Sunday, August 31, 2014

Swedenburg family Middle East photos

Sultan Hassan mosque, Cairo, December 1961 (Photo: Romain Swedenburg)

My family made its first trip to the Middle East in December 1961-January 1962. We visited Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan (East and West Banks), and Israel. In January 1964 we moved to Beirut, Lebanon. My parents lived there until fall 1972; I stayed on until January 1976.

The last time we were at my parents, my brother and I went through some of the many slides that my father took over the years, selected a number and had them scanned professionally. My dad was an amateur, but he was a quite accomplished photographer. I've started to post the photos on flickr, and assembled them in an album called Swedenburg Family, Middle East. You can access them here. I will continue to add 3-5 per week, so if you find them of interest, you can check back to find more in future. I have received very positive feedback when I've also posted the photos on Facebook, and I may do something further with the photos in future. At the least, hopefully, publish a photo essay. The photos are varied, all from the nineteen sixties: you'll find shots of Tahrir Square, Abu Simbel in the process of being raised, Jericho refugee camp, Aqaba, Sinai, Damascus, the Cedars...Please have a look. Feedback appreciated.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Youssef Rakha on Adaweyah

 This is just the best thing I've ever read on the great Egyptian shaabi singer Adaweyah. You must read it. There's no way to summarize, but here's a sample.

As the lager moistens your gut, the shade winding you down, Adaweyah’s lyric tenor – full-bodied, clarion, gravelly at the high ends – transports you back to Cairo, a city very like the jerkwater megalopolis you just came from but infinitely more euphonic for the ultra-urban tarab of the voice. Tarab: the participatory aesthetic register of modal singing, translated as ‘enchantment’ though it really can’t be translated. Adaweyah’s is one of the rawest examples of it you’ve heard in any genre.

The song he is referring to is "El Marassi," which you can listen to here.

If you are interested in listening to more Adaweyah, you can download a huge collection of his cassettes here, courtesy ARAB TUNES الإيقاعات العربية

I highly recommend the first offering, Qala2 -  قلق

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More on 'Traitors': #women #punk #Morocco

Back in March I posted about the film Traitors, which deals with Moroccan women punkers. (And which I have not yet seen. I've since came across a couple more interesting sources.

1. An article about the film's star, Chaimae Ben Acha, in Brownbook.

Chaimae plays Malika, leader of an all-girl punk band in Tangier (she's in white in the photo below).

Ben Acha’s preparation for the role required her to cut her hair like Joan Jett, enrol in singing lessons and wear combat boots while off-set so as to acquire a rebellious strut. She admits that prior to the filming of ‘Traitors’, she had ‘nothing to do’ with rock music. ‘To sing rock ’n’ roll, you have to be hard-edged. It’s not feminine,’ she says.

2. And, another preview. Music sounds great. Can't wait to see it.

More on Wafa Hourani's 'Qalandia 2067 [87?]' from Robin Creswell

I posted about Hourani's Qalandia piece at the New Museum a couple days ago. Now Robin Creswell has reviewed the exhibit for the Harper's Blog. And he has this to say about the Hourani piece. (Which is called Qalandia 2067 on his website. Maybe it was renamed for this exhibit?)

Here is Creswell: 

The eeriest exhibit, which has stayed with me in the days following my visit, is Wafa Hourani’s Qalandia 2087. The installation is a diorama built of simple materials, imagining what the Qalandia refugee camp, situated just west of Jerusalem, will look like one hundred years after the first Intifada. The camp is an orderly sort of ghetto: one of its taller buildings is conspicuously aslant, but the roads are straight and lined with prim little streetlamps. The security wall that cuts through the real Qalandia has become a wall of mirrors; on the other side of it — the Israeli side — are a nightclub with a goldfish tank and an airport with toy jetliners.

“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” a mixed-media installation in six parts by Wafa Hourani, photographed by Wilfried Petzi.
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” a mixed-media installation in six parts by Wafa Hourani, photographed by Wilfried Petzi.

