Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Kufiya spotting: Narcos, Season 3


In the latest season (#3) of the Netflix series Narcos, "CIA Bill," the CIA station chief in Colombia, shows up on occasion to confound DEA agent Peña, to explain to him that things are more complicated than he imagines, to frustrate his efforts, etc. I can't remember which episode this is, but what is remarkable is that Bill shows up wearing a kufiya.

Here's how I make sense of this. In the show, Peña is depicted as a straight-ahead guy who goes after the drug dealers with all he's got. CIA Bill, on the other hand, is entangled in complicated, realpolitik arrangements, willing to make alliances with whatever political forces that are on-hand, to further the larger strategic interests of the United States. If that means strategic alliance with one drug cartel to wipe out another, fine. If that means supporting murderous and psychotic anti-communist militias and death squads, fine. To the extent that Narcos brings to bear any criticism of US government policies in Colombia, CIA Bill is the murky, powerful presence who represents the "bad" elements of US actions. Peña on the other hand is the straight arrow.

I think the kufiya is used here to mark that distinction, the fact that CIA Bill is a kind of "rogue" element (not rogue in terms of US official policy, but rogue from the perspective of the show, where the higher morality is to stop the drug trade). The kufiya is, I think, an anachronism, and an unusual one for a show that tries its best to depict Colombia in the 90s with verisimilitude.

The best example of the kufiya as a sign of the roguish tendency in US foreign policy can be seen in The Hurt Locker, where Ralph Fiennes, who plays the Contractor Team Leader, is shown in kufiya. He's not regular military, he and his band at first look like "hajis" to the bomb squad that encounters them. Fiennes' group is not on a regular, scripted mission, they don't play by the normal rules of engagement, and so on. (I've discussed this a bit previously here, and you can see photos here.) And I discuss the emergence of the kufiya as an item worn by US soldiers, especially post-Iraq invasion, and the related phenomenon of it being worn by tough guys on counter-terror or other missions (see: John Travolta in From Paris with Love) here.

There is more to be said, more to work through, but that is it for now.

Dalida!


And a few reminders of why Egyptians love Dalida (born in Shubra, Cairo, in 1933, so much):



Dalida in Sigara wa kass (1954)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sudanese mixtape

Terrific ten track mix of Sudanese music from back in the day, with Abdelkarim Al-Kabli, Al Bilabil, Sayed Khalifa and Khogali Osman, who was murdered by an Islamist assassin in 1994, and others. Courtesy Aquarium Drunkard. Grab it now.






Thursday, August 10, 2017

Calypso in Farid El Atrash's film, Mā Ta’ūlsh le Ḥad (1952)

I've been reading Margaret Farrell's excellent dissertation ("Aspects of Adaptation in the Egyptian Singing Film", CUNY 2012) and learned this: the operetta " Mā Ta’ūlsh le Ḥad" which concludes the film of the same name (1952) runs consecutively through these styles: Modern Egyptian, Tango, Waltz, Calypso, Arabic traditional, Egyptian traditional, Egyptian samba. I was familiar with Egyptian music adapting all these styles but it was "Calypso" that really stuck out. Fuller doesn't discuss this segment, so I checked out the clip on YouTube. It's amazing. The calypso segment (yes, with calypso beat, starting at 5:19) features a Sudanese singer (I don't know who it is), black dancers, and Samia Gamal dancing in (subdued) blackface. Farid El Atrash joins in the calypso song at the end. Check out the entire operetta, it's great. Samia Gamal dances throughout, she's the best, and the woman singing in the operetta is Nur al-Huda.


A side note on calypso, courtesy Billy Bragg's new book, Roots, Radicals, and Rockers. The mass migration of West Indians to the UK was launched with the arrival on June 21, 1948 of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury in Essex. On the boat were two of calypso's finest singers, Lord Beginner and Lord Kitchener. Lord Kitchener was filmed on deck singing his new composition, "London Is the Place for Me." Newsreel footage was shown around Britain and calypso was presented as the music of the new immigrant community. One of the earliest calypso recordings to be released in the UK was Lord Beginner's "Victory Test Match Calypso" (1950) in celebration of the West Indian cricket team's first victory over England. 


