Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Middle Eastern Music Mixes for Your New Years: Old School North African and New Skool Mahraganat

 1. This isn't a new one but I just came across it. Krimau, one of the two dj's of Toukadime, did a mix back in 2012 for the website 716. It features the likes of Mazouni, Rabah Driassa, Boujemaa el-Ankiss, Cheikha Mangala Relizania and more. Grab it here.

2. And, a brand new mahraganat mixtape, courtesy Philip Battiekh, called El Battiekhawya meets Islam Chipsy in the Diaspora of Sha3besque Rhythm. With the likes of Islam Chipsy, al-Madfa3geya, Amr 7a7a, Sadat and Fifty, Battiekh, and other knowns and some unknowns. Really brilliant.

Yasmine Hamdan's "Hal" is in the running for an Oscar

I've blogged about this song previously. It's from the final scene of Jim Jarmusch's 2014 film, Only Lovers Left Alive, where the aging, world-weary vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) come across Yasmine Hamdan performing in a club in Tangier, Morocco. The scene is riveting, although the song is not, I have to admit, one of my favorite Yasmine Hamdan songs. I suppose we should not get too excited about the chances that "Hal" will win. There are a reported 79 songs in the running for Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards. We'll know whether it is actually nominated on January 15, 2015.

Here's the scene from the film:

And here is Yasmine Hamdan performing for one of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concerts, in May 2014:

One of the songs she performs is one of my favorites, "Beirut." I posted about this song previously -- check it out here. Lyrics in Arabic and English are provided.

Best Original Song
Best Original Song

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

recommended Middle Eastern music for your hols: Syria, North Africa, El Ghorba

More great stuff I've come across:

1. Sabri Mudallal (Moudallal), live in concert in Cologne (1988) and studio recordings (1989).

This two CD set is available to download here, courtesy the music blog Oriental Traditional Music from LPs & Cassettes. Sabri Moudallal (1918-2006) was one of the twentieth centuries most renowned singers hailing from Aleppo, Syria. He was both a muezzin and a singer of the distinctive Aleppo genre of music, the wasla 'suite.' He is probably best known outside of Syria as a vocalist with the al-Kindi Ensemble. Essential reading on Aleppo's music scene, including a discussion of Moudallal, is Jonathan Shannon's Among the Jasmine Trees Music and Modernity in Contemporary Syria.

2. A collection of recordings, courtesy the music blog Arab Tunes, by Cheikha Habiba Saghira dating from the seventies and eighties. Habiba Saghira is one of the great rai cheikhas. The set commences with the song "Nebghi Nechreb" (I want to drink). It concludes with "Yasker Ou Yebki" (He drinks and cries). You get the idea. I posted photos of a couple Habiba Saghira record jackets awhile back, here

3. Courtesy the music blog Phono Mundial, a mixtape of music of El Ghorba or exile, a "cassette" composed of two "sides" of Maghrebi music. Side A is a set of music, produced mostly in France, dating from post Algerian independence. Great tracks from the likes of Abranis, Doukkali and Mazouni. Side B is a bit more contemporary than Side B, with some great twist, yé-yé, rock'n'roll and Kabyle fusion, from the likes of Karoudji, Mazouni (again), and Rachid et Fathi. It also includes a song very dear to my heart, Bellemou's "Zerga ou Mesrara," with vocals from Hamani Tmouchenti, one of the original pop-rai songs. I've written about it previously here and here. (Phono Mundial claims the recording of this Bellemou track was done in Marseille. I wonder...) [Correction, December 30, 2014: apologies to Phono Mundial, who say the track was issued in Marseille, and not recorded there. So cool that it was issued there!]

4. Courtesy Jewish Morocco, a mixtape for Hanukkah (or any other holiday you like, in fact), titled "Mazal Haï Mazal: Eight North African Tracks to Light Your Soul On Fire." It is not free, it's $5, or more, if you'd care to donate to Jewish Morocco's digitalization project. You won't find these rare tracks elsewhere, by such renowned artists as Albert Suissa, Reinette l'Oranaise, and Zohra El Fassia. I'm particularly excited about getting my hands on a recording of  Blond-Blond's "La Bombe Atomique." Read more about this collection here.

Happy holiday listening!

kufiya harem pants (sirwal) and other possible kufiya-themed xmas gifts

A friend turned me on to the etsy site of Fadila A Alouchi, based in Châtelet, Belgium. It's full of kufiya items. You'll have to check it out.
Here are a couple samples. They are way, in my opinion, over the top.

Harem pants, known in Arabic as sirwal. $111.33.

Fur hat. $93.82.

Hair Bow. $31.15

shop away!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

More kufiya fashion

I've not been paying that much attention to the kufiya fashion front, but occasionally I get notification of interesting new developments, via Pinterest (where I have a kufiya board, which I add to infrequently.) I recently came across some new items which I feel I must share.

These are described as Givenchy kufiyyeh platforms (source). I've been unable to confirm whether Givenchy really sells or sold such an item. But pretty amazing, eh?

I found these items at the Dusty-Reykjavik blog. These are all by the Danish designer Cecilie JØrgensen, who has lots of kufiya fashion items. And here are some more:

This is via Cover, where you can see even more Cecilie JØrgensen kufiya fashion.

Finally, kufiya shorts, from Zara. This one found at Carolines Mode blog, from Stockholm.

So I guess kufiya fashion is really going strong in Scandinavia, eh?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Excellent introduction to Mizrahi music

By Leeor Ohayon, published by Stamp the Wax. It's here.