Walking through the space of the mock-up, which is about half the size of a handball court, you are made to think what it would be like to live in or visit such a place. And as you approach the mirror-clad separation barrier, you’re confronted with the image of yourself in two very different landscapes — as though asked to choose which side you’re on, or to think about the restrictions such a choice might entail. Like several other exhibits in the show, Qalandia 2087 suggests the power of images to limit the imagination, by reflecting back at us the picture of ourselves we would like to see, or might prefer to see in place of another, perhaps truer one.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Salah Sadaoui's Scopitone: "Nezouedj Ouahdi"

I love this Scopitone from 1968. The Algerian Kabyle singer Salah Sadaoui, who migrated to France in 1954 and made his career as a singer there, appears in this scopitone as an Algerian immigrant who gets all dressed up, goes out, picks up a blonde chick, gets into a fight with a guy over the girl, beats him up, is arrested and jailed, and gets beat up by the French police. He shows a comic flare through the piece. It all happens in 2 minutes and 19 seconds.

Sadaoui often sang about the problems of the migrant, including the difficulties that ensued from trying to hook up with European women. The title of the song, "Nezouedj Ouahdi," means, roughly, "I'll get married on my own," that is, I'll arrange my marriage by myself, like a "modern" European. It won't be an arranged marriage. The real point, however, seems to be the very typical mistreatment of Algerian immigrants by French police. I find it surprising that Scopitone allowed the filming of such blatant racist cop violence. 

Read more about Sadaoui here. And here for a documentary in French about Scopitones in Arabic and Berber, called Trésors des Scopitones.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Adam Shatz, Edward Said, and kufiyas

Adam Shatz, contributing editor at the London Review of Books, recently published an excellent essay ("Writers or Missionaries?") in The Nation that, among other things, took on the critique of Orientalism that Edward Said launched in the late '70s, and that continues in full force in academic studies of the Middle East. I first met Edward Said in 1977 and met up with him several times since then, in Austin, Ithaca, Egypt...I've read and absorbed and taught much of his work and and used it extensively in my own. And yet...I find what Shatz has to say about where it has evolved, into a kind of orthodoxy, to be quite salutary and bracing, and needed. (And I'll be teaching parts of Said's Covering Islam in class this week.)

And yes, it mentions the kufiya, in the context of Palestine solidarity.

"Writing about the region, never an easy undertaking, is likely to become still more difficult. I am not sure whether the most influential current of oppositional thinking about the Middle East is equipped to deal with the changes the region is undergoing. I am referring to the critique of Orientalism that Edward Said initiated. This style of thinking was formative for me, but I fear that it has congealed into an orthodoxy; and, as George Orwell wrote, “orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.” That we are now able to have a more open conversation about Palestine, that students are mobilizing against the occupation, is welcome; but Palestine is not the Middle East, and it seems peculiar, if not myopic, to talk about Palestine as if it were insulated from the rest of the region. And while it is understandable that young American students are particularly concerned about their government’s policies in the region, these policies do not wholly determine its shape and direction. America’s power in the Middle East has weakened, though not in favor of forces that most of us would consider progressive. Today, we are witnessing a tacit alliance of Israel, the military regime in Egypt and the Gulf states—particularly Saudi Arabia—against Iran, with which the United States, in conflict with its own regional allies, is seeking rapprochement. The latest Israeli offensive in Gaza is a measure of how marginal Palestine has become to the agenda of Arab states...

Today, it seems to me, Palestinians are for the radical Western left what Algerians were for Third World–ists in Vidal-Naquet’s day: natural-born resisters, fighting not only Israel but its imperial patrons, as much on our behalf as theirs. That is the role assigned to them in the revolutionary imagination. Like the kaffiyeh worn by anti-globalization protesters, this Palestine is little more than a metaphor. Palestine is still “the question” because it holds up a mirror to us. “Too many people want to save Palestine,” one activist said to me. But it could just as well be said that too many people want to be saved by Palestine...

