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Cynthia & Malikah in Alexandria

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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“Muslim Woodstock”?

From Maytha Alhassen, a Ph.D. student studying Muslim American identity at the University of Southern California and blogging for CNN .

The Narcicyst and Omar Offendum take the stage.

Some have facetiously referred to it as the Muslim Woodstock.

But for all the differences between 1969’s three days of peace and music and Saturday’s  Takin’ it to the Streets festival in Chicago —a daylong Muslim-led arts and music festival—there is some truth to the comparison.

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US State Dept. sends Chen Lo to Vietnam

After a successful t our 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.

Awlaki’s other admirer: MC Abu Nurah

As the Western newsmedia went back into panic mode last week after the failed terrorist attack in Times Square , we learned very quickly that the main suspect, Faisal Shahzad, was not only linked to the Pakistani Taliban and other Al Qaeda affiliates, but was yet another follower of the prolific Yemeni-American Islamist cleric  Anwar Al Awlaki . Awlaki was a source of inspiration, if not direct encouragement, for the so-called “underwear bomber” from Christmas, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, as well as the army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood in November, Nidal Malik Hasan. Even before Mr. Shahzad parked the Pathfinder in Times Square, President Obama had  signed a secret order authorizing the killing of Awlaki , making him Global Terrorist #1.

However, there are many who would argue that the targeting of Imam Awlaki is little more than the latest attempt by the US government to create a public enemy in order to justify increased military action against countries like Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.  One such skeptic whose own profile resembles that of the “well-educated, well-heeled”  Abdulmutallab and Shahzad, is American-born, Harvard-educated rapper Abu Nurah . His defense of Imam Awlaki, though it may land him on the Terrorist Expatriation List , calls neither for violence nor terror, but rather a transition from blind patriotism to informed activism, which he captures in the title of his new album: “ Don’t Be A Citizen ”.

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Arab Hip Hop All-Stars assemble in Brooklyn

This past Friday night will go down in the history of Hip Hop as the night that the leaders of the Arab Hip Hop movement, DAM The Narcicyst Lowkey , and  Shadia Mansour , first performed together on stage. And where else could an event like this take place? None other than Brooklyn’s own  Southpaw . For anyone who was there, it was a truly remarkable evening, with each artist building on the excitement of the others to take their individual performances beyond where they might normally be at a solo show. And the energy from the crowd, over 500 strong, rockin their “ Slingshot Hip Hop ” t-shirts and, of course, their black and white kufiyas , was more than just people having a good time. They were giving their own energy back to the artists, with their bodies and voices, as if to make their own physical contribution to what, in this case, amounts to a musical rally. Truly a testament to the force of this supergroup, and the force of the Arab Hip Hop movement as a unified force, to garner support for the political causes that they address, including, perhaps most crucially, the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, as articulated in the anthem ”Long Live Palestine”, which they performed together here ( lyrics here ):

Witnessing the massive crowd of young people in Brooklyn bumpin their heads and pumpin their fists in solidarity gave me one of those rare glimmers of hope that our generation may yet have a positive and lasting impact on relations between the Middle East and the West. By creating a transatlantic union of Hip Hop fans and artists who are willing to speak out for justice and freedom, at concerts, rallies, and on social media networks, Shadia, DAM, Narcy and Lowkey are multiplying the impact of their music, and their message, exponentially. I commend them for this unified effort and encourage them to continue on their mission. After all, this is the highest (and perhaps only true) goal of Hip Hop: to effect change through music, as opposed to violence.

On that idealistic note, let me join brother Narcy and sister Shadia in saying, Hamdu’llah.

Videos & photo via Joe Seago

Shadia Mansour wins back the Arab Kufiya

Photo Credit: Ridz Design (via Illuminarcy Blog )

Last month, Palestinian Hip Hop star, Shadia Mansour , released the much-anticipated first single from her forthcoming debut album, “ El Kofeye 3arabeye ”/”The Kofeyye is Arabic”, featuring M-1 from the pro-Palestinian US rap group, Dead Prez . Prior to the release of the single, Shadia posted the following teaser video on Youtube, with this message about the song:

“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 lecture on the history of the kufiya at the Palestine Center, argues, “To try to reclaim the kufiya as simply Arab would be analogous to trying to reclaim rap music as African-American.”)

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 kufiya from commercialization as a fashion accessory for hipsters and celebrities. Rather, she is trying to reclaim it from a more dangerous group of kufiya appropriators, the creators of the “ Israeli Keffiyeh ”, embroidered with blue Stars of David and the words “Long Live the People Israel” stitched across the top. The scarf was designed by a  Brooklyn-based Jewish Hip Hop promoter (I know, I know, it takes one to know one) who claims that his ancestors were wearing variations on the kufiya in ancient Yemen. In response to the “offense” taken by his “Arab friends”, Erez Safar offers this defense:

“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 promo video (versus the 52 who’ve watched “ Israeli Keffiyeh & DeScribe Live ”), or the 500+ that showed up last night at Brooklyn’s Southpaw for an Arab Hip Hop showcase featuring  DAM , The Narcicyst , Lowkey , and, of course, Shadia Mansour , with over 50 rockin the black and white checks, by my kufiya kount . As Jay-Z might put it to the creators of the Israeli kufiya, “We don’t believe you, you need more people.”

