering, a guinbri track (I don't know why the curator David Murray spelled it "gunbri" in his post) from Kachbal and Zeroual.

To me the instrument played on this track sounds not like a guinbri, which I associate exclusively with the Gnawa, but a lotar. But Murray explains, and my friend Tim Abdellah Fuson confirmed this for me, that guinbri is the generic term for a whole range of Moroccan "banjos", including the large bass one played by the Gnawa (which Gnawis, depending upon the area, call a guinbri or a hajhouj or a sintir) to smaller ones called the lotar as well as small guinbris played by the Rwais.

There is a lot of other Middle Eastern music available on ShellacHead, very good stuff, and I recommend that you explore.

David Murray has also curated a new collection of Moroccan music, called Kassidat: Raw 45s from Morocco, for Dust to Digital. It's available in England but not yet in the US. Can't wait to get it. (Vinyl only.)

Here's the blurb for it on Amazon.com.uk.

"Kassidat: Raw 45s from Morocco" is a full-length LP that features six extended tracks from the Golden Age of the Moroccan record industry. After Morocco gained its independence in 1956, Moroccan-owned record labels sprouted and flourished in Casablanca. The inexpensive 45 rpm format allowed the record companies to release thousands of songs during the 1960s, creating a snapshot of the raw and hypnotic Berber music that thrived throughout Morocco. Powerful traditional styles were still alive and well at this time and untouched by international pop influences. "Kassidat" looks back at this era and presents it anew for audiences hungry for intense and authentic folk music.

And the track listings:

1. Zine Mlih (Sublime Beauty) - Mohamed Bergam
2. Wahrouch Aksaid Wili Moudanine (Ask Our Brothers the Immigrants) - Rais Haj Omar Wahrouch 3. Kassidat el Hakka (The Poem Of The Truth) - Abdellah El Magana
4. Makh-Makh (Why, Why?) - Jmimi, Lekbir and Fatma Anounya
5. Ouakki Ha Howa Ha Howa (That s Him) - Bennasser Oukhouya and Cheikha Hadda Ouakki
6. Sidi M Bark (Mr. M'bark) - Cheikh Mohamed Riffi

Murray promises to do a post on the album soon on ShellacHead, so stay tuned.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Did you know that a Syrian Jew was at the top of the UK charts in 1968?

I didn't either, I just learned it.

Esther Zaied was born in Safed, Palestine in 1941 to Syrian Jewish parents. She grew up in Haifa. In 1959 she married Abi Ofarim (born Abraham Reichstadt, also born in Safed, in 1937). Singing solo, Esther took 2nd place in the 1963 Eurovision contest, singing "T'en va pas" as an entry for Switzerland. (How she represented that country is unclear.) Esther and Abi then formed a singing duo (Abi played guitar as well), and they began to enjoy some international success in Germany in 1966 with the hit "Noch einen Tanz." (Interesting, no, that an Israeli duo would have a hit in Germany in the 1960s and also that they would sing in German. From Abi's born name, I guess he was from a German family.)

Esther and Abi Ofarim topped the English charts in 1968 for three weeks with the novelty song "Cinderella Rockefella." I do remember the song (though I didn't remember the name of the duo), as I lived in Lebanon at the time and we used to hear all the English hits there. I don't remember it fondly, however, and it belongs in the category of other one-off novelty tracks of the time, like "Winchester Cathedral." (Ester yodels -- ugh -- and it has a 1920s feel.) The song was written by Mason Williams (of "Classical Gas" fame) and Nancy Ames. Incidentally, "Cinderella Rockefella" toppled Manfred Mann's "Mighty Quinn" (written by Bob Dylan) from the #1 slot.

You may have a more favorable impression of Esther and Abi, however, if you check out this track, "Morning of My Life," which was written by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, and also recorded by the latter. It was a hit for the Israeli duo in Germany. It's really a great track, done folk-rock style. It shows off Esther's very impressive voice, and it's reminiscent (to me at least) of Ian and Sylvia. I love it. And doesn't the dress that Esther wears for this live TV performance have just a hint of "ethnic" to it? (I prefer this live version to the recorded one. It's impressive that they could turn in such a great live performance.)

Esther split up from her husband but continued her recording career. One of her recent albums (Esther Ofarim in London, 2009) was produced by Bob Johnston, who has worked with Bob Dylan, among other notables. (Johnston produced Highway 61 Revisited and Nashville Skyline, among other masterpieces.) Here's one track, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Esther's English vocals are remarkable for being entirely unaccented. Read more about her here, courtesy Allmusic.com. Allmusic says "Little information about Ofarim, however, circulates in the English-speaking record collecting community, a situation that will no doubt change in the 21st century as cultists look for something relatively undiscovered to mine."

What about Syrian Jews and Safed? Safed was a "mixed" city with Arabic-speaking Jews and Muslims from at least the Middle Ages. It was famous in the Ottoman period as a center of Kabbalah, a destination for Jews fleeing from Spain after the reconquista. It was common for Jewish Arabs to move around in the region during the Ottoman period. According to Esther Ofarim's website, her ancestors migrated many generations ago from Syria and Lebanon. Likely they were attracted by Safed's spiritual reputation. Safed is located in the Galilee, in northern Palestine, and so is quite close to Syria (it's only 60 miles form Damascus).

Like other "mixed" cities in Palestine during the Mandate period, Safad was a flashpoint, and 20 Jews were massacred there during the so-called "riots" in Palestine in 1929. Fuad Hijazi of Safad was executed by the British for his role in the killings; he is considered a Palestinian national martyr, and he and the other two who were executed by the British, 'Ata al-Zayr and Muhammad Jumjum, are the subject of a famous poem by Nuh Ibrahim, called "Sijn 'Akka" (Acre prison, the site of their execution), which has been set to music. Many nationalist Palestinian music groups have recorded the song, most notably al-'Ashiqin, and the song is very well-known. As I noted in my book, Memories of Revolt, the celebrated Palestinian novelist and Communist Emile Habibi told me that he thought that the Palestinian movement had no business turning men who had murdered Jewish civilians into heroes. I'm not sure many have listened to him.

Safed and its Jewish quarter also came under attack during the 1936-39 revolt, so it would have been a tough time for the families of Esther and Abi. The Jewish community at Safed was also under threat during the 1947-48 war, but eventually the Zionist forces prevailed and the Palestinian Arab population was expelled (some 12-15,000 people). Today their homes serve as a tourist attraction, a quaint-looking artists' colony, and the old mosque is the General Exhibition Hall for local artists. (Or at least it was when I visited there in 1985).

Friday, March 01, 2013

more threeAsfour designer kufiya dresses

I blogged about threeAsfour previously. But I didn't have these nice photos.

Kufiya Castro Hat

The 'pin' describes it as "NSBQ Shemagh Houndstooth Military Cap Hat."

NSBQ describes it as a CastroHat, and sells it for $80. NSBQ (NING SI BU QU) is a brand created in 2006 by Hong Kong Hip-Hop artist MC Yan.

kufiya leggings

described as "Lala Berlin inspired leggings with Keffiyeh print." Source is here.

very adorable kufiyas

source here

Gucci fur poncho kufiya

Seriously. 100% fox fur.

Check it out here. Gucci describes it as a "GG pattern mini poncho with fur detail." Price? No idea.

British soldier in shemagh/kufiya, Siwa 1942

A soldier of the Long Range Desert Group uses a Libyan keffiyeh scarf to protect his head from the sun, Siwa, 1942.

US Army Military Shemagh Arab MuslimTactical Desert Keffiyeh Scarf Black Skulls

 That's how it's described on ebay.

Rothco, which describes itself as "The World's Foremost Supplier of Military and Outdoor Clothing and Accessories," markets the item as a ROTHCO SKULLS SHEMAGH - TACTICAL DESERT SCARF.

kufiya patterned pants

original here, on tumblr

keffiyeh (kufiya) pride

Source: google.co.id via Halim on Pinterest

via pinterest