Monday, December 28, 2009

Lebanese rap from the Christian Science Monitor

In the days before the CSM went all-digital. Drat. On RGB, Yayess Bek (the godfather of lubnani rap), Malikah, and Katibe 5 (from Palestinian refugee camp Burj al-Barajneh). (A shorter excerpt of this article appeared earlier on hawgblawg.)

"Rapping Injustice in Arabic," by Eamon Kircher-Allen, CSM, Feb. 27, 2009, pp. 13, 16.

...unlike much of Beirut's music scene that draws heavily on foreign influences, rappers like RGB are fiercely Lebanese in everything they do. They talk about personal experiences in which they see the same kinds of injustice, violence, and lack of forums for addressing social problems that were the impetus for early African-American rap groups with a political message, such as Public Enemy...

"Most of the artists here are from the streets, they live in a very unfair system," music producer Zeid Hamdan says by phone... "[Lebanon] is a good ground for hip hop. The 'bling bling' hasn't arrived yet. The bling-bling scene is in the pop music"...

there are strong connections between hip-hop lyricism and Arabic's heritage of poetry. For centuries, writers who mastered the art of self-expression in Arabic have been folk heroes. According to Joe Namy, a Lebanese-American music producer and a fine-arts graduate student at New York University, that heritage has converged with the current social dimensions in Lebanon.

"Hip hop is becoming more popular now because there's a lot more frustration," he said. "The music lends itself to this need to express yourself. It's a very visual form of expression."

Lebanese hip hop reaches across the sectarian divide as well...RGB is Christian, Hamdan is Druze, and there are others in the hip hop collective 961 Underground – named after Lebanon's country code – who are Muslim.A group that epitomizes that diversity is Katibe 5 (pronounced ka-TEE-bé KHAM-sé), whose members hail from Burj al-Barajneh, a rundown Palestinian refugee camp on the south side of Beirut...

"For sure, that's why the Palestinians choose rap, because they feel they are like the black Americans," OS Loop [of Katibe 5] says. "They feel like the oppressed."

The group's first album, "Ahlan fikun bil Mukhayamat," ("Welcome to the Camps") was released last year. It tackles social issues head on – and aggressively...

OS Loop follows the American rap scene closely. His favorite artists are KRS-One, Wu Tang, and Paris...

OS Loop recalls a concert American superstar 50 Cent put on in Beirut in 2006, before the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon that killed more than 1,200 Lebanese. A native of Queens, New York, 50 Cent often raps about how he survived being shot nine times. But OS Loop isn't overly impressed with that – or the commercial turn that 50 Cent's music has taken.

"Now Snoop is coming, and Akon is coming [to Lebanon], but for me they are all commercial," he says. "I wish 50 Cent stayed in Lebanon for the war," he adds with a laugh. "I wanted to tell him what's the true meaning of gangsta."

Ahmad Zahir, the Afghan Elvis

"The Afghan Elvis 'Lives' 24 Years After His Death," by Amy Waldman, New York Times, March 20, 2003. the real Elvis, to whom, with his black hair, sideburns and wide-collared shirts, he bore passing resemblance, his popularity has endured, his legend magnified...

the singer set great Persian poets like Rumi, Hafiz, Maulana Jami; the Afghan poet Khalilullah Khalili; and traditional folkloric songs, to music. He sang of love, pain and God. Never formally trained as a musician, he played the accordion, the piano, the organ, and the guitar and he absorbed the Western music spilling from radios in the 1960's and 70's. Some songs sound, instrumentally at least, vaguely like the Beatles or surf music.

He recalls a freer prewar Afghanistan when girls could rush the stage to grab his half-drunk soda, when women named a popular dress fabric ''Hair of Ahmad Zahir.''

He also reflects an Afghanistan that was far less ethnically polarized than it is today. An ethnic Pashtun who sang mostly in Dari, he won fans in all ethnic groups...

Mr. Zahir died in 1979 on his 33rd birthday. He was ostensibly killed in a car accident, but no one here believes there was anything accidental about it. Some say he was murdered by the family of his first wife [the NYT subsequently ran a correction, the rumor was about wife #2] in revenge for her death; after an unhappy marriage, he had been accused of her murder and briefly jailed.

Others say he refused to sing at the wedding of the Afghan Communist prime minister's daughter and paid with his life. Mr. Muhammad subscribed to this version but added the perhaps crucial detail that Mr. Zahir had chosen a song that displeased the Communists by suggesting that Afghanistan was living in slavery.

Zahira Zahir [Ahmad's sister] said the truth was simple and sordid. He was too independent for the Communists. They lured him out of Kabul, then shot him in the head.

