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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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Leveraging Hip Hop in US foreign policy

March 11, 2012 1 comment

From Al Jazeera and the longer article,  “Race, Rap, and Raison d’Etat” by Hisham Aidi.

The US government wants to improve its tarnished image abroad by sending out ‘hip hop envoys’ [GALLO/GETTY]

In April 2010, the US State Department sent a rap group named Chen Lo and The Liberation Family to perform in Damascus, Syria.

Following Chen Lo’s performance, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was asked by CBS News about US diplomacy’s recent embrace of hip hop. “Hip hop is America,” she said, noting that rap and other musical forms could help “rebuild the image” of the United States. “You know it may be a little bit hopeful, because I can’t point to a change in Syrian policy because Chen Lo and the Liberation Family showed up. But I think we have to use every tool at our disposal.”

The State Department began using hiphop as a tool in the mid-2000s, when, in the wake of Abu Ghraib and the resurgence of the Taliban, Karen Hughes, then undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, launched an initiative called Rhythm Road. The programme was modelled on the jazz diplomacy initiative of the Cold War era, except that in the “War on Terror”, hip hop would play the central role of countering “poor perceptions” of the US.

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An Embrace of the U.S., Spun and Mixed by Iraqis

October 13, 2011 Leave a comment

 Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times

BAGHDAD — With his New York Yankees jersey, baggy jeans embroidered with “U.S.A.” down one leg and his casual greeting of “What’s up?”, Ali Jabbar, a rapper and a student in Islamic studies, seems an alien in his own culture.

When State comes up short, Chen Lo makes it happen

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Lebanon’s Brooklyn, NYC Peeps: The Lo Frequency make good in Beirut

In late October, the Brooklyn-based live hip-hop outfit Chen Lo and the Liberation Family – known now as The Lo Frequency -came to Beirut for a two-month residency in order to establish a Hip-Hop Academy and to perform with local talent (MCs, DJs, and producers). The US embassy initiative was not exactly what they expected. Beats and Breath linked up with the Lo Frequency in Brooklyn to discuss what ultimately became a two-month blessing for the Arab hip-hop movement.

OG members of The Lo Frequency fam (L to R: BAASIK, Chen Lo, Ken White, DJ Scandales) Read more…

Cynthia & Malikah in Alexandria

July 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Cultural diplomacy expert, former ambassador to the Netherlands, and Hip Hop Diplomacy advisor-at-large, Cynthia Schneider, was in Alexandria 2 weeks ago for the Bibliotheca’s conference: Initiatives in Education, Science and Culture Towards Enhanced US-Muslim Countries Collaborations, commemorating the one year anniversary of President Obama’s Cairo speech. Her report from the field came out this past week in the Huffington Post, and I’m most excited by the news that Lebanese rapper Malikah, the rising star of Beirut’s underground scene, got to perform at the conference. When Cynthia originally asked me to help her and the conference organizers pick a few Hip Hop artists to perform, I immediately thought of Malikah, representing the forefront of the female rap revolution and one of the best examples of the power of Hip Hop to inspire and embolden young women in the Middle East. There were a few other artists that I suggested, including Cairo’s kings, The Arabian Knightz, and the Syrian-American MC, Omar Offendum, who has performed and spoken at similar conferences in the past. However, the organizers were concerned that a Hip Hop program might offend some of the guests, which included a number of powerful muftis and other religious figures. But I’m very glad that Malikah, the most potentially-controversial of all the artists I suggested, by dint of her gender, made it to the stage.

Below is Cynthia’s post. Videos and an interview with Malikah coming soon.

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Obama sends Muslim country singer to Middle East

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

From my friends at Layalina Productions

The Sound of Music and Public Diplomacy

A statement released by the Department of State in April revealed that the Obama administration is providing funding for a music tour in the Middle East by an Egyptian-American country and pop singer, as part of its attempt to improve the Unites State’s relationship with the Muslim world and promote “respect for diverse cultures, faiths and traditions.”

This latest public diplomacy effort, inspired by the President’s Cairo speech, is aimed at building bridges between the two cultures through providing Middle Eastern audiences with an example of a rising American musical talent, and of America’s diversity of faith and heritage.

