I’m often asked, “What value does Hip Hop have in the realm of cultural diplomacy?” A film review I read today in the
This explains how the same theme,
, 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
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
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
“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.
Photo Credit: Ridz Design (via
“In this song, I am claiming back its historical, political and revolutionary purpose. As you are aware, the ‘Kofeyye’ has been tastelessly commercialized and economically exploited worldwide. I feel that it is only right to give the people a thorough introduction and understanding of its symbolic existence.”
Already, the response has been remarkable, from impassioned messages of solidarity, to debates over the true origin of the so-called ‘Palestinian scarf’, to criticism of the attempt to reclaim as ‘Arab’ what has become an international symbol of resistance. Anthropologist and Hip Hop scholar Ted Swedenburg, in his recent
Closer examination of the lyrics, however, reveals a flaw in Dr. Swedenburg’s argument (which he, himself, admitted in a recent email). Shadia is not, in fact, trying to reclaim the
from commercialization as a fashion accessory for hipsters and celebrities. Rather, she is trying to reclaim it from a more dangerous group of
appropriators, the creators of the “
“I as a Jew am not offended by the Pope who wears a “kippah” and in the same respect, I don’t feel there is any reason for anyone taking offense to a Jewish person wearing a version of the Keffiyah which they identify with; especially considering the significance of this article of clothing in both of all of our histories.”
I, also as a Jew, am not buying this argument (nor the scarf) and feel compelled to call Mr. Safar and his supporters to task. First off, they have broken the first rule of Hip Hop: Be Original. Changing the color of the scarf and adding stars and a Zionist slogan does not make it a “remix”, just a shameless imitation. Furthermore, the claim of historical overlap does not supersede the fact that the kufiya has been recognized as a symbol of Arab/Palestinian pride for close to a century and appropriating it as a Zionist symbol is an inherently antagonistic act, especially given the present political context.
That said, I offer here a translation of Shadia’s lyrics, which win, hands down, this battle of symbols and language. Just ask the nearly 14,000 viewers who’ve watched & commented on her
Translation by Ouassim Addoula (aka. Big Moor)
Good morning cousins, y’all welcome, come in
What would you like us to serve you, Arab blood or tears from our eyes?
I think that’s how they expected us to receive them
That’s why they got embarrassed when they realized their mistake
That’s why we rocked the kuffiyeh, the white and black
Now these dogs are startin to wear it as a trend
No matter how they design it, no matter how they change its color
The kuffiyeh is Arabic, and it will stay Arabic
The gear we rock, they want it; our culture, they want it
Our dignity, they want it; everything that’s ours, they want it
Half your country, half your home; why, why? No, I tell em
Stealin’ something that ain’t theirs, I can’t allow it
They imitatin us in what we wear, wear; from this land enough, what else do you want?
About Jerusalem, Jerusalem, would they be worried, how can you humans?
Before y’all ever rocked a kuffiyeh, we here to remind em who we are
And whether they like it or not, this is our clothing style
That’s why we rock the kuffiyeh, cuz it’s patriotic
The kuffiyeh, the kuffiyeh is Arabic
That’s why we rock the kuffiyeh, our essential identity
The kuffiyeh, the kuffiyeh is Arabic
Come on, throw up the kuffiyeh (throw that kuffiyeh up for me)
The kuffiyeh, the kuffiyeh is Arabic
Throw it up, come on “Bilad Al Sham” (Greater Syria)
The kuffiyeh is Arabic, and it will stay Arabic
There’s none yet like the Arab people
Show me which other nation in the world was more influential
The picture is clear, we are the cradle of civilization
Our history and cultural heritage testify to our existence
That’s why I rocked the Palestinian gear
From Haifa, Jenin, Jabal al Nar to Ramallah
Let me see the kuffiyeh, the white and red
Let me throw it up in the sky; I’m
Arab, and my tongue creates earthquakes
I shake the words of war
Listen, I’m Shadia Mansour, and the gear I’m rockin is my identity
Since the day I was born raisin people’s awareness been my responsibility
But I was raised between fear and evil; between two areas
Between the grudging and the poor, I seen life from both sides
God bless the kuffiyeh; however you rock me, wherever you see me
I stay true to my origins, Palestinian
And here’s the kicker: the photo was not taken in some distant, “anti-American” land. It wasn’t even taken in some racist, redneck boondock. It was taken on West 123rd Street, in the heart of Harlem, at the Atlah World Missionary Church. I felt compelled to find out what else the good Pastor James David Manning had to say, so I visited the church’s
- Exploring the lies taught by our “leaders” who have used slavery as the means to incite hatred of white people to perpetuate the lies.
- Exposing the ill effects of the media moguls of Jay-z, 50 Cent, and others upon Black youth.
