Posts Tagged ‘contemporary’

songs of revolution

January 29, 2011

Following the events that have been unfolding in Tunisia and across the Arab world, I can’t help but comment on something that at least in most major media, has gone unnoticed. That is, to draw attention to a new phenomenon – a force at play in the popular uprisings in Northern Africa – Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, and elsewhere as well – to say nothing of Jordan and perhaps Lebanon as well.

But there was a crucial event at the start of it all – when popular unrest began on a massive scale in Tunisia – that was smoothly if quickly glossed over by most U.S. media. I’m referring to the hip-hop video above, of course.

After what we’ve seen over the past few weeks, it’s become impossible to deny that Hip-hop is truly a global phenomenon now, with potentially significant political implications.

And some of the most exciting events are centering on the Arab world, where a diverse mix of insurrectionists are swiftly disproving the oft-repeated lies and stereotypes about Islamic politics and divisive sectarianism in the Arab world.

While Internet-based strategies of resistance and activism seem to bear frequent mention in the media, hip-hop activism receives only passing mention (as for example when the song “Mr. President Your People Are Dead” landed a 22-year old Tunisian rapper in jail and stoked the fires of popular rage against Ben-Ali’s government).

To my mind, the omission masks a fear of hip-hop and the political possibilities it offers for transforming and redefining public space.

I’ll offer my argument for this claim after posting some more hip-hop videos:

Check out, for example, this video of the Narcicyst featuring Shadia Mansour:  Narcicyst is originally from Basra, Iraq, is super-original, and you can buy his album on iTunes. I’d recommend it.

And here is a track from Behrang Miri called Ramallah (I have Sameh Zakout a.k.a. Saz to thank for this link). This track – and video – are awesome. (In the case of this track I suppose it’s the eponymous subject rather than the MC that’s Arabic per se. I hope I wasn’t using the word “eponymously” incorrectly – I think I wasn’t, but let me know via the comment box if you think I was): 

You should also check out Saz, a rapper and beatboxer (and producer I believe) from Ramle. There is actually a documentary film about him directed by Gil Karni. You can check out some clips here, on Gil Karni’s site.

Now for good measure here is a video from DAM, a Palestinian hip-hop group from Lyd / Lod:

WHY IS HIP-HOP POLITICALLY SIGNIFICANT?

Hip-hop is more than its core “elements” (b-boy/girl, graff, DJ, MC); it’s a way of life. And as such, hip-hop is about a lot more than the vagaries of materiality and insignificance. It’s not just “ho’s, bankrolls, and clothes,” as Nas once eloquently put it – what hip-hop really is about (to my mind) is the intersection between life and culture, between environment and individual identity. It’s about rebellion and reconstruction.

Hip-hop was created by young people growing up in the shattered ruins of an urban war that humanity lost. If hip-hop politics is a politics of urban renewal, of individual expression triumphing over bland conformity and mindless consumerism, then its absolute antithesis would be the politics of “benign neglect.” Hip-hop’s not just another dance style or musical genre. Notwithstanding its own emphasis on originality, style, method, and individuality, I’d argue that hip-hop is fundamentally more intrinsically social (and more political) than any of these, because it was about people (mostly young people) deciding they were fed up with the violence, abandonment, and neglect in their community and creating a style of communally-based expression to counter these phenomena. A distinctly urban style of expression born out of realism – the realism of universalized oppression and shattered communities.

Hip-hop can be recognized as both familiar, recognizable, and yet at the same time a culturally distinct style of expression. Whether you witness it in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Bogota, Ramallah, or Cairo, you’ll still know it as hip-hop…but I’ll bet you’ll discover hip-hop to be local in character, diverse in its forms of expression, and often idiosyncratic in the way it relates to the distinctive character of the cities or territories out of which it operates. This is because, I would argue, hip-hop poses a distinct challenge to the conventional categories of group-forming and the attendant processes of identity formation. That’s because hip-hop is a way of life.