If you've read Amy Horowitz's excellent book, Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic, you will probably know much of this story. But Horowitz's book only takes us up to the early 90s, prior to the mainstreaming of Mizrahi music, the success of artists like Eyal Golan. And it mentions more recent developments, like the Jaffa bar Anna Loulou, and the fabulous singer Neta Elkayam. The article mentions one artist I was not familiar with, a pioneer figure in the movement, Ahuva Ozeri. Check out her song ‘Haikhan ha-Khayal?’ (Where is my soldier?) here.

 Anna-Lulu resident DJ Khen Ohana Elmaleh (photo Leeor Ohayon)
(the photo hanging on the right is of Salim Halali)

I particularly liked Ohayon's summary of what happened to the Jews from the Arab countries who ended up in Israel after 1948:

Mizrahi is the subsequent result of Egyptian Jews befriending Moroccan Jews who married other eastern Jewish communities from Algeria to Dagestan within the ghettos of peripheral Israel, creating the Israeli ‘ethnic other’. Mizrahi is the result of side-lined communities, uprooted, destitute and further victimised in a state that told them not to be ‘too Arab’. A state built on Ashkenazic foundations, under a Eurocentric educative system that sought to pressurise Mizrahi Jewry into leaving their Middle Eastern cultures at the border and adopting a new Ashkenazi-Israeli identity. All this subsequently resulted in a dichotomy that only served to create a form of identity-based schizophrenia amongst Mizrahi Jewry.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Algerian photos: Lazhar Mansouri

One of the brilliant things about sharing stuff on your blog or Facebook or twitter or whatever is that the odd person will share things in return. For example:

I posted on twitter this photo I took, from inside the CD booklet that comes with the recent release from Sublime Frequencies, 1970s Algerian Folk & Pop. I posted about it here.

I just love this photo. First, it shows an Algerian teenage girl in a short skirt. Second, the girl has her arm around the boy, rather than the reverse. Finally, the pose looks so...natural.

Thanks to someone who noticed my twitter post of this photo, I have learned the name of the photographer: Lazhar Mansouri. Mansouri was a photographer who lived in the town of Aïn Beïda, in the Aurés mountains of eastern Algeria. He shot pictures of local townspeople in the studio he set up in the rear of a barbershop, between 1950 and 1980. (The population of Aïn Beïda in 1954 was 18,900; by 1977, 42,600.) 

Curator James Cavello culled a reported 10,000 negatives left by Mansouri and selected 120 of them to print. A collection of 50 (or 55?) photos toured the US in 2007, and it was reviewed in Art in America, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, among other venues. (And the collection has continued to tour elsewhere.) You can read more about Mansouri, see some photos, and read the reviews here. More photos, and a somewhat more interesting set, are here. Below are a couple samples.

Amazing, eh? I wish, however, that the photos were captioned. I have lots of questions, such as, are prostitutes among the subjects?

If you want to dig further, there is a book, which you could borrow on Interlibrary Loan (assuming you are at a university): Lazhar Mansouri: photographe algérien, by Lazhar Mansouri and Gina Abatti (Mazzotta, 2003).

Monday, December 08, 2014

Growing popularity of Fairuz in Israel?

On December 1, 2104, Eyal Sagui Bizawe, one of Ha'aretz's most interesting writers (see what he has written about here) published an article entitled "Lebanese singer Fairuz is 
finally fashionable in Israel." He starts by telling us about traveling to Amman in 1999 to see Fairuz in concert (at that time it was somewhat normal to go to Jordan for such events.)

He goes on to say that Israeli society has "opened up somewhat to Arab music since then," although it still looks down on Mizrahi music. As evidence, he cites, first of all, the fact that Palestinian-Israeli singer Lina Makhoul, the winner of the second season of the Israeli TV program The Voice of Israel, performed a Fairuz song, "Bizakker Bel Kharif" (I remember autumn), at her audition in 2012. The song, set to the tune of "Autumn Leaves," was a great success with the judges as well as the audience.

Bizawe also cites the Israeli band Turquoise (Fairuz means turquoise in Arabic) which recently released a mini-album in tribute to Fairuz. It includes a version of Fairuz's "Sa'louni Al-nas," (The people asked me). 

Turqouise's release has stirred up some controversy, with Abdul Rahman Jasem, a Palestinian writer based in Beirut writing in Al Akhbar that the recording was yet another example of Israeli Zionists stealing Arab culture, as they had done with hummus, felafel and tabbouleh. Turquoise argues however that they are just trying to bring Arab culture to the Israeli public, in the interests of bringing people together. I'm not unsympathetic to that project, but musically, I don't find Turquoise's version very appealing, as it seems to have very much toned down the Arab quality of the original, I guess with the idea of making it acceptable to a wider Israeli audience. Here's the original, you decide.

I also learned from Bizawe that Fairuz's son Ziad Rahbani is reportedly considering moving to Russia. Or, at least, moving to Russia for a time to work on a TV show. 

Eyal Sagui Bizawe, meanwhile, is of Egyptian Jewish origin, and his grandmother was a cousin of the great Egyptian Jewish actress and singer Leila Murad. Bizawe has made a film, called Arab Movie, about the screening of Egyptian films on Israeli TV. You can see a clip and read about the film here. Bizawe is also a DJ, who spins discs on occasion at the very hip Jaffa bar Anna Loulou, which has a mixed (Palestinian and Jewish) clientele. 