- Exposing the Magnificent Seven – Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Bill Clinton, T.D. Jakes, Louis Farrakan, Don King, and Cornell West, as the American witch doctors.
And here’s a taste of the Pastor’s rhetoric, as it concerns President Obama’s decision to send Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to Haiti after the earthquake.
In the end, I’m still not quite sure what this says about America and Obama and Muslims but I do see just how closely our struggle with race (which, contrary to stupid opinion, did not “end” with the election of Mr. Obama) and our struggle with religion are linked in this country, making the identity (and authority) of Obama doubly controversial. What is also clear is the power of visual storytelling, specifically in the form of film and video, in manipulating that identity for the purposes of communicating either love or hate. We’re yet to see many Obama portrayals in film but I suspect we’ll yet see many more, and especially from the rest of the world, who is just as busy as we trying to figure out how the land of opportunity could become the land of paranoia.
And, in the great tradition of art imitating life, this point proved true last summer when Shah Rukh Khan, the actor who plays Khan in the film, was
By the end of the 2.5hr film, Khan has also journeyed to a poor village in the deep South and helped save a Black church after a Katrina-esque hurricane, establishing an interesting link between Muslims and African-Americans and setting up the requisite happy ending (a natural law in Bollywood) in which the newly-elected President Obama awards Khan for his heroism and says to him, “Your name is Khan and you are not a terrorist!”. Then everyone in the crowd joins hands to sing “We Shall Overcome” and we all live tolerantly ever after.
But only in the movies. In the real world, President Obama has fallen well short of the promise he made last April, in
Meanwhile, the White House recently announced the
In honor of all the Khans in the US and abroad who are not terrorists, I will withhold my applause until Mr. Obama and his special representatives actually get on the stage and start singing the song they promised us all we would hear. They may not know the exact words yet, but it couldn’t hurt to take a cue from one very hopeful Hindi film and just start humming “We Shall Overcome”.
Here’s a teaser from the official website with a familiar melody…
And here’s the full trailer with English subtitles
My first two tweets coming out of seeing “
With their world already set, Copti and Shani chose to cast mostly non-professional actors from the neighborhood of Ajami. This is a hugely ballsy move, especially for first-time directors, but it pays off in spades as the characters in the film consistently behave and speak in ways that are not at all ‘larger than life’ but rather completely life-like. The directors spent a year in workshops with the cast, placing them in dramatic situations and encouraging them to act exactly as they would in real life, using language that they would use in real life. For the film itself, they often worked without a script or without telling the actors what was going to happen next, so as to elicit the most pure, gut reactions. That is exactly what they got and it makes for some of the most gripping emotional performances I’ve ever seen on the big screen.
Naturally, an authentic location and authentic neighborhood cast call for an authentic shooting style, which “
But perhaps the most impressive (or, at least, notable) meta-narrative operating within “
When the film premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer, it brought down the house and was immediately hailed as the film of the year, which it won (as well as Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Editing) at the Israeli version of the Oscars, the Ophir Awards. It has since been nominated for Best Foreign Film for the upcoming Academy Awards.
I’ll resist the urge to wax political about the lessons that can be drawn from the success of this Arab-Israeli, Christian-Jewish, Euro-Israeli collaboration. Suffice it to say that such lessons are abundant, but not nearly as significant, perhaps, as the artistic triumph that was achieved by the brave co-directors. On second thought, “artistic triumph” is far too lofty a description of what they did. Instead, I’d like to qualify their triumph as one of truth and honesty in storytelling. Whether documentary or fiction, scripted or improvised, the boundaries of filmmaking in the Imagination Age are not only expanded by advancements in technology (read: “Avatar”) but, maybe more so, by the filmmakers themselves who are willing to forego the artifices of cinema and lay bare the raw humanity of everyday life on film. For me, this was the true power of “
Watch the trailer and then go see the film.
If you haven’t already seen the new Sundance channel reality/doc series, “
My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency , public participation , and collaboration . Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
Over months of shooting and 5 hour-long episodes, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark (
Please notice the posting by a Youtube member (unaffiliated with the school or the show) of Facebook and Twitter links for “OurBrickCity” and “CoryBooker”, as well as the positive comments from actual students and supporters of Principal Baraka. I would call that a very effective partnership between Education, Media, and Government, and the public to rally wide support behind a change-initiative. It’s transparent, it’s open, it’s participatory, it’s collaborative, and it aims to build trust between partners. In fact, the Producers Guild of America recently hosted a panel to discuss “Brick City” as a
But more than just the effectiveness of increasing visibility for the show and, ostensibly, support for the various causes that it champions, “Brick City” introduces a whole new way to (literally) look at governance: as a fully transparent, interactive, publicly-accountable system of leadership.
Here’s a little promo reel. Many more clips at the
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