It’s time to acknowledge the truth: “Hip-hop” doesn’t just mean rap –  and perhaps it also doesn’t just mean the “four elements” of breakin’, DJin’, MCin’, and graffiti. In other words, maybe hip-hop is not just another form of “cultural expression,” a “subculture.” In fact, I would argue that history is now demonstrating more clearly than ever that if anything, hip-hop is perhaps something akin to what we might call a “trans-cultural” mode of expression. Or, if you will, a new way of addressing the difference between “culture” and “subculture” – maybe even a process of making the “sub-culture” transcultural.

A new political opposition has taken shape: hip-hop versus benign neglect.

Will governments continue to get away with not-so-benign neglect, as Ben-Ali, Mubarak, and many other dictatorial regimes have for so long? Or will hip-hop intervene, in forcing a confrontation with the world as it is, which really means a struggle to change it: to live in the world as it really is so that we can live the lives we want to live, rather than to ignore the implications of responsibility and try to hoard or plunder as many of its spoils as possible.

It shouldn’t be hard to see which of these political approaches is winning the day in many parts of the world today, particularly in the Arab world – or why.

What hip-hop might be saying to us – at its most radical – is to destroy or subvert the shattered remnants of an obsolete order, and to recreate a new and idiosyncratic style that’s grounded in the particularities of one’s daily existence.

I think it’s hard for Americans to think about hip-hop culture in a way that decentralizes it from its contiguity with American popular culture – given the subversiveness with which hip-hop has come to define many of the values and experiences associated with pop culture in the public sphere. But I’m beginning to see some of the exciting things happening with hip-hop right now in the Arab world and elsewhere, and to realize that hip-hop will never, ever be the same.

Hip-hop is more than (musical or visual) style; Hip-hop is a way of being. It’s a kind of lifestyle choice, which involves social and thus also political being. This is why real hip-hop is really more about communities and individuals, really. It’s not really about bling but about winning.

And this is why I’m not surprised that its role in popular uprisings in Tunisia and elsewhere is not being widely acknowledged. As El General’s video attests, it’s difficult to argue that hip-hop is giving rise to the voicing of discontent and affirmation of popular resistance in a more direct, unequivocal, and emphatic way.

So that’s why I wanted to write this post.

Now go check out some hip-hop you never heard before – and leave me some recommendations in the comment box, because I’ve barely just begun to stumble upon amazing Arabic hip-hop and I just know there is so much more dope shit out there.

And cheers to the Tunisian people for putting hip-hop on the map along the road to revolution, now to all my people it’s time to take action for change and start wrecking shit!

Underworld – Stagger

January 20, 2011

As far as blog posts go this one feels a bit like cheating.

Here’s the background for this one, then: for the first time in quite some time, I have a DJ gig coming up tomorrow! It’s actually going to be a first for me – I’ve never played a gig strictly with music in digital formats. In fact, this time I won’t even be bringing along my trusty Technics. Therefore this gig (actually a private event for the Boulder College of Massage Therapy) is opening up new possibilities for me, and I was digging through the music in my library when I came across this one — Underworld – Stagger (link directs you to a youtube upload of the track.) It’s a great track from Underworld’s Second Toughest in the Infants, an absolutely massive album and one of my all-time favorites. (Go buy the album if you don’t already own it. You have to have it, trust me.)

I really just wanted to post the lyrics to Stagger – really my sole motivation for this post. (I don’t know how they came up with the lyrics on this album, but I’ve heard they sometimes juxtaposed random text or snippets of recordings or conversations they captured; not too sure on this one.) And here it is:

Album cover for Underworld's Second Toughest in the Infants

orange in the mouth again. straighten.
wearing stonewashed denim again. straighten.
carrying something wrapped in plastic. straighten.
curled on the blue velveteen again. straighten.
straighten.

siteless yellow highrise. bethnal green. straighten.
corner tubeless dark and wet. straighten.
ten tons slowly then again. straighten.
with its glass eyes a blue formica halo.
stainless steel between the fingers. straighten.
pissed and leaning ponytail. licking
colonel sanders fingers.
the naming of killer boy.