It is said that the world craze for calypso was launched in 1956, with the success of Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song." So Egypt -- or maybe it was Sudan -- was ahead of the cultural curve.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review of Syrian Prayers: Sacred Music from Bilad Al Sham




My review of Syrian Prayers: Sacred Music from Bilad Al Sham was just published by RootsWorld.
You can read it here. Here's a sample from the review:

Erik Hillestad of the Norwegian record label KKV, in an attempt to highlight the diversity of religious faiths in the Arab world, traveled to Lebanon and made a series of recordings of Christian and Muslim vocalists, including Syrian and Iraqi refugees now living in Lebanon, as well as Lebanese nationals. The singers represent a broad range of religious traditions, all with deep roots in this region, known in Arabic as Bilad al-Sham (in English, the Levant, encompassing Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan). On this recording, we hear a sampling of just a few of the many Christian churches in the region: Armenian Apostolic (Orthodox), Maronite, Syriac Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Chaldean Catholic, and the Assyrian Church of the East. We also hear from Muslim vocalists representing the two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shi'ite. A hear a range of languages as well: Arabic, Armenian, varieties of Eastern Aramaic (Syriac, Assyrian, Chaldean), and Greek. 

And please watch Hillestad's documentary about the project.
 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cooper Tires kufiya


US tire company Cooper Tires using a kufiya to sell tires! Is the kufiya that mainstream now? Maybe so... (Thanks to D. McDonald for this.)


undercover kufiya


Undercover Israeli occupation forces arresting Palestinian protester on July 27, 2017 near Beit El checkpoint -- #kufiyaspotting

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Multilingual Middle Ages: Sicily


here's a better shot of the document. source is here.


What is this document? According to the British Library blog: "A mid-12th century trilingual Greek, Latin and Arabic Psalter from Sicily illustrates an intricate propagandistic message. The manuscript contains the trilingual text in the ancient layout of three separate columns, but its function was probably much more than fulfilling the practical needs of a multilingual liturgical environment or serving as a textbook of an eccentric scholar. It was designed as a tool in the political propaganda of the Norman dynasty, ruling an essentially trilingual Sicily in the 12th century. Its threefold layout with one and the same text in Greek, Latin and Arabic testifies to a society in which multiple language groups had come together under a new Norman rule."

There are plenty of books and articles on the Arab period in Sicily -- I suggest having a look at Karla Mallette's The Kingdom of Sicily, 1100-1250: A Literary History (U Penn, 2005).


A mid-12th century trilingual Greek, Latin and Arabic Psalter from Sicily illustrates an intricate propagandistic message. The manuscript contains the trilingual text in the ancient layout of three separate columns, but its function was probably much more than fulfilling the practical needs of a multilingual liturgical environment or serving as a textbook of an eccentric scholar. It was designed as a tool in the political propaganda of the Norman dynasty, ruling an essentially trilingual Sicily in the 12th century. Its threefold layout with one and the same text in Greek, Latin and Arabic testifies to a society in which multiple language groups had come together under a new Norman rule. - See more at: https://www.bl.uk/greek-manuscripts/articles/multilingualism-in-greek-manuscripts#sthash.3weXifTN.dpuf
A mid-12th century trilingual Greek, Latin and Arabic Psalter from Sicily illustrates an intricate propagandistic message. The manuscript contains the trilingual text in the ancient layout of three separate columns, but its function was probably much more than fulfilling the practical needs of a multilingual liturgical environment or serving as a textbook of an eccentric scholar. It was designed as a tool in the political propaganda of the Norman dynasty, ruling an essentially trilingual Sicily in the 12th century. Its threefold layout with one and the same text in Greek, Latin and Arabic testifies to a society in which multiple language groups had come together under a new Norman rule. - See more at: https://www.bl.uk/greek-manuscripts/articles/multilingualism-in-greek-manuscripts#sthash.3weXifTN.dpuf