I can't find anything on youtube that even vaguely suggests a stylistic connection to Elvis. I guess it's mainly the sideburns. And maybe the fact that Zahir died not too long after Elvis? However, Zahir put out 22 albums, so maybe someday I'll find those songs that sound vaguely like the Beatles or surf music.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rai 'n' B

I found this vid through this article from The Fader. (Some of the youtube vids have been taken down, and none of the vids are official except the one I've reproduced above, but the music is great.)

Jace Clayton describes the song as follows:

One of the collection’s [Urban Rai 2008] most popular tracks is an omni-genre stormer called Un Gaou a Oran (A Fool in Oran), a collaboration between the Parisian rap crew 113, the Ivory Coast supergroup Magic System and the Algerian crooner Mohammed Lamine. It’s a fantastic, effortless collision of Euro-African styles. A West African guitar melody circles what sounds like a sped-up reggaeton beat, and the song ends up striking a perfect balance between coupé décalé (the popular Ivorian genre pioneered by African expats in Paris) and French club music. That’s “French” as in couscous and post-riot Parisian suburbs – not Serge Gainsbourg or quiche.

Un Gaou a Oran’s YouTube clip boasts over two million views. It’s a joyful pastiche that nods to Mahmoud Zemmouri’s French Muslim slapstick musical film 100% Arabica (whose leads, Cheb Mami and Khaled, each have a few tunes here) as well as the colour-saturated magical whimsy of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie. Whereas the latter’s version of Paris had no black people, the Un Gaou a Oran video is literally crowded with them – as is the song itself, which houses no fewer than four languages.

Listening to this song, a remix of a remix, provides the giddy experience of hearing discrete musical cultures accelerate together to a blur. The exuberant dance groove and torrent of styles are not about complete understanding (the quadrilingual music market ain’t what it used to be). Instead, it’s about creating a space of real, untranslatable difference – and finding shared comfort there. (Of course, it’s also about silly lyrics and physical humour.)

This is the same sort of space referred to by the title’s use of the word “urban”: a cosmopolitan space where foregrounded otherness doesn’t lead to exclusion. 113, Magic System, Lamine and their countless fans are moving beyond France’s cherished fraternité into al-ikhaa’ and badeya. True multiculturalism isn’t about fusion — that World Music buzzword of the Nineties. It’s about transforming cultural and sonic friction into useful heat.

This is from Clayton's review of two recent rai compilations, which sound essential, and which you must get hold of. I plan to.

Amira Kheir: Jazz Sudani Style

I really know nothing about Amira Kheir. I was turned onto her by Omar, and I really like what she does. It's Sudanese music with a jazz inflection. Very tasteful.

Here's what Amira says about herself and her music on her myspace page:

I am Sudanese – Italian and I have lived in 3 continents through out my life – hence my music is a direct reflection of this multicultural legacy. The North of Sudan, being at the crossroads of Middle Eastern and East/Central African culture has a very particular and ancient musical tradition finding its roots in the Nubian civilisation of my ancestors.

Please give her a listen. Three songs are up as of today, on her myspace page.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Iraqi Jewish musicians, the al-Kuwaiti Brothers

From the BBC, this wonderful story by Tim Franks, reporting from Jerusalem. South Tel Aviv has a new street, Rechov Ha'achim al-Kuvaiti, or al-Kuwaiti Brothers Street, named after Saleh and Daoud al-Kuwaiti. They were big stars in Iraq before emigrating to Israel. In Israel, they were basically unknown, confined to the Arab-Jewish cultural ghetto. In Iraq, according to Shlomo, Saleh's son, the Kuwaiti brothers music remained massively popular, but without credit being given to them. Today, Daoud's grandson Dudu is reviving and recording his grandfather's and great-uncles music in Israel.

Here is more on the al-Kuwaiti Brothers, from Ha'aretz. In fact, it's a better article than Franks', with more detailed information. We learn that the al-Kuwaitis are today getting much more recognition, in post-Saddam Iraq (Saddam worked hard to have them purged from Iraqi cultural history), in Kuwait, and in Israel. Saleh wrote a song specifically for Umm Kalthoum, "Your Heart is a Rock," and also collaborated with Muhammad 'Abd al-Wahhab.

Daoud & Saleh Al-Kuwaity's album, Their Star Shall Never Fade, produced by Shlomo al-Kuwaiti, is available emusic and iTunes. It's highly recommended. And don't forget the recent release Give Me Love: Songs Of The Brokenhearted - Baghdad, 1925-1929, almost entirely composed of tunes from Iraqi Jewish musicians. Courtesy Damon Albarn's label Honest Jon's.Go here for a useful overview of modern Iraqi music, which includes the al-Kuwaiti brothers in the story.