everything’s going west nothings going east. straighten.
there’s no need to be so uptight. straighten.
make up for all their messes.
I could listen to you all day. what a laugh.
cut me I bleed like you. ha ha.
the naming of killer boy.

cover your teeth. I love you.
don’t bite me yet. I believe in you.
I found you shopping in Europa on
wardour street. not phoning packwidth.
guilty as sin. straighten.
scratches on paper. pissed in a tube hole. straighten.
smelling of deep-fried beans and whispering your name.
tube hole wind in my face. thunder in gentle distance.
reactor. reactor. do you mind. straighten.
this is a random feature. random feature.
this is a random feature.
naming of killer boy. wired up.

That is all.

Gunned down on the streets of Arizona

January 8, 2011

I was appalled to read about Arizona Congresswomen Giffords being shot in the head on the street while meeting with her constituents (along with a number of other people, several of whom were killed). I suppose her desire to be available to any of the people she was representing made her vulnerable to attack by somebody who didn’t approve of her politics.

The only emotion I can express other than grief and dismay is disgust: wow, what patriotism! Gunning down a public official in the street? (To say nothing of all the other innocent people – including children – that were hurt or killed.) That sure showed a lot of respect for all our democratic principles, such as committing ourselves to a politics of transparency and openness in an (well, at least theoretically) equal-access public sphere. I can’t say I’m not a bit shocked (and infuriated) by this. (Though, surprised? Unfortunately I can’t say that I am.)

But although this is a terrible, terrible thing to happen, our response to it matters gravely. If in some afflicted person’s mind this act was an act of war, then we must indeed counter the message behind it – but we must do so non-violently. Does this make me furious? Yes, of course. Do I want to lay at least partial blame on the foulmouthed preachers of hate, or the prattlers of religious violence and intolerance pretending to be politicians (Sarah Palin, yes, I’m thinking of you) – or indeed, an entire political party that could barely mask an underlying hatred and the threat of political violence during an election season during which, for the first time in history, a Black man became a credible contender for President of the United States (and how much more infuriating to the rabid-right fringe that he actually won)?

Yes, we have to fight back. We need to fight against intolerance, hatred, and violence – but I’d say it is imperative that we do so non-violently. My way? Well-articulated opposition, massive sub-bass frequencies and underground resistance. G.O.P., you aren’t ready.

Ramallah Television

November 9, 2009

Here are two short (about 12 minute) videos on YouTube, excerpted from an Al Jazeera television show called Witness:

Witness – Ramallah TV (Part 1)

Witness – Ramallah TV (Part 2)

It is an interesting and informative look at an attempt to establish – and sustain – local and independent television media that airs programming of relevance for the Palestinian community.

a link.

September 13, 2009

quick post (because it’s 9:30 and I have to get up at five and I just found something cool): check out Corner Prophets, which seems (I haven’t had a chance to really check it yet) to be a blog about hip-hop in Israel and Palestine. This post links to a four part video interview about the Israeli / Palestinian hip hop scenes. I’ve always been curious about the presence of hip-hop on this particular cultural frontier. So here’s a chance for me to learn something – and perhaps, dear reader – for you as well.

I hope to do more research on this topic, and will try to keep updating frequently, so watch this space.

**UPDATE** take a look at http://www.dampalestine.com, the website of a Palestinian hip-hop trio called DAM, based in Lod. I’ve listened to a few of their tracks and I’m impressed. Lyrically they write well (I don’t understand Arabic, but I’ve read some lyrics on their site and watched the video for a track they released in Hebrew – which I understand – and Arabic); musically they draw their inspiration from “Arabic percussion rhythms” and “Middle Eastern melodies” as well as hip-hop influences. So pay them a visit and check out the music..