The 32-year-old singer/songwriter, Kareem Salama, headed to Cairo on April 26th for the tour’s opening performance, accompanied by three other accomplished musicians: Dan Workman, JJ Worthen and Michael Whitebread. The band is expected to be on tour for a whole month, visiting six other countries including Morocco, Kuwait, Bahrain, Syria, Jerusalem and Jordan.

Sending “America’s first Muslim country singer” to the Middle East is regarded as yet another State Department “soft-power” initiative to improve “Washington’s dented reputation across the Middle East,” writes James Reinel at The National.

Art advocates believe that beneficial outcomes may result from utilizing art as a cultural diplomacy initiative. According to Vishakha Desai, the president of the New York-based Asia Society, art has the ability to “humanize and create a more nuanced understanding” of the other and could be utilized to ease tensions and facilitate communication.

Despite the new budget set aside by the State Department for such efforts, Desai believes that funding is still lacking. “Money remains a huge issue. Even under the current administration with its tremendous interest in using arts and culture to advance public diplomacy, the truth is, there isn’t enough support,” she complains.

Still, Salama seems to show genuine interest in spreading the image of his homeland as an “inclusive country that welcomes newcomers” of all faiths. He maintains, “I want to learn from the people we meet, share my music, share my personal experiences and break some stereotypes and preconceived ideas about being an American Muslim,” adding that introducing country music in the region, if it happens, is a secondary goal.

During the Morocco segment of the tour, the band’s drummer, Mohsin Mohi-ud-Din, expressed his hope that their work would challenge the general misconception that all US Muslims suffer under “Islamophobic oppression,” reports The National. He explained, “Muslims have more freedom in America than they do in most Arab nations.”

In similar vein, a new Arab hip-hop movement has emerged consisting of rappers from across the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, who “have joined forces to spread their message and their music to audiences worldwide,” writes Joshua Asen for Foreign Policy. Some of the artists behind this movement include Shadia Mansour, the group DAM, Lowkey and the Narcicyst.

Asen describes this Arab hip-hop revolution, which Hamas tried to shut down, as a “powerful and natural ally.” He suggests that the State Department should rethink its approach to utilizing hip-hop, which “embodies both the spirit of diplomacy and that of armed resistance.”

However, Asen warns that the exclusion of the Palestinian territories and Gaza on the tour by the State Department may have seemed like the safer option, yet it comes at the expense of sacrificing the “best opportunity for real impact.”

In Somalia, an 11-member rap band called Waayaha Cusub, including one female, has been exiled to Kenya because its lyrics encourage Somalis to stand up to the Islamist rebel group al Shabaab, reports Asharq-Alawsat.

The group’s founder, Shine Abdullahi, who has survived an assassination attempt said, “We will wipe out the fear of our people that no one can speak out against [Somali Islamist insurgent group] Al-Shabaab… They misread our religion and kill people.”

Adbullahi remains optimistic that the band’s work may contribute to rid the country of the insurgent group. “This is real war. Those who refuse to honor their prophet cannot win,” he said.

US State Dept. sends Chen Lo to Vietnam

May 11, 2010 Leave a comment

After a successful tour of the Middle East and North Africa, the US State Dept. has dispatched Hip Hop ambassador Chen Lo on a tour of Vietnam.

From Vietnam News

US consulate sponsors hip-hop programme

HCM CITY — Three hip-hop performers from the US will conduct training programmes in Ha Noi, Hai Phong, HCM City and Can Tho between May 9 and 22.

Break dancer Brandon “Peace” Albright, rapper Chen Lo and DJ Scan will take part in the programme sponsored by the US Department of State and the US Consulate General in HCM City.

The programme is part of a series of events which the consulate organises to promote cultural exchange and mutual understanding between the people of the US and Viet Nam.

American hip hop is at the centre of a worldwide music and fashion trend that crosses social barriers and cuts across racial lines.

The group will conduct a two-day training and exchange programme (May 17-18) at the Dance School of HCM City for 35 local break dancers, rappers and DJs.

The training will include a brief history of hip hop and hands-on demonstrations of artistic techniques.

After HCM City, the group will travel to Can Tho City to conduct a similar programme on May 20 – 21 at the Can Tho Cultural Centre.

Each American hip-hop envoy has previously participated in US Department of State cultural exchange programmes in other countries.