Enormously liberating when it was developed, the critique of Orientalism has often resulted in a set of taboos and restrictions that inhibit critical thinking. They pre-emptively tell us to stop noticing things that are right under our noses, particularly the profound cleavages in Middle Eastern societies—struggles over class and sect, the place of religion in politics, the relationship between men and women; struggles that are only partly related to their confrontation with the West and with Israel. Indeed, it is sometimes only in those moments of confrontation that these very divided societies achieve a fleeting sense of unity. The theoretical intricacy of academic anti-Orientalism, its hermetic and sophisticated language, sometimes conceals an attempt to wish away the region’s dizzying complexity in favor of the old, comforting logic of anticolonial struggle. Anti-Orientalism will continue to provide a set of critical tools and a moral compass, so long as it is understood as a point of departure, not a destination. Like all old maps, it has begun to yellow. It no longer quite describes the region, the up-ender of all expectations, the destroyer of all missionary dreams.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Wafa Hourani, Qalandia 2067

I first saw Qalandia (Kalandia) refugee camp in December 1961, on my first visit to the "Holy Land," with my family, when we flew into Jerusalem and landed at Qalandia (Kalandia) airport. When I did fieldwork in Palestine/Israel in 1984-85 I drove by it, on my way between Ramallah and Jerusalem, multiple times. I saw it again many times, between Ramallah and Jerusalem, on research trips in the summer of 1992 and again in 1993. In summer 2008, my last trip, I waited for long periods at the checkpoint, which is the site of a huge Israeli checkpoint that controls travel between East Jerusalem (annexed by Israel in 1967) and the West Bank. It is an awful ugly edifice, that looks like it belonged at an international border. (It's not, since the Palestinian authority enjoys no sovereignty, and there is no Palestinian checkpoint checking passes/passports after you leave the Israeli checkpoint.)

Here's my photo of the checkpoint, and here's one of the separation barrier/apartheid wall at Qalandiya.

As for Qalandiya camp, I don't think I ever actually visited it, just viewed it from the outside. But I've had many many views between 1961 and 2008. The camp has been there since 1949, to house refugees who fled the fighting and expulsions of 1947-48, and today has around 11,500 residents. It has been in existence for 65 years.

I have just read a very fine New Yorker review of the current New Museum exhibit of contemporary art from or about the Arab World, by Andrea K. Scott. What really struck me was this photo, of Wafa Hourani's piece "Qalandia 2067."

Scott describes it as follows: “Qalandia 2087,” [in fact it's 2067- TS] an elaborate architectural model by the Ramallah-based Wafa Hourani, reimagines a Palestinian refugee camp as a utopian zone of playgrounds, cafés, and landscaped courtyards—there’s even a glitter-paved aquarium, stocked with fish.

Fair enough, this seems a plausible enough reading, and I don't want to be too hard on Scott here, as her review of the exhibit as a whole is very favorable and very smart.

But notice the date in that title, and imagine what a Palestinian artist is thinking when he imagines that a refugee camp that was established 65 years ago will still exist 53 years hence.

If you consult the page for Hourani's "Qalandia 2067" exhibit at London's Saatchi Gallery, however, you will read the following:

Qalandia 2067 takes its name from the main check point crossing through the West Bank Security Fence which divides the cities of Ramallah and ar-Ram; it is a site of political unrest and human rights concerns. Dating his piece 2067 – one hundred years after the Arab-Israeli 6 Day War – Hourani has constructed 5 scale models envisioning the future of a refugee camp where time seems to have regressed rather than evolved. Basing each segment on an actual site – the airport, border crossing, and 3 settlements – the buildings are rendered as war-ravaged and crumbling, crowned by implausibly archaic remnants of TV antennae. Each building is a miniature light-box illuminating glimpses into the private lives of the residents through film strips placed in the windows, an unnerving reminder that this science fiction horror is, for many, an everyday experience.