When I posted Bizawe's article on FB, I got varying reactions from FB friends. A Palestinian remarked, "they steal everything." One Israeli said that you couldn't attribute Israeli fans of Fairuz to a right-left split, whereas another Israeli claimed that it was leftists who were into Fairuz.

More research needed. Meanwhile, please follow Bizawe on Ha'aretz.

Coming soon: Gil Hochberg, "Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone"

UCLA Prof Gil Hochberg's book, Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone, is out soon (May 2015) from Duke University Press. I blurbed it, so I've read the manuscript, and it is terrific, an essential read.

Here is Ella Shohat's blurb:

"Focusing on the politics of visuality, Visual Occupations engages the Zionist narrative in its various scopic manifestations, while also offering close readings of a wide range of contemporary artistic representations of a conflictual zone. Through such key notions as concealment, surveillance, and witnessing, the book insightfully examines the uneven access to visual rights that divides Israelis and Palestinians. Throughout, Gil Z. Hochberg sharply accentuates the tensions between visibility and invisibility within a context of ongoing war and violence. Visual Occupations makes a vital and informed contribution to the growing field of Israel/Palestine visual culture studies." 

and mine:

"Gil Z. Hochberg's brilliant and lucidly written text provides a vivid analysis of the sharp limits on visibility in Palestine/Israel. The expulsions of Palestinians in 1948 are invisible in Israel, and yet they continue to haunt its citizens and mobilize Palestinian resistance. Palestinians under occupation are hyper-visible, as victims and militants, and they seek both non-spectacular images and a measure of opacity. Through her critical readings of an array of Palestinian and Israeli artistic works, Hochberg offers other ways of looking and being seen, in this vastly unequal field of visibility."

and Duke Press' description:

"In Visual Occupations Gil Z. Hochberg shows how the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is driven by the unequal access to visual rights, or the right to control what can be seen, how, and from which position. Israel maintains this unequal balance by erasing the history and denying the existence of Palestinians, and by carefully concealing its own militarization. Israeli surveillance of Palestinians, combined with the militarized gaze of Israeli soldiers at places like roadside checkpoints, also serve as tools of dominance. Hochberg analyzes various works by Palestinian and Israeli artists, among them Elia Suleiman, Rula Halawani, Sharif Waked, Ari Folman, and Larry Abramson, whose films, art, and photography challenge the inequity of visual rights by altering, queering, and manipulating dominant modes of representing the conflict. These artists' creation of new ways of seeing—such as the refusal of Palestinian filmmakers and photographers to show Palestinian suffering, or the Israeli artists' exposure of state manipulated Israeli blindness—offers a crucial gateway, Hochberg suggests, for overcoming and undoing Israel's militarized dominance and political oppression of Palestinians."

Monday, December 01, 2014

absolute best thing to read about ISIS right now

from Alireza Doostdar, who teaches Islamic Studies and Anthropology of Religion at University of Chicago Divinity School. from the div school's Martin Marty Center. here.

a couple samples:

The emphasis on ISIS’ Salafi worldview has tended to obscure the many grievances that may motivate fighters to join an increasingly efficient militant group that promises to vanquish their oppressors. Do they need to “convert” to ISIS’ worldview to fight with or for them? Do they need to aspire to a caliphate, as does ISIS leadership, in order to join forces with them? These questions are never asked, and “beliefs” are made simply to fill the explanatory void...

ISIS’ brutality did not emerge in a vacuum; rather, it is part of a whole ecology of cruelty spread out over more than a decade.

Perhaps a decapitation is more cruel than blowing a body to bits with a high-caliber machine gun, incinerating it with a remote-controlled drone, or burning and lacerating it with a barrel bomb. But even if we limit ourselves to close-up, low-technology brutality, ISIS beheadings are hardly out of place.

The earliest video-taped decapitation of an American citizen in Iraq was conducted by ISIS’ predecessors in 2004 in response, they claimed, to the photographed and video-recorded torture, rape, and murder of detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison [12]. In 2011, it emerged that some American soldiers in Afghanistan had been hunting civilians for sport and collecting their fingers and teeth as souvenirs [13]. In the sectarian bloodshed that engulfed Iraq after the U.S. invasion, beheadings by Sunni insurgents turned into a morbid form of reciprocity with Shi‘a militiamen who bore holes into their victims using power drills [14].

Friday, November 28, 2014

My MESA paper: "The New Social Media Archive of Maghrebi Popular Music (in Particular, Pop-Raï)"

   Below is the paper I gave at MESA on Sunday, November 23, at the session, “Social Media, the Digital Archive, and Scholarly Futures,” I co-organized with Rebecca Stein. The other papers, which were really fabulous, were: Negar Mottahedeh's "Tweeting Judgment Day, Rebecca Stein's "The Perpetrator's Archive: Israel's Occupation on YouTube", and Amahl Bishara, "A Popular Digital Archive of Resistance: Facebook Posts of Protests and Arrest Raids." Our terrific discussant was Elliott Colla of Georgetown University, the author of Baghdad Central. Below is the paper, pretty much as given, along with the images I showed, plus added hyperlinks and some asides.


