Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday, Feb 29 at Univ. of East London: Meet 3 Arab Rap Superstars

If you're in London (or simply on the internet), you have an opportunity to meet 3 of world's greatest Arabic hip-hop MCs: Libya's Ibn Thabit, Egypt's Deeb, and Iraq and Canada's the Narcicyst. For you Ibn Thabit fans, this will be Ibn Thabit's first public appearance since he revealed his face and retired from hip-hop in November.

On Wednesday, February 29 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm GMT, Lecture Hall WBG.02 (click here for map) on the University of East London's Docklands campus will host an event called "Rap and the Arab Spring." The campus is across the street from the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) Cyprus Station, and they'll have signs to direct you from there. If you can't make it, you can still watch the event LIVE (details will be posted here) through a streaming broadcast from (1:30pm on the US East Coast, 7:30pm in Libya and Western Europe, 8:30pm in Egypt and Eastern Europe, 9:30pm in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, etc.)

Bassam Gergi and the folks at OpenAwakening and have worked hard and put together a fabulous panel, so please show them your support by attending tonight's event or tuning in online. You'll be glad you did. Ibn Thabit, Deeb, and Narcy are more than just sick MCs. They're three remarkable young activists, analysts, and poets who understand how social change in the Middle East really works. I've got videos, links, and descriptions after the jump, so check those out, too!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Has the "Arab Spring" Changed Arabic Hip Hop?

Big shout-out to Bassam Gergi and the OpenDemocracy and OpenAwakening people for publishing my article. Thanks! Click here to see the article on
Ever since "Arab Spring" became the dominant shorthand for the revolutionary uprisings that began in December 2010, writers have been taking issue with the term. Rami Khouri considers the phrase dehumanizing and Orientalist because it downplays the agency, initiative, and courage of people fighting for dignity against brutal, authoritarian regimes. Seasons just happen, but people make revolutions happen. In Arabic, the most common terms are intifada (uprising), sahwa (awakening), and thawra (a revolt or revolution). In English, I think the phrase "the Arab uprisings" works best because, with the partial exceptions of Libya and Tunisia, these events have not fundamentally transformed any country's social relations, political dynamics, or power structures. There have not been any revolutions yet. The injustices and deprivations that inspired the revolts remain largely intact, as does the influence of the local elites and international interests who have run the Arab world into the ground. The past year has witnessed a remarkable flowering of social and political consciousness in the Arab world.

In 2011, Arabic hip-hop, much like the Arab world itself, did not see any fundamental changes to the power structures than govern it. While the Arab uprisings certainly strengthened the social and political consciousness of Arabic hip-hop, that consciousness was already quite strong before 2011. The Arab uprisings gave Arabic hip-hop a new energy, vitality, and inter-connectedness, but except in Libya and perhaps Tunisia, they have not sparked any "revolutions" in the Arab world's hip-hop scenes.  

The Diaspora and the International Media
The Arab uprisings have changed Arabic hip-hop by greatly raising the profile of Arab rappers across the world and spurring intensive collaboration among them. As the producer Excentrik told Aisha Fukushima, "Yeah, there’s an Arab hip-hop scene, but it’s a global scene, it’s not like a localized’s random because it’s so big and so spread apart.” Before 2011, international coverage of Arab hip-hop artists was quite rare  The youth-driven nature of the recent uprisings, though, has made Arab rappers, especially those in the diaspora, a go-to source of insight. This can be problematic because western observers tend to overestimate Arabic hip-hop's role in the uprisings. Many also so enthusiastic about seeing Arabs adopt Western cultural forms that they often seem contemptuous of other cultures. Despite these problems, international media coverage plays a critical role in expanding Arabic hip-hop's audience, spreading the revolutionaries' message, and helping artists from across the diaspora and the Middle East forge a more unified, vibrant, and coherent Arab hip-hop movement.

Friday, February 3, 2012

My New Article in Italy's Corriere della Sera

The Milan-based daily Corriere della Sera has just published my new article about Arabic hip hop and the Arab Awakening. 

I want to thank Serena Danna of Corriere della Sera for reaching out to me and asking me to write an article for her newspaper. It's quite an honor to see my work appear in Italy's most respected and widely read daily and I am grateful for the opportunity. Many thanks as well to Ted Swedenburg and Hani of Hot Arabic Music for their input on the article and to Realityexpress for his/her constructive criticism of my "Hip Hop Revolution" piece on I think I conflated different Arabic hip hop scenes and movements a little too breezily in that piece, so I worked hard to make my Corriere article's analysis more nuanced, rigorous, and accurate. I had to jam everything that I considered essential to an introduction to Arabic hip hop into 700 words, so sometimes it felt like writing an entire article in haiku form. Fortunately, I was able to say most of what I wanted to say and I let the hyperlinks do the rest of the talking. 

I have a few other updates and things to share, as well:

#1 I have updated my El Général, Hip Hop, and the Tunisian Revolution post with some insightful comments about the Tunisian hip hop scene that SPIN's David Peisner, author of "Inside Tunisia's Hip-Hop Revolution," graciously shared with me. Check it out!

#2 I will soon be posting a lot of new song translations and subtitled videos, so please keep checking back for those. I'm also working on several more pieces about Arabic hip hop for that will be coming out this February.

#3 For my Corriere della Sera article, I interviewed Yaseen, a Libyan-American activist with who has spent a lot of time in Libya recently. Thanks again, Yaseen! Yaseen was the person who selected the songs on the Mish B3eed mixtape that released in early February 2011. For more on Mish B3eed, check out NPR's interviews with Abdulla Derrat, who did the artwork and promotion for the mixtape, on On The Media and PRI's The World. Mish B3eed is THE thing that made me an Arabic hip hop fan, so it was a lot of fun to talk to Yaseen about Libya, Ibn Thabit, MC Swat, and Arabic hip hop more generally. The following is a slightly edited transcript of our correspondence: