Monday, March 31, 2014

drone life cont'd: Jon Langford's 'Drone Operator'

 Thanks to Mike W, who informed of this. Jon Langford of The Mekons and the Waco Brothers and lots of other bands, and formerly of Leeds and now very settled in Chicago, has put out a song called "Drone Operator." He seems to have been performing it since at least 2012, but has recently put it out (by Jon Langford and Skull Orchard) as a single, and on youtube, with a very fine video by Hassan Amejal. 

Amejal also sings a bit in Arabic (haven't had the time to decode it, and maybe I won't be able to. Somebody help.)

If you know anything about Langford's politics you'd know that the song would be critical of the drone war machinery. And it is. Here are some of the lyrics:

I’m not really a soldier
I’m more likely to die
By car wreck or cancer than the eye in the sky
That follows them home, right into their window
And they never know
They never know


It didn't look like a wedding
It wasn't my call
When it all was over
We went to a bar
Drank beer and watched basketball

 It's a sinister, and at the same time, banal evil.

"Drone Operator" is on the album Here Be Monsters, which is about to drop, as they say, on April 1, which is only a few hours away. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mahragan: Excellent photos from Mosa'ab Elshamy

 Sadat and tuk-tuk in Sadat City (Mosa'ab Elshamy)

Mosa'ab Elshamy is one of the best, maybe the best, photographers in Egypt to emerge into global fame since the events at Tahrir in January-February 2011. Rolling Stone magazine has just published a set of his photos on Egypt's mahragan (AKA electro-shaabi) scene, and they are stunning. (There is text as well, unattributed.)

Mahragan in Rolling Stone? Yep, the genre is getting a level of international reputation and cred that is remarkable. It's a testimony both to the creativity and quality of the music as well as the interest that the so-called Arab Spring and its culture spawned in the West. 

I'm not sure I like this description of the phenom: "the country's underground electro-rap uprising." Why "uprising"? Was rap, which Rolling Stone compares it to, an "uprising"? What did it overthrow? This issue, moreover, begs the question, not addressed in the text that accompanies the photos -- what is the relation between mahragan and politics in Egypt today, ever since Rabaa massacre of August 2013, the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the military coup, and the emergence of the Sisi phenomenon? What about the fact that, on the third anniversary of the launch of the January 25 (political) uprising, 21 people protestors were killed in al-Matariya, one of the strongholds of mahragan, the popular quarter of the Eight Percent crew (Wizza, Ortega and Oka)? 

Really, you'd think that at least some readers of the mag would want to know...

One more quibble: I keep insisting that the genre should be called mahragan (sing.) not mahraganat (plural). Someone please tell me why I'm wrong.

In any case, the photos are great, take a look. 

And you can see more of Mosa'ab Elshamy's photos on flickr, and follow him on twitter via @mosaaberizing.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The film "Traitors": women, punk, Morocco

Traitors (dir. Sean Gullette) has been on the festival circuit for a couple years. It looks, based on the reviews and the available trailers, to be a good one. I was alerted to it by Joobin Bekhrad's review in REORIENT, which also features one of the trailers. The latter features the lead, Malika, and her all-female Moroccan punk band doing a version of The Clash's "I'm So Bored with the USA," in Arabic, but with the chorus, "I'm so bored with Mo-ro-cco" sung in English.

Among other things, Bekhrad writes, "Gullette’s film appears to be one centred around the power and allure of rock music, particularly in a North African context; however, as it progresses, it also comes to provide a powerful social commentary on the current generation of Morocco’s youth and their hopes, aspirations, frustrations, dilemmas, and anxieties, evoking at times a mood similar to that prevalent in earlier films such as Fatih Akin’s Head On..." If it's anything like Head On I it should be worth watching. We can only hope.

(I liked Bekhrad's review but it was marred by a move that everyone writing in English about Middle Eastern pop music seems to make, which is "clever" puns. A couple examples: "stuck between Maroc and a hard place" and "Maroc and roll, baby." Er, enough.)

Here's another clip from the film:

And some more info:

"Features original songs sung by its riveting star Chaimae Ben Acha [who plays Malika, the leader of a Tangier punk band], and new music from much-hyped all-female bands Savages and Talk Normal." (I've not been able to find any of their music, however.)

Here's an interview with the director, published in Variety. Where we learn, among other things, that the film was funded with a grant from the Sharjah Art Foundation.

And, a review in The Hollywood Reporter, quite positive.

Sasha, the Belgian Malinois, in kufiya

Thanks to my friend SL, who came across this photo via the Facebook group Everything Belgian Malinois.

The photo is of Sasha, taken just a couple days before she passed away, at 3 1/4 years, due to spinal cord injury and impending kidney failure. Isn't she a beauty? RIP.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

New collection of Algerian music from Sublime Frequencies

I'm very excited that Sublime Frequencies is coming out with a new volume of Algerian popular music. Their last one, 1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Underground, was essential, and revelatory. The new one, out in May, is called 1970s Algerian Folk & Pop. The publicity for the album describes its range thus: "From the heavier rock and psychedelic sounds of Rachid & Fethi, Les Djinns and Les Abranis, to the haunting folk music of Kri Kri and Djamel Allem and the film soundtrack moods of Ahmed Malek..." The tracks were selected by Hicham Chadly, so you know they're good even before you give a listen. You can go to the website of the distributor, Forced Exposure, to listen to samples from all the tracks.

Several of the tracks on the album can be found with a bit of searching. The great track by Rachid & Fathi, "Habit En-Aïch," can be found here

Berber singer Idir's song, "A Vava Inouva," is quite well known. Jane Goodman discusses it at length in her essential book, Berber Culture on the World Stage.

Here is Kri Kri's "Wahdi." 

"Chenar le blues" from Les Abranis 

Smail Chaoui's "N'sani N'sani" (it's the second song on this Youtube vid) 
Djamel Allem, "Ourestrou" 
The rest? We'll just have to wait til the album comes out.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Recommended Mix: by Ayshay (Fatima Al Qadiri)

You may recall that I was not too hot on Fatima Al Qadiri's Desert Strike album from 2012. But this mix from two years ago, which she recorded under the name Ayshay ('anything' or 'whatever' in Arabic), is really terrific. A must listen. Do it now. And if you go to Fatima's webpage, you can download the mix. As well as other cool stuff.

Kufiya, International Women's Day

My friend Allen shot me this photo. It was taken at Qalandiya refugee camp, in the West Bank, on International Women's Day, March 8, 2014. Love it. If it's not obvious, the women are throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.


I've reported on occasion about the bohemian hipness of turbans in the US. Notable why? Because it seems to fly in the face of endemic Islamophobia.

So maybe we on the progressive front should be doing more to promote turban wearing, in solidarity with Sikh children, who, it turns out, are the massive target of bullying in US schools. (Wearing a turban would be much more radical than sporting a kufiya scarf, eh?)

As reported by Jezebel:

"A recent survey by the Sikh Coalition has found that half of Sikh children and two-thirds of Sikh children who wear their hair in turbans report being bullied at school" (emphasis added).

Where is the anti-bullying lobby on this issue?!

The report goes on to argue that this is a wider phenomenon, due largely to the post 9/11 terror hyper-hysteria:

"The period since 9/11 has been particularly difficult for Sikh Americans and their children. While Sikh children experience bullying in the classrooms, their Sikh American parents endure astoundingly high rates of hate crimes, employment discrimination, and scrutiny at the nation's airports. Brown skin and turbans have popularly become associated with terror. Crude popular culture stereotypes of terrorists and damaging media images outside the class room have made their way into the classroom to the detriment of young Sikhs."

And, whenever instances of mass shootings are discussed in the context of the need for control, why in the hell is Oak Creek, Wisconsin almost never mentioned? It was here, on August 5, 2012, that a white supremacist killed six Sikhs and wounded four others, at a Sikh Temple.

Oak Creek, Oak Creek, Oak Creek. We remember Columbine, Aurora, Newton...Why not Oak Creek?

Oh, I guess the Sikh Coalition report begins to suggest why. Many of us do not believe turban wearers are "innocent" or even "American."

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Documentary on the "absorption of immigrants"

This is an eye-popping 2011 account from Israel's channel 2 of a 1951 documentary found in the Israeli army archives, about Israel's "absorption of immigrants." It is as racist and Orientalist and patronizing as can be, all about how Ashkenazi Jews are bringing the dark and savage Oriental Jews (from Yemen) into civilization and the light. Biting commentary by Yehouda Shenhav of Tel Aviv University, an Iraqi Jew.

A note on the youtube post provides this information, from Jacob Gross, about Saadia, the Yemeni "star":

Zacharia Shalom, son of Hasan and Nur (who played Saadia) was born on April 5th, 1937 in the city of Al Bida, Yemen. Died on the second day of the six-day war, June 6th, 1967, Leaving behind wife, daughter and son.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Treasure trove: Middle Eastern recorded music from the British Library

The British Library has a very nice sound archive that includes 74 items from the Middle East, digitized shellac recordings.

Most famous of the artists recorded here (10 tracks) is the Iraqi Jewish singer Salima Murad (1970-1972), listed here as Sitt Salima Pasha, as she was also known. Her tracks are all from the 1930s.

Salima Murad

Also worth hearing are two tracks from Sitt Mounira Hawazwaz, another female Jewish Iraqi singer. Two tracks from her, also from the 1930s.

And also cool, a couple tracks recorded in Bombay, India, by Muhamed Abdul Salam, presumably a Saudi 'ud player and vocalist. Finally, six very nice tracks from Ustad Salim Rashid Suri of Oman.