      This paper has its origins in my efforts, beginning in spring 2012, to learn more about the development of pop-rai in Algeria, about that transitional period in the seventies and early eighties when rai was transformed from a genre of music that was rooted in the rural, sung chiefly to the backing of the gasba (reed flute) and guellal (hand-held frame drum), into the very contemporary and urban-sounding music that eventually blew up in the West's world music scene during the late eighties, sung to the accompaniment of electric guitar, synthesizers, drum machines, and trumpets. The written sources I have consulted cited a handful of specific songs considered to be seminal in the development of this new musical form, but these recordings, released on 45” vinyl or, by the late seventies, on cassette, were rare and out of print. Only a very small portion of rai music from this period has ever been released on rai compilations (which started to appear in the late eighties) for the commercial market, and none of the songs in question appear there. When I began my quest in 2012, however, I was able to find the recordings in question, as well many others from the period, posted on YouTube.1

      Here's one of the key recordings I located, “Zarga ou Masrara,” by the group of trumpeter Messaoud Bellemou, from the town of Aïn Témouchent in northwestern Algeria. Let's listen to a bit. [L’ensemble de Belemou, “Zarga ou Masrara” (Brown and Radiant). Vocals: Hamani Hadjoum Tmouchenti, Sax: Messaoud Bellemou, Trumpet: Mouafaq (“Mimi”) Bellemou.]

 [Here I played a bit of the opening of the song.]

       At the beginning my chief interest in such YouTube videos was for the data they contained: the recordings themselves, plus the photos and the details about the artists that the contributors and commenters posted. I used a great deal of that material in a long piece ["In search of the origins of "pop-rai": Bellemou, Bouteldja, Boutaiba...and Cheb Khaled"] I posted on my blog, hawgblawg, in January 2013, and you can read my account of the emergence of pop-raï there. (But I will not be discussing those findings today.)

      As I was gathering and analyzing the data, however, I quickly came to realize that I was dealing with a rather novel sort of archive, one that I had on occasion consulted in other research, but not nearly to such a degree as I did for my investigation of the origins of pop-rai. And I had not previously given much thought to the nature of the archive. This paper represents my preliminary efforts to try to make some sense of the specificities of this data and this archive, what motivates those who produce it, how it is consumed, the discussions and affects it inspires, and so on.

      The early pop-rai YouTube archive I consulted is part of a much larger array of online sources that have proliferated over the last several years (YouTube was officially launched in November 2005; the earliest YouTube contributor upon whom I've relied, lunakhod, started posting in October 2006.)2 There are also a number of music blogs and other websites that variously offer webcasts, mixes, singles and entire albums of rai music either for downloading or online listening, usually via SoundCloud. The rai archive in turn is part of a much, much larger array of online sources that are making available recordings from many other Maghrebi music genres (I've paid attention mostly to music from Morocco and Algeria). The sources I've relied on, moreover, do not limit their postings to rai music. (As an aside: two very noteworthy blogs in this universe are curated by MESA members: ethnomusicologist Tim Abdellah Fuson's Moroccan Tape Stash and historian Chris Silver's Jewish Morocco. Both are notable for the rare quality of the Maghrebi music they post as well as their scrupulous documentation and commentary.) I focus here on the YouTube component of the online rai phenomenon, in part because, of all the online sources for this genre, YouTube one perhaps the most “social” of all the relevant “social media.”

      The flurry of online rai music postings by afficionados, fans and collectors can be considered in part a response to the fact that the Algerian state has done virtually nothing to preserve, archive and make available this vast and important musical resource. This despite the fact that at least since the early nineties, rai music has been regarded as an important part of Algeria's national patrimony as well as very critical to the tolerant image of the nation that the state has promoted, especially since the early nineties. Beginning in the mid-eighties, and especially over the last decade, the Algerian regime has invested substantial sums of money to put on annual rai festivals, which were at first held in Oran, and since 2006, in Sidi Bel Abbès. But it seems not to have devoted any serious resources to archiving, preserving, documenting or distributing music from the vast rai tradition, and so only a few songs from the period I'm concerned with have been circulated commercially.

      The online explosion of rai music also seems connected to the recent rage in the West for collecting and curating “vintage” or “retro” recordings, what music critic Simon Reynolds (2011) dubs “retromania.”3 It is appropriate to link the rai collectors/curators and fans to the retromania phenomenon, as many of them are Arabs resident in France, and all use the same online technologies deployed by other music retromaniacs.

      In part, then, the rai phenomenon I am examining is about obsessive music collecting, a phenomenon that, as Reynolds observes, was once a minority pursuit in the West but has become, since the 2000s, very mainstream, in part due to the availability of new distribution and storage technologies (2011: 95). The new breed of music collectors is typically not just concerned with acquiring vintage music but also with “documentation” of that music (Reynolds, 99). Fortunately for us, this concern for documentation is true of many rai collectors as well. (And like in the West's music retro scene, the rai collection field is strongly dominated by males [Reynolds, 101].)

      The developments in distribution and storage have also enabled a shift in the nature of collecting, traditionally thought of as the effort to acquire what no one else has got. The recent trend in online collecting is to try to get one's hands on a rare/vintage recording but then to make it available to everyone (online), a collecting tendency known as “sharity.” In the sharity realm a person accrues cultural capital not so much due to his/her ownership of a scarce and valuable item but due to his/her possession of special knowledge about the item (Reynolds, 106). Collectors who share music in this way are typically quite scrupulous, and generous, about passing along whatever information they've got, including providing reproductions of the record or cassette jackets, and so on (Reynolds, 109).

