Thursday, October 31, 2013

hip capitalism: kale from jail

A report on Soprafinna's and Cicchetti, restaurants in Chicago.

Isn't it so cool and hip and botique-y when restaurants promote local and natural food production? and use recyclable and biodegradable products? and produce tapas with a 'Venetian twist'? and use eco-friendly design?

And then there is, as Doug Henwood has quipped, kale from jail: 'Both new eateries will tap local sources for produce, including a new partnership with the Cook County Department of Corrections that's already underway with Mr. Rosenthal's other restaurants for naturally grown tomatoes, kale, squash, beets and more.'

(Thanks to Adolph for this one.)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bahram Hajou's kufiya art

I know very little about Syrian-Kurdish neo-expressionist painter Bahram Hajou, but I like this painting, called "Menschen," featuring kufiyas.

Here's Bahram's website. And if you read German (he is based in Münster), check this out.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Omar Souleyman's new release "Wenu Wenu" (and the question of politics)

 Syrian dabke singer Omar Souleyman has a new album out, Wenu Wenu, his first album produced specifically with a Western audience in mind. And he has been getting lots and lots of publicity.

In The Guardian. Where he says: "My music has no influences," and "I'm not into politics, I don't know any solution."

In Rolling Stone. Where Souleyman says "he's never felt pressure to join any political parties, or lend support to the government." And we learn that Syria dabke expert Shayna Silverstein  

once went to a Souleyman show where a couple of concertgoers from Beirut, the cosmopolitan capital of Lebanon, crinkled their nose at the singer.

"They said, 'Oh, I don't understand why he is representing our culture. They should really invite Marcel Khalife'"...

In Spin, two articles.

The first calls Souleyman "[o]ne of the hottest stars of indie music," a quite remarkable designation, and one, the article underscores, which is quite unlikely. It goes on to say that, "Without a doubt, Omar Souleyman is the most popular Syrian wedding singer in the Western world. Beyond President Bashar al-Assad, he may be the next Syrian who an American music fan could name."

Souleyman calls attention to Syria's drastic water crisis, which played a major role in turning him into a musician: 'If the region hadn't fallen into a crippling drought, Souleyman might have remained a farmer. "It's a problem in the region," he says. "Even the wells have dried up and there are many issues with bringing water to people."'

On the paradox of Souleyman's success in the West: 'Zayid Al-Baghdadi, a criminal defense lawyer from Baghdad, says that neither he nor any of his Syrian friends had ever heard of Souleyman until he moved to Montreal. "When I first saw Omar perform here, I was just amazed by the cultural clash between him and the audience," he wrote via e-mail. "Here you have a middle-aged Arab man dressed in traditional bedouin clothing and a crowd of intoxicated, pot-smoking hipsters dancing frantically to his music. I think what has added to Omar's appeal in the West is the fact that his music has been slightly tweaked to better suit modern Western dance-music tastes."'

The other publicizes the release of the album and the video "Warni Warni," which really does kick ass.

Check out the two videos from the new release, "Warni Warni":

And "Wenu Wenu": 

Both are great, but it may be that, as some observers claim, the sounds of the keyboards (which imitate the mijwiz, used in traditional dabke, may have been softened up to suit the Western ear.

Of course, Souleyman's arrival on the "indie" scene isn't brand new -- for instance, he played Glastonbury in 2011:

And Bonaroo the same year:

It also seems to be the case that Souleyman is not as apolitical as it seems. Check out this song he did in tribute to Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Asad. 

Since it took me about 5 seconds to find this, you would imagine that at least one of the music journalists writing about Souleyman could have asked him about this song. I in no way want to trash Souleyman here for this recording, given that so many artists were forced to make such compromises (or felt they had to) in order to maintain their careers under Bashar's rule, but I do wonder why none of the journalists who have interviewed Souleyman bothered to do the research to find this, and ask the question.

The kind of "electronic dabke" produced by Souleyman is not unique to him alone, for there are a number of Syrians recording and performing in a similar vein. One who I particularly like is Saria al-Sawas, who I believe is better known in Syria and is more urbane than Souleyman.

Check out this video of her performing "Hajar" for a wedding (the bread and butter for such musicians):

If you like this one, go look for some more vids. There are lots out there. And also lots more of Omar Souleyman.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Algerian twist

Check out this youtube video from apollon1965 (who is no doubt Algerian), where he plays one side of an e.p. by an Algerian singer named Karoudji. The first track, "Brigitte Bardot Bardot," is very Cuban in its feel, especially when you get to the piano interlude starting at about 1:15, and it's not really a twist. Karoudji sings it in that distinctive francarabe style developed by Algerian popular musicians beginning in at least the 1930s.

I am unable to make out the title of second track (starting at 2:55) from the record jacket. It opens with a kind of flamenco guitar intro, but then shifts into a cover of Chubby Checker's 1961 hit "Let's Twist Again," which hit #8 on the US charts, and charted throughout Europe as well. "Let's Twist Again" in Algerian Arabic! It's a pretty decent cover too, rockin' sax solo.