***A MUCH LATER UPDATE*** Also please check out SAZ at http://alsaz.net/

Sameh Zakout from Ramle is an up-and-coming Palestinian MC with real talent (if I am not mistaken he self-produces as well). I don’t know too much about him so I’m not going to try to say more than I know. This I do know though – Sameh is for real. He’s a highly talented artist. I’ve actually chatted with him online and he told me that after a decade he has gotten signed to a stateside label. His album is forthcoming and I know I’m definitely not going to sleep on it. Believe me this guy is going nowhere but up. You heard it from me first. Click that link and check out his music, and check the bio on his page for more info.

Incidentally there was a documentary film made about him as well. If you know more than me about Palestinian hip-hop (which would mean more or less knowing anything at all!) please drop me a line and spread the knowledge.

Stay tuned..

Glenn Beck’s site advocates denial of service attack on White House

August 11, 2009

I’ll make this a quick one – I have to get going in a minute, and don’t really want to give this sort of thing more attention than it deserves.  See the following post on the 9-12 Project page: Is Stalin’s Ghost in the White House?

(Um, by the way, dumb question. Of course, that’s exactly where Stalin’s ghost likes to hang out. He loves how Barack Obama so cleverly masks his totalitarian fascist policies as genuinely revolutionary communism.)

Great idea! Let’s all email the white house nonsensical jokes at the same time. Brilliant.

By the way, just to be clear, all this nonsense (just browse around the 9-12 Project website for 30 seconds or so) is not part of a political movement or anything (I mean, how could you even think that?). No; rather, Glenn Beck tells us that:

The 9-12 Project is designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001. The day after America was attacked we were not obsessed with Red States, Blue States or political parties. We were united as Americans, standing together to protect the greatest nation ever created.

That same feeling – that commitment to country is what we are hoping to foster with this idea. We want to get everyone thinking like it is September 12th, 2001 again.

So, let’s send fish jokes to the White House. I mean, it probably won’t bring down their servers or anything. But at least it will annoy them. Maybe they will be reminded of that unity we all felt on September 12, 2001.**

Just remember – this isn’t political at all.

It’s about coming together as Americans.

** Funny though, I remember widespread instances of violent hate crime against Muslims and Arabs. Many people were targeted and brutally beaten – and even killed – because of their appearance, their ethnicity or religion. For Glenn Beck, there’s probably nothing political about that, either.

A Specter is Haunting my IPod (or, Marx’s Capital as digital commodity)

August 6, 2009

So in other news, I have downloaded Karl Marx’s Capital, volume 1 for my iPod touch (text format with optional accompanying audio of a reader). Link here. Total cost $0.99 (I’d say I’m getting pretty good use-value in exchange for my slightly-less-than-dollar). The text could have benefited from more thorough copy-editing, since there are lots of little typos and such.

Other than that, though, I quite like the format. Because the text is divided into fairly short segments I can just concentrate on reading a little at a time (say, 10 minutes a day) – whereas reading Capital in book form would likely lead me to become intimidated or discouraged at its length and stop less than halfway through. I’ve just barely begun reading the actual text but I am already struck by the fact that Marx was pretty sharp.

(Absurdly the ending of the King Missile Song “Jesus Was Way Cool” just flashed into my mind. After several minutes of narrating in a tone of utterly sincere admiration all the way cool things Jesus did – and repeatedly asserting that yes, Jesus was way cool – the vocalist ends by concluding almost as if a new realization has dawned for the very first time: “No wonder there are so many Christians!” Struck by the clarity of Marx’s thought and presentation – well, at least so far – a similar realization is starting to dawn for me: “No wonder there are so many Marxists!”)

Anyway…I am almost losing track of all the things I am reading. But thanks to this particular commodity-form (which somehow lends itself particularly well to me reading in bed), I have no doubt that with little effort, prolonged over the next several months, I will easily make my way through the first volume of Capital. Technology is amazing…and all for just 99 cents. Amazing…no wonder there are so many capitalists =]

Oh, and don’t forget, kids:

Anyway, please check out some of the other links I’ve added to the sidebar – and stay tuned…

on the indeterminacy of identity and perpetual violence (a mini-review of The Sky Crawlers)

July 31, 2009

A few weeks ago I watched a fantastic film, the latest (if I am not mistaken) from famed anime director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell). Here are just a few reflections on the film… and a strong recommendation to watch it, because it’s fantastic! [THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. I HAVE REVEALED VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE PLOT, AND MADE EVERY ATTEMPT TO BE VAGUE AND AMBIGUOUS, SO FEEL FREE TO READ ON EVEN IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO WATCH THE FILM FOR THE FIRST TIME.]