      Through sharity, the act of obsessive collecting also becomes available to the avid fan, who may not have the cash or inclination to pay for rare recordings, but who can now track down such music through constant Google searches, by endlessly scanning relevant websites, and through subscriptions to YouTube contributors and music bloggers and so on. For this new breed of collector, “collecting” in large part involves the act of indulging in excessive, extensive, binge downloading.

      Some argue that the value of music has depreciated as a result of the shift from analog to digital recording. At first, and for many decades afterwards, when music was recorded (analog), it was reified, turned into a thing (a vinyl record, a cassette tape) that you could purchase, store, and keep under your personal control. When music was rendered digital, turned into MP3s and the like, it was liquified, in order that it might be transferable anywhere (Reynolds, 122). Even if users do still speak of digital music files as things, in the sense that they own them and make use of them, the materiality, the “thing-ness,” of the digital is not readily perceptible to the senses in the way that vinyl records, cassette tapes, or even CDs are (Sterne 214: 194, 214). It has also been suggested that liquefaction/digitalization has resulted in a shift in views towards recorded music. The fact that dizzying quantities of music are now massively available has, some argue, resulted in feelings of information overload as well as a growing indifference to recorded music and a sense that it is somehow now valuelessness, because it is “free” and easily acquired (Reynolds 2011: 127-128).

      In some ways one might think of the rai posts on YouTube as efforts to resist the liquefaction, the dematerialization, the devaluation, of recorded music. The YouTube posts in question hearken back to a day when music seemed to have a tangible materiality, and they seem to prompt affects associated with the reified objects that existed in the past. YouTube rai videos could be seen as efforts to re-enchant recorded music, in response to the liquefied state of the recorded music of today.

      YouTube enables contributors and commenters to attempt re-enchantment and re-valuation in a number of ways. First, there is the matter of the music itself. Most of the recordings from the early, transitional pop-rai period are 45” vinyl records. What we notice immediately when we listen to the YouTube rai recordings is the crackle of the needle on the record (or, sometimes, but less remarkably, the hiss of the tape playing on a cassette recorder). According to critic Mark Fisher such crepitation (or hiss) reminds us of the materiality of the vinyl (or cassette), and it seems to mark a return of materiality in a world where musical sound has otherwise dematerialized into the MP3 ether. It also reminds us of a loss that is at the same time a recovery. The recovery of a forty year-old pop-rai recording is a collector's “find” that we can participate in, at second hand (Fisher 2014: 144). (And we can download it.)

      YouTube is a technology that allows, invites in fact, contributors to post images (static or moving) of their choosing, which are displayed onscreen as the music plays. The sense that the rai track we are listening to is material, not liquid, is enhanced by the fact that in some videos the contributor places the phonograph playing arm on the record, and so as we listen to the song we also see the record rotating, the needle moving in the grooves of the vinyl.4 Alternatively, we see the contributor punch the play button on the tape player and then, the revolutions of the cassette. This of course is the very opposite of the experience of playing songs on the computer, smartphone, or iPod, where we see no moving parts. Alternatively, the video simply shows us a still photo of a record jacket and the 45” record placed atop a turntable, as in this photo posted on a YouTube vid of a 1973 recording by Cheikh (or Cheb) Younes Benfissa. 
Or a cassette jacket in front of a tape player, as in this YouTube video photo of a 1979 recording ["Ana Ma Halai Ennoum"] by Fadela (soon to shoot to national fame in Algeria as Chaba Fadela) backed by the Bellemou ensemble, a recording said by some (but I think incorrectly) to have launched the pop-rai era.

     The photos of the pop-rai cassette or 45" record jackets likewise also serve to emphasize the music's materiality, especially as these almost never look new. The fact that these jackets are worn and aged in fact seems to be part of the point (and no effort has been made to spiff the images up with photo-editing software like Photoshop). 
L'ensemble Belemou & Hamani Tmouchenti “Mani M'heni” 1974-75 (source)

Ensemble Bellemou and Remitti (later: known as Cheikha Rimitti) (source)
Sometimes the contributor posts photos of the pop-rai musicians, and these too often serve to create a sense that the music in question is a material thing, as the photos are often faded, torn, marked with creases and stains. 
 Troupe Bellemou (Messaoud, upper right) while still amateurs, wedding procession, late sixties (source)
L’Ensemble Bellemou (source)
L to R: Kerbiche, kerakeb: Messaoud and Mimi Bellemou, trumpets;
Hocine (with soft drink), accordion and organ; Hamdane, tbal
(L to R): Messaoud Bellemou, Hamani Tmouchenti, Kerbiche (source)
Groupe El-Azhar (source)
(As an aside, it should be noted that the photos that produce this sense of musical materiality are in fact digital photos or scans of the originals, that is, simulations of a real, just as the scratchy, seemingly “thing-y” pop-rai music we listen to is digital as well.) 
      YouTube also provides space for written comments by contributors, who frequently provide details about the song and the artist(s). Viewers who sign up (free) for YouTube accounts can also post comments. The early pop-rai songs I was particularly interested in, however, did not typically inspire a large number of comments. Usually comments are put up soon after the video is uploaded, and are posted by a small number of comments posters, most of whom seem to know each other, at least online, and in some cases personally. Often no further comments appear after those posted a couple weeks or months after the video is uploaded. Discussions are typically geeky, the remarks of music enthusiasts, who add information, for instance, about when a song was recorded and the artists who played on it. Some contributors and discussants know the artists in question personally. Many comments assert that hearing the song on YouTube evokes a time or a mood in the past, when one first listened to the song at the time of its release. Here's a somewhat typical comment – written by attafi, himself a contributor of rai videos on YouTube, in a mixture of Algerian dialect and French, in response to a post by YouTube contributor maghrebunion
Attafi addresses maghrebunion by his (I think) nickname, Mutanabbi, and he writes that he remembers where he was when he first he heard the song. He adds that if someone had told him back then he'd be listening to the song again, forty years later, in Germany, he'd have considered that person crazy. Comments on the whole are mostly informational or nostalgic, and very rarely political. In one set of comments, a person who is presumably Moroccan comments on a discussion about Algerian pop-rai artists, and asserts that rai's true origins are in Oujda, Morocco, and not in Algeria – the commonly accepted origin. Other commenters, all of them – I think – Algerians, simply ignore or dismiss the Moroccan's claims out of hand, but they do not engage with him.5 (Perhaps this is because he writes in Arabic script, whereas the ususal discussion on such spaces, whether in Arabic or French or both, uses Latin script.) The character of YouTube comments about pop-rai therefore in no way resembles the sort that one often encounters on YouTube posts of music by Palestinian, Israeli or Jewish-Arab artists, where remarks are often political, have nothing at all to do with the music in question, and are unproductive, vituperative, ad hominem, and endless.