In fact, I think both readings hold. Yes, Qalandia is a "horror" for its residents, due to circumstances, and at the same time it is where people manage to make a life and homes for themselves and manage to persist despite the ongoing, seemingly endless, displacement and occupation and oppression.

Check out these photos of the exhibit, from the Saatchi exhibit (and there are more to view at the link above):

Remarkable, no? I sooooo wish I could make it to this exhibit.

Friday, August 22, 2014

You are the aqal that is the pride of your people Allah we will level the enemy's necks....

Here's one of the exhibits at the New Museum's show of contemporary art from and about the Arab world, Adel Abidin's Three Love Songs. It consists of three videos, one lounge, one jazz, one pop, featuring non-Arabic speaking singers who don't know what they were singing. The lyrics are from songs commissioned by Saddam Hussein to glorify him and his regime. Above are a couple of choice lyrics. (An aqal is the black cord that Arab men use to keep their kufiyas in place.)

The juxtaposition of lovely blonde women singing such lyrics...

and I quote from the description: 'It is this uncomfortable juxtaposition – between the lush visual romanticism and the harsh meaning of the lyrics, between the seduction of the performer and comprehension of the viewer – that forms the main conceptual element of this work.'

See excerpts from the vids and read about the sound installation here.

Here are links to a couple Saddam Hussein music videos, courtesy Frontline.

And for an introduction to some of the really great music produced during the Saddam era, I highly recommend the Choubi Choubi! collections produced by Sublime Frequencies. Volume 1 for now is out of stock, but I'm sure you could find one somewhere. Volume 2, only released on LP, was released this year, and is available. Really essential for your collection.

Here's a sample from Volume 1:

Once Upon A Time In The West by Hiwa K with Jim White

This is a pretty astonishing example of intercultural collaboration. This piece emerged from a friendship and long-term collaboration between Iraqi Kurdish artist Hiwa K, who took asylum in Germany, and Jim White, a former American soldier and subsequently a caretaker at a German art academy where Hiwa studied. Hiwa taught Jim to play country guitar (!) and songs by country singers like Johnny Cash. 

This piece,  work consists of a live, ten-minute performance simulating Ennio Morricone’s score for the final duel scene of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western, Once Upon a Time in the West. The work is "an inquiry into the redistribution of dominant cultural representations and competences." 

Hiwa K (harmonica) and Jim White (guitar) perform with orchestra. 

This was performed at the New Museum in New York City, as part of the museum's exhibit of  contemporary art from and about the Arab World, called "Here and Elsewhere." I found it by going to the exhibit link and going to "Dig Deeper."

Here's an excellent review of the exhibit, which runs through September 28.

Here is Hiwa K's website, so you can dig deeper yourself.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Moroccan rapper L'Haqed (El Haqed/al-Haqed): two day hunger strike

Huffington Post Algérie reports that the rapper L'Haqed went launched a two day hunger strike on August 13, to protest against the humiliating treatment he is receiving in prison.

L'Haqed was sentenced to four months in prison on July 1, for "violence" against police and drunkenness. Completely bogus, trumped-up charges, as he has been the constant target of Moroccan authorities for the last two plus years due to his consistent, outspoken criticism of the regime.

Among L'Haqed's complaints about his treatment in prison: he has been unable to get the writing that he does out of prison, newspapers he receives are torn, he is not allowed to receive the music that he likes, and he is subject to humiliating body searches.

Update, August 23, 2014.

More on L'Haqed's conviction:

"Moroccan Dissident Rapper Sentenced," Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
"Morocco jails dissident rapper El-Haqed," Massoud Hayoun, AlJazeera America, July 1, 2014.

The Washington Post used to have a link up, under the title "Morocco rapper rebel gets 4 months in prison," but it has mysteriously vanished.