According to apollon1965, Karoudj was a singer originally from Oran, who sang rock'n'roll and twist in the early 1960s. I'm not sure whether this was recorded prior to Algerian independence (July 1962) or after.

I've been able to find out nothing else about Karoudj thus far other than the fact that he also recorded a cover of Johnny Hallyday's 1961 single "24,000 Baisers." (It must have been a hit in France, as it was covered by several other artists, among them Dalida and Bob Azzam.) Here's the cover of Karoudji's EP.

According to the writeup by the website, Karoudji recorded "24,000 Baisers" in French. The other tracks, "Si Tu Voulais," "Twist à B.B.," "Zinek," "Yasmina," and "Rock's Twist," seem to have been recorded in Arabic. The EP was released in 1963 (after independence) on the La Voix du Globe label, in Oran and Paris.

There is also a film about the twist in Algeria, director Mahmoud Zemmouri's Les Folles Années du twist (The Golden Years of the Twist), released in 1986. I've only seen some clips of it, but it is about two young Algerian men who are obsessed with rock'n'roll and dressing like hip rocksters and are disinterested in either working or the war of liberation. The only information I have about the music in the soundtrack is that it features at least one song by French pop star Richard Anthony, known for covering US rock'n'roll songs in French (as was Johnny Hallyday). Anthony even did a version of "Let's Twist Again," which he recorded in English.

Anthony was born Ricardo Anthony Btesh, in 1938 in Cairo. Son of a textile manufacturer originally from Syria, he lived the privileged life of the Levantine in pre-revolutionary Egypt, and was of course a polyglot, schooled in the UK and France. He launched his music career by recording covers of US rock songs in French, and had his first major hit as a rocker in France in 1958. 

There's another late-fifties early-sixties Algerian rock'n'roller -- Mahieddine Bentir, who put out "Optimiste Twist" in 1964. The song won the prize of the 5th festival de la chanson méditerraneéne (about which I've not been able to find anything). He sings it in French, but it has just a bit of Eastern flavor, and he even calls it a "twist Orientale." Music and lyrics were composed by Bentir himself. Perhaps the optimism he expresses is that of his newly independent country. It's recorded with a French group, Jean Claudric et son orchestre, who appeared on numerous French recordings (including some by the Algerian Jew and French pop star Enrico Macias, born Gaston Ghenassia), and it was put out on the El Frida label (which I assume is Algerian). (The song also seems also to have been issued under the name "Manach Dalam (Twist Oriental)" on the Spanish label Vergara.)

There is an even more remarkable rock'n'roll song from Bentir, very jazzy, called "Scooter," which I really love. This one is sung in Arabic. It's not clear when it was released, some sources say late fifties, others early sixties. It really rocks.

The only other track I've been able to find from Bentir is the rock song, "Prête-moi mille balles" (Lend me a thousand bullets), which apparently evokes the Algerian revolution. 

Bentir was by all accounts an important figure in this period, but I've not been able to find out much about him, and some of what I've found seems unreliable. For instance, the claim that he placed second in the 1966 Eurovision contest, and although his song was clearly superior, he was denied a victory because he was an Arab. But in fact he was not an entrant in Eurovision, that year or any year. (Algeria does not compete in Eurovision, in any case.)

But we do know for certain that Bentir was prominent enough to have been one of those Arab artists who appeared on Algerian television during the colonial period (between 1958 and 1962). Here's a photo of a Bentir appearance from 1959, which I took from the very fine documentary Alger Oran Paris: Les années music-hall.

Last note: I love this EP cover, put out by Philips in France, which was once for sale on-line, but alas, no more.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Love amid the ruins

I learned about this amazing and appalling vid from Edo Konrad, writing for the great +972 blog.

The vid features the Nahal Band (Lahakat HaNahal), a well-known music and theater group attached to the Nahal Group, combat units in which military service was combined with agricultural work on new agricultural settlements and kibbutzim. That is, we're talking about an music group sponsored by the Israeli military.

The video shows members of the group singing a love song and driving their jeep around over rugged, first on land where prickly pear cactus (sabr in Arabic, sabra in Hebrew) is growing. Palestinians would of course immediately recognize the cactus as the sign that this was the site of a Palestinian village, as Palestinian peasants typically planted sabr as a kind of fencing around their communities. (And the prickly pear is a delicious fruit.) Then we see the Nahal Band singing on the site of a ruined Palestinian village, one of the some 418 Palestinian villages and towns destroyed in the wake of the 1948-49 war.

I have no idea which of the many destroyed villages it is (I saw several when I did my fieldwork in 1984-85). According to Konrad, the film was probably shot in the mid-60s. The ruins, characteristically, are made to look quite old, so as not to give any impression that the inhabitants would in fact have been evacuated (in an act of ethnic cleansing) less than 20 years prior to the shoot.