      YouTube contributors who post pop-rai music tracks also often resort to other visual strategies. Some post images of Oran (Arabic: Wahran), considered in standard accounts of rai to be the cradle of the music (whereas most YouTube posts I consulted point to Aïn Témouchent as the chief incubator of pop-raï). The images of Oran are typically historic scenes, often from the colonial period, and designed, it would seem, to induce nostalgia. Other YouTube posts feature images or video footage that is imagined to fit the mood of the song, such as a belly dance scene from an old Egyptian movie. Other relevant material I found posted on Youtube was footage of rai performers in concert, sometimes filmed by amateurs, sometimes taped from a television broadcast, in both cases “rare” and vintage. Other useful posts included interviews with a rai artist, taped from an Algerian or a French television show, and in one case, an important documentary film about rai.6 Finally, one contributor posted clips of a television interview with pop-rai pioneer Boutaïba Sghir and spliced them with clips from Boutaïba's major songs of the period. All these are also postings of rare, otherwise unavailable material, and examples of the practice of “sharity.”

Some Conclusions

      1. The portion of the Maghrebi archive I've discussed here is a somewhat marginal one. Some of the YouTube videos I consulted have attracted a decent number of views, and a few as many as 40,000.7 Only a rather small number of devotees, however, are involved in the discussions that occur in the comments section, and as noted above, many of them appear to have personal contacts with the artists whose vintage work they are posting. This then is social media, but it is of nowhere near the massive social scale or intensity that my co-panelists are discussing/have discussed. I don't know why more people who view the videos don't participate in discussions. Perhaps because the knowledge on already display is rather specialized and they feel they have nothing to add; perhaps it is that one has to be a truly devoted geek to put in the time it takes to comment. Perhaps it is because of the glut of available music postings on Youtube and other online sources.8 Despite the fact that the artists in question are respected, and some continue to perform at the annual state-sponsored raï festivals in Algeria, their contributions to the development of the genre have not really been well-promoted, nor are they well-documented in mainstream histories and studies of rai. The sources I've consulted are an essential source of documentation.

      2. I worry about this archive and its longevity. Is anyone archiving the archive, preserving the recordings and comments and images, all invaluable for the cultural history of Algeria, in some other form, in some other place/space, more permanent than YouTube? I personally convert the videos I'm concerned with to MP3s, I download and save the useful interviews and documentaries, and I screensave many images. But this is very haphazard archiving, and only available to me. I hope some of our Middle East librarians are at least thinking about these archiving issues, for when it comes to North African and Middle Eastern music more generally, extremely valuable sources for research are now available – but in a very haphazard and perhaps even ephemeral form.

      3. Contributors are adding to this archive constantly. While working on this paper over the last two weeks I discovered that the YouTube contributors I follow had posted a good deal of new pop-rai material since last I checked (some of which I incorporated into the slides I've shown). So even when working with 35-40 year old material, it's difficult to keep up with additions to the archive, and I now feel the need to post an update to my 2013 conclusions about pop-rai. Among other things, I'd want to emphasize the important contributions of Younes Benfissa, who I only discuss briefly in my 2013 post. [This song from 1973 is particularly intriguing.]
And perhaps also Boussouar Maghnaoui (who may or may not be Moroccan or Algerian). [Check out these two songs, courtesy Phocéephone.]

      4. I've had no luck engaging the rai YouTube contributors I follow and whose material I've used, with one exception. I did, however, at least attempt to make my own contribution to the discussion, by using the online archive (and other material) in writing my analysis of pop-rai published on hawblawg, referred to earlier. The piece, at 7,000 words the length of a short article, has to date had over 2,600 views, but unfortunately received no substantive comments. Perhaps in order to receive such comments I need to translate the post into French.

     5. I am not aware of many studies of YouTube and its effects in our (Middle East) field, but I believe this a topic very worth of pursuit. Martin Stokes in a forthcoming article discusses the web of commentary, emotionality, and construciton of community that has occrred via the posting of YouTube Islamic videos by Turkish Islamists. On the other hand, in the case I've studied, it seems that if we can talk about any "community" constructed around these videos, it is a very small and somewhat exclusive community of geeks and afficionados. These two examples suggest that we should not expect that the YouTube technology and social medium will have the same impact and political effects in all cases, and that we should expect to encounter a range of uses and social significances. I hope others who investigate such phenomena will be willing to look at segments of the social media universe that are not necessarily caught up in political movements, but are nonetheless worthy of attention, even if only for the sake of very nerdy scholarship.


