Posts Tagged ‘news’

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!

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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.

forecast for 2011: ill music ahead.

January 8, 2011

…and another post about fresh and exciting new music. Welcome to 2011.

I should admit at the outset that musically it’s hard for me to contain my excitement; for some reason it just seems as though all the music I’ve been hearing lately is amazing. And quite a lot of the electronic dance music I’ve been hearing is really beginning to unsettle a lot of my assumptions about what that category really means. There’s just a lot of good music coming out lately. It’s an exciting time to be interested in producing music – really an exciting time for absolutely anyone interested in envisioning the future of what the “music industry” might be like.

New stuff I’ve been hearing is fresh, and interesting, and dope – and more and more, blurring the lines between genres of electronic music faster than new ones can be created. And some of the new “genres” that have been cropping up reflect (at least to me and my ironic sensibilities) some serious grasping at straws. I mean, “brostep?” “Post-dubstep?” “Future bass”?

Actually, I think the latter is sort of innovative…but overall, what does this ever-abounding and increasing proliferation of genres really signify?

And if it almost seems like a sign of desperation (this persistent generation of new categories that struggle to keep up with the unclassifiability of the more hybrid and unclassifiable new frontiers of electronic dance music today), isn’t such desperation perhaps a positive indication? It seems like our capacity for naming things is frenetically being outpaced by the creativity and originality of a lot of the newer dance music of the past couple of years. (And I’m not just referring to developments in “dubstep,” “UK funky,” and “future bass” but also to newer stuff I’ve been hearing in the somewhat more well-established genres of drum & bass, minimal house, techno, grime…really the list goes on and on.) All I can say is, wicked. Bring on the freshness for 2011!

Commence my list of some of the freshness that’s been gracing my ears lately:

First to top off the list is IKONIKA. Ikonika, a.k.a. Sara Abdel-Hamid is KILLING it right now. I really liked her track Dckhdbtch (click the link to give it a listen via Boomkat). Definitely buying some of her stuff. She’s also going to be playing a few dates stateside and at MUTEK this year, so watch for that, especially if you’re in NY or LA.

I have Resident Advisor to thank for the following lead: a cutting-edge label from Germany called Fachwerk (myspace | mix / interview via RA).

I know it’s 2011, but I’m still craving more Basic Channel (site | digital releases via Boomkat ). I just bought a couple releases from the Scion sessions. Deep, deep, deep.

More music updates to follow shortly. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Portishead will make their move back into the studio and put out new material in the foreseeable future. Their last album, while different and perhaps challenging in certain ways, was good – at least, I liked it a lot, and so did other Portishead fans I talked to. I’m looking forward to hearing new stuff coming out of the Duck Down camp (will most likely be copping Buckshot’s forthcoming book – and speaking of hip-hop literature, the forthcoming book from Malice of the Clipse called Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind, and Naked will be on the “must cop” list as well.) Overall I don’t even have much to say about hip-hop right now except that I’m well behind the times – but I do think this is a great time for hip-hop. There is tons of great stuff coming out and a high likelihood of lots more in 2011.

What else, what else? Oh yeah – I’m still really behind on the dubstep front, but one name has already captured my attention: Ramadanman (siteApplePips podcast). Great producer, and awesomely cool name too I might add. I just purchased the Ramadanman E.P. from last year, which he put out on his own imprint, Hessle Audio. I can’t resist posting the video for the last track on the E.P.: breathtakingly awesome jungle amazingness:

And, of course, there is so much more good music that’s been coming out that I’d love to write about. But it is now the following day from when I began this blog entry (no, I wasn’t writing continuously – I put it on hold last night to buy mp3s and go mix at a friend’s house), and now the shower is calling. Happy 2011 to all my bassheads, friends, and people everywhere!

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.

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.

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?