The love song is “He Didn’t Know Her Name” by the celebrated songwriter and poet Haim Hefer, who died just a year ago. He was a canonical composer associated with the "heroic" years of the Zionist movement, who wrote for the Palmach, for the Nahal Band, and for classic Israeli films, including famous ones that date with Israel's Mizrahi (Jewish Arab) population, Salah Shabbati and Kazablan. (I've blogged about the latter and how it manages to simultaneously evoke and erase the Arabness of Jaffa, where it is set, and the "Eastern" character of its protagonists, who are Moroccan Jews. Hefer's compositions for the film, which are very far from the kind of music that Moroccan Jews in Israel were actually singing and performing at the time, play a role in this erasure/evocation.) Hefer was also the composer of another canonical Zionist song, "The Red Rock," a song about Petra, the famous Nabataean city in southern Jordan. According to Rebecca Stein, "Petra was a place long immortalized in Israeli myth, the subject of collective longing, popular song [most notably Hefer's], and children’s stories. Beginning in the 1950s, clandestine travel to this Nabatean city had been a virtual rite of passage for young Israeli men who risked their lives in enemy Jordanian territory for a glimpse of the city’s celebrated red sandstone cliff."

Fitting, then, that, given who Hefer was, that he be buried in Ein Hod Artists’ Village, in accordance with his wishes.

Ein Hod, as anyone who has read Susan Slyomovics' book The Object of Memory or seen Rachel Leah Jones' documentary 500 Dunam on the Moon knows, was founded in 1953, on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Ayn Hawd, whose residents had been expelled. The charm and beauty of the artists' colony is largely a product of the original Palestinian village architecture, which was restored and remodeled according to the new residents' preferences. Imagine that the ruins we see in the video above were transformed into a quaint, bohemian artists' abode. That's what Ein Hod is, and this has been the fate of many Palestinian "ruins" throughout Israel, in West Jerusalem (for instance Ein Karem), Safad, Jaffa...

The video is a potentially a great teaching tool, particularly if you are using texts like Slyomovics or Rochelle Davis' Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced or chapter two ("Scenes of Erasure") of my book, Memories of Revolt.

I wish someone who reads this would identify the village in the Nahal Band video.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tunisian rappers form union; Klay BBJ acquitted

Tunisia's rappers, of all Arab hip-hop artists, continue to be the most politicized. At least it would so appear.

BBC News reported on October 15 that Tunisian rappers are forming a union to defend their interests. According to the Italian news agency ANSA, "Born under the guidance of a minor trade federation called the CGL, the rappers union has little to do with work contracts and a lot to do with sending a signal to the powers that be. These appear unable to take any criticism, no matter where they come from, and especially if they call for social change."

Klay BBJ

 Meanwhile, AhramOnline reported on October 19 that rapper Klay BBJ (named after boxer Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali), had been acquitted on appeal, after serving six months of his jail sentence of 21 months. He had been convicted of insulting government officials, undermining public morals, and defamation, based on a performance he did together with rapper Weld El 15 during a concert at a sea resort south of Tunis. Weld El 15, notorious for his song "Boulicia Kleb" (Cops Are Dogs), was also convicted, but remains at large. (I wrote a brief post on Weld El 15 in April, here.)

 Aymen El-Fikih (l), Mustapha Fakhfakh (r) photo: AFP

Tunisian rappers Mustapha Fakhfakh and Aymen El-Fikih for their part are about to go to trial for "insulting public officials" and "affronting morals" in the course of protests surrounding the trial of Weld El 15.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Ziad al Rahbani's "Yellah Keshour Bara" and Sabreen's "Maz'ooj"

 I remember how blown away I was by Sabreen's album Maz'ooj, released in 2002. I particularly liked the songs which featured actor Mohammad Bakri's deep-bass spoken vocals (he is pictured on the bottom right on the album cover). And I also liked how the group incorporated, on a number of songs, a kind of hip-hop vibe. Listen, for instance, to the song "Wala‘" (Set Alight).

I had always thought that the album was so completely unique, that there was nothing like it.

And then I was listening again to Ziad al Rahbani's 1985 album Houdou Nisbi (which I picked up in Beirut in March), and noticed that Ziad's vocals on the song "Yellah Keshou Barra" are spoken as well, and Ziad's very clever, disco-ish, arrangement, as well as his deep, spoken vocals...remind me of Bakri on Maz'ooj. Listen to it here.

Could Ziad have been an influence on Sabreen when they recorded Maz'ooj?

more R'n'B turbans

Thanks to Nabeel for informing me about this gallery of African-American entertainers turbans, posted by Freddie Patterson for India Music Week.

If you've followed this blog, you will know that I don't just post about kufiyas, and sometimes do post on turbans on occasion. And I've posted some of the same photos as found in the gallery, and about most of the same artists. You can see my turban postings here -- there are quite a few.

But there were some revelations nonetheless. I just love this photo of R'n'B giant Louis Jordan.

And Aretha Franklin in a turban:

I had posted a photo of singer The Mighty Hannibal in a turban previously, but I found this vid, of him singing "Jerkin' the Dog," on a TV show, I guess, to be quite fun.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Kufiyaspotting: Paula Deen

This is a weird one, eh? Paula Deen, the celebrity chef lately accused of uttering racial epithets, was the Grand Marshal for the 2011 Rose Bowl Parade. She appeared in publicity photos wearing a red kufiya. Red, I guess, because it was the Rose Bowl, and she is from a "red state." But the kufiya???