Fisher, Mark. 2014. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Zero Books. 
Reynolds, Simon. 2011. Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past. New York: Faber and Faber, Inc. 
Sterne, Jonathan. 2012. MP3: The Meaning of a Format. Durham: Duke University Press.
Stokes, Martin. Forthcoming. “Islamic Popular Music Aesthetics in Turkey,” In Islam and Popular Culture. Karin van Nieuwkerk, Mark LeVine and Martin Stokes, eds. Austin: University of Texas Press.


1 More recently some recordings from this period, chiefly by Bellemou, perhaps with Boutaïba Sghir on vocals, as well as Benfissa and Boussouar El Maghnaoui, have been released on the Brahim Ounassar label—but with no information on date of release, personnel, etc. Also important is the collection, 1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Underground, released by the Seattle label Sublime Frequencies in 2009.

2 My other chief YouTube sources: Nado Coeur, who began posting in April 2007, Kromagnon1999 in February 2008, maghrebunion in December 2008, nostalgerie in March 2009, rabnass ARCHIVES ALGERIE in March 2011, and toukadime in June 2011.

3 2009 was the first year that Soundscape separately tracked current and back catalogue sales of digital sales, and its skurvey revealed that 64.5% of digital-track sales were catalogue, versus 35.7% for current (Reynolds 2011: 65).

4 Presenting vintage music in this way on YouTube is not, of course, unique to Algerian rai music. I've come across the same phenomenon in YouTube vids of vintage Latin American music, for instance.

6  Algérie: Mémoire du Raï, directed by Djamel Kelfaoui et Michel Vuillermet, 2001. (Here is part one, the other 3 parts can be searched on YouTube.)

7 Here is a range of total views on YouTube of the main songs from the period that I consulted in my blog post, as of November 19, 2014. All songs were recorded during the 1970s with the exception of one; where information is available, I provide the date. Missoum Bensmir, “Ya El Gomri‬” (1,138); Bouteldja Belkacem, “Serbili Baoui‬,” 1965 (45,477); ‪L'Ensemble Belemou, “Zerga Oua Mesrara” (41,610); T‪roupe Belemou et Bouteldja Belkacem, “Ândi Mesrera” ‬(4,505); Ensemble Bellemou and Bouteldja Belkacem, “Inta Âkli, ”1976‬ (16,043); ‪L'ensemble Belemou et Hamani Tmouchenti, “Mani M'heni,” 1974-75 (7,209); ‪Boutaïba Sghir, “Dayha Oulabes‬” (21,501); Boutaïba Sghir and Ensemble Bellemou, “Ki Kounti” (24,181); ‪Chaba Fadela, “Mahlali Noum‬” (7,300); ‪Boutaïba Sghir and Jaouk el Azhar, “Nar Ghuedate,” 1976-77‬ (15,355); ‪Boutaiba Sghir and Chaba Fadela, “Ya Khali,” 1977-78‬ (27,544).

8 Some of the YouTube contributors I follow, like maghrebunion have posted hundreds of videos.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bogus National Parks

courtesy B'Tselem:

"Visit the parks to see how East Jerusalem is being made Jewish and the lives of its Palestinian residents made miserable."

For more on ethnic cleansing via national parks, here.

The source for B'Tselem's excellent, thorough account is Bimkom -- Planners for Planning Rights, an Israeli non-profit organization formed in 1999 by a group of planners and architects, "in order to strengthen democracy and human rights in the field of planning."

 "City of David" (Ted Swedenburg) more on this here

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

a mesmerising film about Damascus

by Waref Abu Quba. it will only take 4 minutes of your time.

a four-minute short that merely shows a slice of life in the city. It captures people walking, façades of old buildings, iron doors, shadows of trees, clouds kissing steeples, city lights and calligraphy carved into walls. Filmmaker Waref Abu Quba’s style captures the aesthetics of nostalgia itself due to the way in which images filter and flit across the screen – languorous, soft, full of flux and a kind of bittersweet joy. It is a particularly touching reminder of a city that, due to the ongoing war, has become lost to the world as a place of vibrant vitality, beauty, history and quite simply, humanity. This choreography of images is set to the sound of legendary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, “The Damascene Collar of the Dove” -- from here. and there's more.

The translation of the Darwish poem doesn't quite follow (although perhaps uses) Fady Joudah's brilliant translation, which is here. And here is a randomly chosen verse:

In Damascus:
the stranger sleeps
on his shadow standing
like a minaret in eternity’s bed
not longing for a land
or anyone . . .

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kufiya solidarity: Bolivia at the UN

Yes, I know, a little late in the game...

In July, the Bolivian representative to the UN, Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz, showed up wearing a kufiya, in solidarity with Gaza, which was being pummeled by the Israeli "Defense" Forces. This was all over social media.

And it went further: Bolivian president Evo Morales on July 30 declared Israel a "terrorist state" and revoked Bolivia's visa agreement with Israel.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Recommended music: mahraganat and North African vinyl

1. Another very fine radio show from the estimable Toukadime. Broadcast #18. Vintage North African tunes. (But no playlist yet: come on, pals!). And to show how eclectic their tastes are, they conclude the show with Herbie Mann's "Caravan"! Don't miss this show.