The premise: perpetual war. Protracted regional conflict is fought by corporate proxies who solely employ children to carry out deadly aerial combat. It becomes clear later on that these children are not typical mercenaries, in that they essentially have no choice but to fight. It’s never clear what the motivating factors behind the war actually are for the parties in conflict (in a way it’s not clear who those parties are – the regional powers at war are scarcely identified, the corporations are obscured by their distance and lack of personal involvement in the conflict, and the children fighting are – well, children, with no discernable ideological stance toward the political situation), but the societal effects are clear: the war is essentially the never-ending subject of media attention, and the squadrons of pilots are like so many sports teams, with adoring fans spread out throughout the countries they ostensibly represent in the “theater” of war.

So why was this film so good? Well firstly, like Ghost in the Shell, Sky Crawler felt like a depiction of real space. Much of the time I felt like I was looking at real scenery, real locations – and having been made 12 years after Ghost in the Shell, the realistic quality of the art, while rendered in a somewhat stylized way, is extremely impressive. The art is incredible. Apparently Oshii believes strongly in going “on location” when he produces anime films (for Ghost in the Shell his crew scouted locations in Hong Kong), and in my view this admittedly somewhat unusual approach pays off. The setting of the film has a certain resonance; it’s fictional, but it’s a compelling fiction, one that invites you in, that feels weighty. The animation sequences are compelling, and whereas some reviews I’ve seen of it critiqued the film for being overly slow and at its most engaging during the aerial combat sequences (which admittedly are very well done), my assessment is quite the opposite. The entire pacing of the film is very well thought-out. It’s not an action film, and isn’t driven by combat scenes or technology-based sequences (these do play a part, although the technology in question here is primarily anachronistic-looking twin-engine aircraft). I would say, however, that it is a plot-driven film, and the story is really The Sky Crawlers’ greatest strength.

However, I was deeply impressed by the animation and sound design (and the sound design is extremely high-caliber, with absolutely incredible music), which are both very well integrated into the unfolding of an unusually complex and somewhat ambiguous storyline. This is a movie that after watching (assuming you like it), you will have to see again. It’s a complete story, but doesn’t render a feeling of “closure” at the end. I think there’s a sense of resolution fundamentally lacking throughout, despite the movie being exceptionally well crafted. I don’t think this is a drawback – in fact for me, it was part of what made the movie interesting – but I’m guessing it could be the reason some anime fans were put off by the film. Like Ghost in the Shell, The Sky Crawlers constructs a narrative through simple enough premises and developments, but there is feeling of openendedness throughout, leading to a sense of not knowing. As the viewer, I don’t understand the characters, I don’t understand who they are, I don’t understand their motivations – but not in the sense of being confused about what’s happening in the progression of the story, which in a sense is very straightforward. It’s more that ambiguity is sort of an integral part of the story, which ultimately starts to feel like a slightly subversive attempt to incite viewers to question their own social realities and the nature of identity.

And ultimately – perhaps what I found most striking about the film – as hidden, enigmatic aspects of the story are revealed, the stability of who the characters seem to be is undermined, and we are forced to rethink our entire relationship with the film’s premises, the characters and their experiences (and perhaps too with ourselves). And best of all (in my opinion), there is really no easy way to do this. The film invites us to imagine the world the characters inhabit, without really giving us any shortcuts for doing so, but at the same time reminds us that we too live in a world where war is fought not only for profit but for spectacle, where nationalism is dangerously close to rooting for the team you like and where all of us, in some sense, fight manufactured wars interminably without ever really thinking that there is any alternative whatsoever (and – Oshii seems to want to ask us – is there?).

What’s happening in Iran?