Translation by Ouassim Addoula (aka. Big Moor)

Verse 1

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

Chorus

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

Verse 2

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

Chen Lo & the Liberation Family tour the Middle East/North Africa with the US State Dept. & Jazz at Lincoln Center

April 24, 2010 1 comment

Photo credit: Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center

My peoples  Chen Lo and the Liberation Family just returned from an incredible tour of the Middle East and North Africa, sponsored by the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and  Jazz at Lincoln Center , as part of the Rhythm Road program. The 4-member Brooklyn-based Hip Hop band, composed of vocalist Chen Lo, bassist Baassik, turntablist/producer DJ Scandales, and percussionist Ken White, traveled to Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, coordinated by the local American Embassies. And, the best part is, they actually got to perform with some prominent local groups, such as  NORES in Salé, Morocco;  Murder Eyez in Aleppo, Syria; and  DJ Lethal Skillz in Beirut, Lebanon. Kudos to the State Department and its embassies for selecting reallocal groups in each city (as opposed to unknown amateurs who just fit the part). Here’s a clip from their visit to Salé, Morocco (via the  US Embassy in Rabat and Hit Radio ):

More videos, photos, and personal blogging from Chen Lo and the fam at:

http://lofrequencymusic.com/


My name is Khan (or Hussain)… (pt. 2)

When I was blogging last night about the film “My Name is Khan” , and its intersection with President Obama, it did not yet occur to me that the greatest irony of the film is not the Muslim Indian actor named Khan playing a Muslim Indian hero named Khan, who must tell the president that he’s “not a terrorist”. Oh no, not by far. It took the photo above to remind me that the greatest irony here is that Khan, both the actor and the character, had to make this confession to a man who is also considered a terrorist because of his Muslim surname, which, in this case, happens to be Hussain.

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 website and boy, did I find out. From what I can tell, Atlah is a predominately Black, evangelical church, school, and would-be media producer that counts among its ministries :

  • 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.

Arab rapper X Jewish Rapper: Mazzi & Sneakas

Having just completed my last post about the Arab-Israeli film “Ajamai” ,  I felt it only right to brave the (second) blizzard of aught-ten to go see Mazzi & Sneakas, your favorite rapper’s favorite Arab-Israeli rap duo, at the world-famous Nuyorican Poets Café . The pair were performing alongside their spoken word sisters, the veiled Palestinian poetess, Tahani Salah , and the ‘Jewish Mamita’, Vanessa Hidary , as part of the Tug of War Tour , a project they describe on Facebook as a “thought-provoking and multi-dimensional artistic endeavor that explores narratives of conflict and co-existence between Muslims and Jews”. After seeing the show last night, I am prepared to cosign that description. The rappers’ lyrics and the women’s words relayed stories that made me think, laugh, and then think some more about the state of co-existence between Muslims and Jews the world over. Indeed, it is laughably and tragically poor.

And yet, witnessing performances like this one keeps me stocked with confidence that my generation, the Hip Hop generation, has the power to change the narrative, nay, is already changing it. I saw this last week in “ Ajami “, imagining the young co-directors, one Arab Christian, the other Israeli Jew, working together for 7 years to realize a vision of storytelling in the Middle East that noone had realized (or perhaps even had) before. And I saw it last night, as 4 New Yorkers, two male, two female, two Jews, two Muslims, took to the stage in a display of artistic solidarity that was neither corny nor cheesy, but completely genuine, proving that concepts like ‘collaboration’, ‘cooperation’ and ‘coexistence’ do not have to be cynical punchlines or pie-in-the-sky dreamings, but real goals that we can strive for in life as in art.

Here’s one highlight from Mazzi & Sneakas’ set, where the two pair off in a cultural rap battle that could only happen in Jew York Medina. As Sneakas puts it, “We’re all Jews, we’re all Arabs, we’re all the same, yada, yada, yada.”

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Gov 2.0 x Reality TV: Brick City

If you haven’t already seen the new Sundance channel reality/doc series, “ Brick City ” (Sundays at 9PM EST), then you haven’t experienced one of the best examples of the use of new media to create better, more transparent governance, or what is now popularly referred to as ‘Gov 2.0′. President Obama, in his “Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government” , explains:

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 ( @CoryBooker on Twitter, another great example of Booker’s commitment to Gov 2.0) opens up his office, his city, and his own life to the Emmy-deserving cameras of Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin (“The Last Party”, “The Blues”). And not only Booker, the energetic, Ivy league-educated, community organizer (remind you of anyone?) 1st term mayor, who defeated longtime incumbent Sharpe James (see Oscar-nominated doc “Street Fight” ), and has made it his mission to rebrand Newark as a city on the rise. But also the Police Director, who is fighting not only the gangs on the street but his political opponents within the Department; a former gang-member turned women’s activist, who is pregnant with her second child (by her boyfriend from the rival gang) and also facing multiple years in prison for an assault in 2004; the principal of one of the city’s underfunded public high-schools, who is trying to put pressure on the school board to make good on their promise of a new school building; even the governor, former Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine, makes a few cameos. So, how does this all add up to a case study of effective use of Gov 2.0 strategies? Not to be a pain in the ass, but you’ll really have to watch to understand. The best I can do is explain that it’s all in the way each character uses the power of the camera to connect with the virtual community that has grown around the show, from its fans, watching live, streaming clips, commenting, tweeting, retweeting, and in other ways multiplying the impact of the show’s content and various change-agenda; the way those characters use the show as part of a multi-platform social media campaign to promote their individual causes. This allows Cory Booker to be tweeting about Newark’s “achievements” as they unfold on the screen and in the online forums and episode guides. It allows  ex-gangmember Jayda to promote her peer group, Nine Strong Women , and provide professional video content to its website. It allows Central Highschool Principal Ras Baraka to make an impassioned speech to his students about the abnormalcy of gang violence and have it reach audiences across the state and country, even the world (see below).

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 ‘New Media Marketing Case Study’ .

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 Sundance site.

This post originally appeared on The Imagination Blog.

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