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

More Enrico Macias Orientalia

When Gaston Ghrenassia left Algeria for France in 1961, he hoped to continue his musical career by playing the ma'louf repertoire of his master, Cheikh Raymond Leyris, in the company of his father Sylvain, who had accompanied the cheikh on violin. But French audiences greeted their performances with hostility and racism. So Gaston opted to try to make a career for himself by playing a more mainstream and acceptable genre. In Constantine, he had not only mastered ma'louf, learned through his apprenticeship of Cheikh Raymond, but he also had performed French variety music, particularly the sort of Mediterranean-inflected variety performed by the likes of Luis Mariano, Charles Aznavour and Dalida. In addition to playing with Cheikh Raymond, as a teenager Gaston joined a gypsy musical ensemble in Constantine. The band was led by a singer named Enrico, and in the group Gaston was known as “little Enrico.” While on the boat taking him into exile from Algiers to Marseille, Gaston composed a song about his sorrow over leaving Algeria, called “Adieu Mon Pays.” He recorded the song for Pathé-Marconi in 1962, adopting the recording name Enrico. He planned to use the last two syllables of his family name, Nassia, as his second name, but the Pathé-Marconi secretary with whom he spoke on the phone transcribed it incorrectly, so “Adieu Mon Pays” was released under the name Enrico Macias.

In October 1962, the song was broadcast on a national radio program focusing on the pieds noirs, the European Algerian settlers who left Algeria after it gained independence. It became an immediate sensation, selling 50,000 copies in just a few days, and Enrico Macias became the singer, in France, of the pieds noirs, who had only just left what they regarded as their “pays.”

During the course of his career from the sixties through the eighties, Enrico performed and recorded music that was frequently tinged with Andalusian sounds. On occasion, in concert, he would play ‘ud for one number, or feature belly dancers, or spotlight his father Sylvain on Andalusian violin for one song. He did not feel able to experiment in this vein a great deal, and the Andalusian element remained at the level of frills and embellishments rather than forming the musical basis for his work. Too emphatic an Arabic sound invariably incited negative reactions from French audiences. But if there were pieds noirs in the audience, they would greet Macias's use of Andalusian features (and even vocals in Arabic) with enthusiastic applause and shouts of approval.

In 1972 he put out the album À La Face de l'Humanité, which included the track, "La Fête Orientale." You can listen here. Enrico sings in French, and only adds "Arab" vocal embellishments at one point, at around 2 minutes into the song. But the instrumental opening of the song sounds like it is the start of an Arabic song, and it has this feel at the end as well. And right before Enrico shifts briefly into Arabic mode, we also hear very "Eastern" sounding ululations.

In March 1972, Enrico performed the song on television, in a quite different version, which you can see here.


The version here is twice as long as the original. And it opens with a slow, improvised introduction, known as the istikhbar or mawwal that is typical of Andalusian music. It starts with a refrain on violin from Enrico's father Sylvain Ghrenassia, some improvised oud playing from Enrico, a bit of improvisation on the qanun, and then vocals from Enrico, singing in French about the "fête oriental" but in Arabic style. The ensemble is a typical traditional Andalusian one, and the players are all dressed up in fancy "Oriental" style, seated on the floor in traditional style. The set has all the trappings of a staged "Oriental" scene as well. After the mawwal, Enrico proceeds to perform "La Fête Oriental" as he recorded it, but with the backing of an Andalusian orchestra.

The lyrics are as follows (grabbed from here). 

Alléluia,  c'est la fête orientale
Venez chez moi, je suis heureux
Laissez venir tous mes amis, tous mes parents
Et pour qu'il n'y ait pas d'oubli
Laissez la porte ouverte
Alléluia, que les foulards des femmes
Alléluia, dansent de joie


Alléluia, il faut de la musique
Car on est là pour s'amuser
Les musiciens ont dans leur cœur nos souvenirs
Et sous leurs doigts c'est le bonheur qui rythme la musique
Alléluia, suivez bien la cadence
Alléluia, des cris de joie


Alléluia que le festin commence
Tout le monde est là, n'attendez pas
Que l'on apporte les plateaux chargés de fruits
Une montagne de gâteaux, du vin et des galettes
Alléluia, c'est la fête orientale
Restez chez moi toute la nuit
Alléluia c'est la fête orientale
Alléluia toute la nuit

The lyrics could describe any kind of "Oriental" feast day, Jewish or Muslim. Note that the women are described as wearing foulards, or headscarves -- something that both Jewish and Muslims would have worn on traditional feast days.

And here is another TV appearance of Enrico on oud and his father on violin, doing another "Oriental" number. Unfortunately I'm unable to identify the song. 


A list of songs in Arabic that Enrico has performed or recorded over the years can be found here. Some are available for listening. Unfortunately the information is not very detailed. I intend to do more hunting and research.