Added Oct. 20, 2014: Here's the playlist:

Tazi Boukhari & Aouicha: Comment Faire?
Guerouabi: El Barah
Mohamed Chemoum: JSK
Mohamed Jerrari: Ya Mariam
Mohamed Jerrari: El Karrita
Mohamed Bergam: Farah El Islam
Bouchaib Bidaoui: Khoutna Yal Islam
Albert Suissa: Dar El Baida
Haja Mina el Gharbaouia & Haja Khadouj Bent Barek, Marechal Kibou: Jini Wlanjik
Albert Suissa: Ya Rabi Tsmeh Fli Daj
Mustapha Nainia - Khouya Bouya

2. The latest Middle Eastern and North African playlist from The Guardian's music blog, by John Doran. Souad Abdallah (Iraq), Maurice Louca (Egypt), Fayçal Azizi (Morocco) -- all interesting, well worth a listen and pursuing further. But what really struck me was the live track from E.E.K. feat. Islam Chipsy -- in concert in London on October 12. This is mad mad mahraganat music, and I've http://www.weather.com/weather/today/Fayetteville+AR+72701:4:USblogged about Islam Chipsy in the past. (Here, for instance, though one of the vids has vanished.) Check out what Doran has to say about them, the 'preternaturally talented keyboard player Islam Chipsy, flanked by drummers Khaled Mando and Islam Tata,' who have been driving crowds in Bristol, London and Newcastle wild. "In Cairo, the three-piece are usually hired to play large outdoor wedding celebrations and their sound has developed in tandem with a need to kickstart parties while often contending with battered old PA systems. Now, through playing indoors through really powerful rigs, their sound has morphed into something that is bordering on overwhelming. The tightly syncopated rhythmical assault is in a lot of ways analogous to carnival or marching musical forms such as soca, New Orleans second-line drumming, dancehall and calypso. However, these beats are played at hyperspeed by two drummers who can switch styles and tempos without dropping a beat, adept at providing a rigid framework for a virtuoso keyboard player whose individual technique includes firing out bewilderingly fast blasts of tone clusters deployed by punching, slapping and karate-chopping his keyboard at such a frightening speed that his hands become a blur of movement. A truly unique experience."

And now: check out the vid, and see whether Doran's enthusiasm isn't warranted.

3. John Doran also has a piece in Vice about the Cairo Liberation Front, a Dutch trio who make up a dance party unit that plays mahraganat. The article title describes what they do as "Wedding Dance Rave," which is certainly as good a synonym for mahraganat as the other synonyms in use, techno shaabi and electro shaabi. There's a mixtape of new (at least I guess new) mahraganat here as well, so download, listen, enjoy, start your own dance party unit if you dare.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Naim Karakand

I highly, highly recommend this article by Ian Nagoski on the Syrian-American violin player Naim Karakand, recently published by Reorient.

It's a pretty incredible story. He emigrated to New York from Aleppo in 1909, and recorded his first side for Columbia in 1912. In 1916, he recorded "Tatos Bishro," which was made famous nearly 20 years later by renowned Egyptian violin player Sami El-Chawa, who also hailed originally from Aleppo.

Among his other recordings is this amazing tune from 1919: "Gazabieh (Pt. 2)," a dance from Gaza. [But see below: added Oct. 14] This one really blows me away. You can find it, and some other tunes by Karakand, on a terrific recording that Ian Nagoski produced for Tompkins Square Records, What Strange Place: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-1929.

In the 1930s Karakand went off to Brazil to join his brother. Then in the 1950s, he was back in New York City, where he played with the Kalimat Orchestra, which accompanied the well-known Lebanese-American fifties musician of belly dance, Mohammed El-Bakkar. Nagoski thinks it is Karakand on violin in all those El-Bakkar recordings. And if that is true, then Karakand appears on the soundtrack to Jack Smith's film Normal Love.

Finally, Karakand plays violin on Ahmed Abdul-Malik's 1958 "East-West jazz fusion" release, Jazz Sahara. Abdul-Malik played bass with, among others, Art Blakey, Thelonius Monk, and Randy Weston. But he also played oud on his solo, East-West fusion, jazz albums. Check out the track "El Haris," from Jazz Sahara. It is not a particularly ground-breaking "fusion," but the violin playing is really to die for.

Nagoski makes the following observation about the importance of the Arab music scene in New York City for fifties jazz: "Unwritten in the history of jazz, it had become fashionable during the 50s among some musicians to attend the many ‘Oriental’ nightclubs, particularly up and down 8th Avenue between 40th and 50th Street, where modal music in various time signatures could be heard. It was no coincidence, then, that in the late 50s and early 60s a string of jazz LPs were released that were both modal and featured 4/4 time signatures. As well, the movement of many African-Americans towards Islam further worked in favour of the incorporation of musical elements from the Middle East in jazz. The influence of Middle Eastern musicians on those of New York is, in retrospect very clear, although it has never truly been delineated." Hopefully someone will follow up on this.

P.S. October 14: I posted the song "Gazabieh (Pt. 2)" on Facebook and it elicited some discussion. Based on comments from my friends Reem and Rochelle (to whom: thanks), it appears that the song is probably not from Gaza. The song opens with the spoken lines, "Come on, ladies, here is a dance tune from Syria." word Gazabieh جاذبية  in Arabic means attractiveness, fascination, or charm. And Gazabieh is probably where whoever wrote the notes on the Youtube post got the "Gaza" idea.