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The cauldron: Islam and Hip-Hop in Europe

June 25, 2012 Leave a comment

A comprehensive overview of the state of Hip Hop Diplomacy across the pond from one of my most admired mentors, Dr. Hisham Aidi (via one of my favorite observers of the Arab street, Jackson Allers & World Hip Hop Market)

The cauldron: Islam and Hip-Hop in Europe

The debate over Islam and hip hop in Europe is heating up as governments wade in.

Farah Pandith, the US State Department special representative to Muslim communities, has argued that hip hop can convey a ‘different narrative’ to counter the foreign ‘violent ideology’ [GALLO/GETTY]

By Hishaam Aidi (published first on Al Jazeera.com)

New York, NY – Three months ago, just as the French presidential campaign was heating up, the rapper Kery James uploaded a track titled “Letter to the Republic” (“Lettre à la République“) explaining what he and youth in the banlieues thought of the republic’s political class, or as he described them, “Pillagers of wealth, murderers of Africans, torturers of Algerians / The colonial past is yours, you chose to link your history to ours.”

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Shahada x Shadia: bearing witness

October 18, 2010 2 comments

I’m often asked, “What value does Hip Hop have in the realm of cultural diplomacy?” A film review I read today in the New York Times about the new German film, “Shahada” (a thesis project by Burhan Qurbani that has been selected for next year’s Berlinale) struck a chord along that theme. Having not seen the film yet, I can’t comment on its merit as a work of art. However, the title and synopsis alone remind me that the word shahada, from the Arabic for ‘to bear witness/testify’, evokes not only the Muslim profession of faith, but an expression of personal knowledge and belief, which can also take the form of art. This brings me back to Hip Hop, a multi-faceted form of personal expression that serves to bear witness to one’s unique view of the world. It is also a profession of one’s belief that such expression can inspire others, and, in numbers, lead to change.

This explains how the same theme, shahada, can be used by both Hip Hop artists, such as American rap stars Mos Def and Freeway, who have openly discussed their conversion to Islam, and by jihadists, such as American-born Al Qaeda recruiter, Abu Mansour al-Amriki, who invokes shahada in his Youtube propaganda videos.

In response to those who ask me, “Why Hip Hop?”, I would offer that Hip Hop, in its true form, represents an artistic expression of shahada, not necessarily in a religious sense, but in a personal one, and, moreover, in a peaceful one. It is for that reason that I continue to advocate the support of Hip Hop-related programming by cultural diplomacy organizations, as well as others seeking to “engage the hearts and minds of Muslim youth”. One such organization that seems to get it is the British Council, who co-sponsored an event this past weekend at the Dash Arts center in London that featured Arab Hip Hop all-stars from Palestine (Tamer Nafar), Lebanon (Rayess Bek), Jordan (MC Samm), Algeria (Rabah Donquishoot), and London’s own Palestinian queen MC, Shadia Mansour, and US legend Talib Kweli. The event challenged the artists (many of whom had never met before) to take themes from the 6th century Arabian poems, the Mu’allaqat, and riff off of them to create new music in workshops, culminating in a tour throughout Europe. I’m excited to see and hear what these pioneers of the Arab Hip Hop movement came up with but I have no doubt that it will be an honest account of the world as they’ve seen it, just like the original Mu’allaqat, which described in great detail and poetry the world of pre-Islamic Bedouins. Shadia describes the feeling of reconnecting with that legacy in this quote from an article on Mondomix:

“The Mu’Allaqat poems… I thought I knew a lot about that era but after reading the poems, I learned a lot about my culture. The poems are about Bedouin life but the crazy thing is nothing much has changed… the traditions, the customs, our mannerisms… even the mentality, the conservative nature of that time is still alive in certain parts of the Arab world. To be honest, being Palestinian, being Arab and coming from a very cultural background I have taken my experience, my upbringing and what I feel and put that into all the songs we’re performing at the Roundhouse. Obviously we are all from different Arab regions and have different upbringings, but what I’ve learned from the poems is relative to how we are brought up and live as Arabs. I think it all made sense in the end.”

What other medium could so meaningfully connect young Arabs with their cultural heritage and at the same time allow them to connect with one another, and with other young people around the world, to bear witness, faithfully and creatively, to their lives at the turbulent dawn of the 21st century? Only Hip Hop, where followers make their own form of shahada, expressing belief in the power of music and poetry to affect change.

 


Logic x Shadia Mansour: So Serious

June 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Brand new video from South London’s Logic (co-founder with Lowkey of the youth mobilization group, The People’s Army), and the great Shadia Mansour.

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VVD Back in the Bijlmer

June 19, 2010 Leave a comment

A follow-up to last week’s post about the VVD (center-right Dutch political party) and their chicken-politicin’ in the Bijlmer neighborhood of Amsterdam, here’s a video from Bijlmer’s own, Gikkels, in response to a politician’s recent description of the neighborhood as a “primitive caveman culture“.

Selected translations below:

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A (fried) chicken in every pot x Dutch elections

June 13, 2010 2 comments

Last week, in the run-up to the national elections in the Netherlands, VVD Party (People’s Party of Freedom and Democracy) representatives could be found in the predominantly black and immigrant Amsterdam neighborhood, the Bijlmer, handing out fried chicken and promoting the party’s “mo money” agenda.

I came across this parody of the shameless vote-mongering on Youtube (much respect to www.maxvanderburg.nl). Selected quotes below (thanks to khouya Khalid for the co-pro).

Perhaps not surprisingly, the VVD did extremely well in Bijlmer and other economically-depressed neighborhoods, though not everybody in the video seems amused (see the Moroccan dude at about 1:30 who grabs the would-be-VVD rep’s glasses and promptly shows him the way to the metro).

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German rap x Esperanto (1999)

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Nine graphic designers worked on this ridiculous animation for the Stuttgart conscious Hip Hop band Freundeskreis (“circle of friends”) – producing the four-minute animation in two weeks. And the song is in the made up language of Esperanto, invoked by the artists in the hope that Hip Hop will unite the world’s youth through the common language of Hip Hop. Amen.

Salah Edin goes to Mali for Islamic Relief

In case anyone out there ever doubted the deep huminatarian commitment of Dutch-Moroccan rapper Salah Edin, here’s a 2-part video covering his recent trip to Mali on behalf of the Islamic Relief Project, during which he visited different development projects, from water wells to schools, milk factories to widows creating small businesses with micro credit loans. This is the same dude who pissed off a whole country of Dutch Islamophobes by turning the mirror on their ugly fear in his debut single “Het Land Van [This Country Of]” and then later by using a faux mugshot for his album cover, which a major newspaper and right-wing politician both mistook for the convicted Muslim killer of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.

I guess Salah is growing up and mellowing out, though his recent video for “Tfoe/Fuck” would suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, the man showed love and support last month for his fellow Africans, under the aegis of an Islamic NGO, and I would like to formally recognize his efforts. We need more artists, especially in Hip Hop, standing up publicly for the causes that matter to them, not to mention challenging the stereotypes that politicians and the media perpetuate for their own profit. Did someone say SalahShadia collabo…???

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