June 15, 2009

I want to weigh in briefly on this topic, since I am by no means what a newspaper like the New York Times would call “an expert in the field” (in fact, most of my information on the subject pretty much comes directly from the reporting of the New York Times). But I feel strongly that something is underway of massive significance in Iran – particularly Tehran and other large urban centers – that resists the hasty attempts at marginalization already offered within 24 hours of the election by some right-wing commentators and mainstream U.S. media outlets.

For example, one op-ed piece published by the New York Times (by Elliot Abrams, a “deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration”) contrasted the recent elections in Lebanon with those in Iran, suggested that the former, while not to be idealized, were fair (in effect, “legitimate” elections), while effectively dismissing the latter as meaningless: “a contrivance for settling certain policy disputes and personal rivalries within the ruling elite.” He rightly points out that Iran’s highest political office – that of the supreme leader, currently held by Ayatollah Khamanei, is not subject to elections. Yet Abrams’ viewpoint unjustifiably disregards the reality of the democratic process, the significance of that practice for Iranian individuals, and the power of the sentiment now being expressed by millions of Iranians, who feel cheated; in effect, the only sphere of public discourse in which personal choice is absolutely foundational has been exposed as a sham. Abrams is correct in his assessment of this fact, but wrong (or rather misguided) in his conclusions.

Democratic discourse, by its very nature, undermines the stasis of political structures and the mechanisms through which ruling bodies express and manifest authority. In short, it is correct to state that Iranians are not being bestowed with the choice to determine who should rule in the office of president, but it might be wrong to write off democracy in Iran quite as readily. Democracy, after all, literally means “rule by the people” – and the people in Iran are letting their voices be heard, despite the elaborate mechanisms of control, repression, and silence being put in place to stop them.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini, has now called for an investigation of the election by the Council of Guardians. One could interpret this as a tactical move calculated to gain time, to restore order. But the fact that the most powerful man in Iran is on the defensive should offer food for thought. Many Iranians are raising their voices in protest, despite the violence, repression, and reprisals with which they are being targeted, and many of those voices are being heard around the world.

Despite the very different society in which I live, I identify with the anger, the outrage, and the aspirations that I sense are being expressed now in Iran. What many of these voices are calling for is justice and freedom: freedom from the repression and retaliation with which they are faced when they voice dissent, and justice: that elections be real elections, that democracy be real democracy. These sentiments are not far removed from the sentiments that I think almost any human being might face after the horrible reality of a system that holds the freedom and humanity of individuals in contempt is unmasked. Indeed, shouldn’t those of us who have lived for the past ten years in the United States have a familiar feeling about all this? I’d challenge Elliot Abrams – and anyone else who think their point of view is well-informed and insightful enough that it is deserving of publication – not to be quite so hasty. In my view, one should hesitate a bit longer before dismissing the case of Iran and its questionable democracy…at least long enough to consider closely the evidence for election fraud in the 2000 and 2004 elections in the U.S..

In any case, this blog wasn’t intended as political analysis, but just a personal comment on something that is unfolding. Those of you who identify with the left in some sense will probably be far more likely to agree with me that what is unfolding now in Tehran and other Iranian cities – while it is very unlikely to lead to the dethroning of Ahmadinejad next week or next month – is nothing less than history in the making; it is almost certainly the beginning of a new-found respect emerging for the individual and for dissent within Iranian discourse, and it is extremely likely to permanently shift the fault lines of Iranian politics. The social media technologies being employed in the struggle are pointing out the degree to which communication between individuals inevitably evade the grasp of autocratic modes of control, and the increasingly decentralized form such (political) communication is taking, via the Internet, is proof positive of the changing ground of politics in the contemporary era.

And of course, all of this is definitely making the ruling elite in Iran very ill at ease.

And it is one more chapter in the history of individuals standing up to the impersonal mechanisms of power and raising their voices in dissent, even in the face of violence and death.

How ironic that the same Americans who spoke so loudly about spreading democracy around the world can now be silent? Is it possible they don’t recognize democracy when they see it?