You should check them all out. Like I said, a true treasure.

Steve McQueen in Kufiya, 2009, New York Times

I blogged about it when it happened. Appropriate, I think, in light of his film's Oscar win last night, to repost.

Here's what he looked like. Very styling. As the Times wrote, you "might mistake him for the new King of Cool." And maybe Pharrell Williams was "quoting" this picture last night? (Photo by Robert Maxwell.)

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Neve Gordon reviews Elliott Colla's 'Baghdad Central' in Los Angeles Review of Books

And it's a good one. Here's a short extract:

Detective Khafaji may have been recruited into collaboration, but that does not mean he serves only the Americans. In fact, his story is that of an individual struggling to maintain his selfhood and values even as he loses them. Because it effectively uses the noir genre to explore how the culture of deception is one that necessarily infects everyone, it is difficult to put the book down.

The theme of the review is  "collaboration," and Gordon reviews To Be a Friend Is Fatal : The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind by Kirk Johnson as well.

Yasmine Hamdan, "Beirut" (from the forthcoming album)

Back in 2012, I posted (on one of my other blogs, mepop) about Yasmine Hamdan's self-titled album, released in Lebanon and France in 2012, and the song "Beirut" from the album.  Here is the video that came out at that time.

The lyrics were posted as well, which I've copied below.

شرب العرق
 شرب العرق
 لعب الورق
 خيل السبق
 صيد الحمام
 رسمال بيروت

 لبس الغوى
 شم الهوى
 اكل الهوى
 شاغل عقول
 سكان بيروت

 زهرة من غير أوانها
محلاها ومحلا زمانها
 يا حينها وياضيعانها

 ما في عمل
 ما في امل
 برك الجمل
 ركب النحس
 تجار بيروت

كتر البطر
 هالك بيروت

Arak drinkin'

Card playin'
Racehorse cheerin'

Pigeon huntin'

The essence of Beirut

Seduction crowd

Cruisin' around
Foolin' about

Tis' all there is on the minds
Of the citizens of Beirut


A flower off its terrain

Oh her beauty, her good old days


That dire end, all a waste


All unemployed
Ruined and rusted
Jinxed and accursed
Those dealers of Beirut

Oh the strutting
That fancy livin'
Excess of splurging
Exploded vanity
Smothering Beirut

Now, finally, the album (under the title Ya Nass) is being released in the US, on March 25, from the Crammed Discs label. Why the wait? Who knows? Why now? Maybe to coincide with the appearance of Yasmine in Jim Jarmusch's film Only Lovers Left Alive, which I posted about a couple weeks ago.

Here's some promo about the "new" album. In it we learn that the lyrics to "Beirut" were adapted from a poem written in the 1940s by poet Omar El Zenni. And there is new video, about which the promo tells us: "Yasmine Hamdan and her director Nadim Asfar used footage from super 8 films which were purchased in a Lebanese souk by one of Yasmine's friends, who collects them. These films were shot in various eras (from the 40s to the 70s), and are bringing these bygone times back to life." Check it out. If you've lived in Beirut, like I have, you will really like that super 8 footage.

We also learn from the promo that the song "Hal" from the album which is not on the French/Lebanese version, and this is the song that Yasmine does in the Jarmusch film. You can check it out here.

The very sharp observer Hammer commented on my earlier post. He has seen the movie, he doesn't think much of Yasmine's singing (I don't agree but I understand why he is critical). Here's what he says about the song: "The whole gig is a way to ride a now-defunct wave of using qaraqeb in pop music. [i.e. it incorporates Gnawa percussion]. Her song which she sang is not a song actually: It's a medley of words taken from old, '40s songs that most Arabs still hum and sing. The anachronistic twist is that, most Moroccans do not sing these songs or maybe know of them, as their musical tastes veer off into the malhoun and the ever-present chaabi." 

That is to say, the scene where she sings is set in Tangier, but she isn't singing Moroccan music. Unfortunately, you can't ever imagine that US directors like Jarmusch would ever care about such things. He heard Yasmine's music, he met her, she's an know.

Here is the list of songs on the album, via iTunes. This is what the cover looks like:

 And here's the cover of the 2012 album. 

And here's more about Yasmine and the Lebanese album, from Kwaidan Records. 

I can't find a tracklist online right now for the 2012 version, so here it is: 

1. In Kan Fouadi          
2. Beirut      
3. Samar       
4. Baaden           
5. Ya Nass        
6. Irss       
7. Nediya       
8. Nag          
9. Shouei       
10. La Mouch       
11. Bala Tantanat         
You can check out the song "Deny" here (not on album 1). Also "Khalas" (not on album 1) here. "Samar," on album one, and two, here. "In Kan Fouadi," on one and two here.