Playing For Change

May 7, 2009

Man, I wish I could sing.

Big Pimpin’ Abdel Halim

December 6, 2008

We are doing presentations of songs and famous Egyptian singers in my amiyya class and I chose to present Abdel Halim Hafez, the “Dark Nightingale.” I did not know much about him other than that he has a beautiful voice and is one of the most-loved Egyptian singers, and in doing a bit of research on him I came across an interesting fact. Hip-hop producer Timbaland re-recorded two bars from Hafez’s song “Khosara” which were then used in Jay-z’s hit “Big Pimpin’. This of course caused a lot of controversy because Timbaland did not credit the song and was accused of copyright infringement, etc. However, I think he got off the hook because he did not sample the music but rather re-recorded it. Regardless, he should have credited Hafez at least out of respect to the man who was such an Egyptian musical giant.

If you have never heard Abdel Halim, I strongly suggest you check him out. A number of his albums can be found on Itunes. Abdel Halim also acted and here is a clip from the movie “Fata Ahlami (The Man of My Dreams)” in which he sings “Khosara.” See if you can recognize the first two bars.

DAM Concert

November 10, 2008

I went to see the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM this past weekend at the Sawy Cultural Center in Cairo. A really good Egyptian hip-hop group opened for them, rapping in mostly English and some Arabic. The beats were really good. I was impressed. The Egyptian group, called The Pharaohs, gave it up for their main inspiration, Tupac. I remember reading an article in the one sociology class I took in undergrad about the transnational nature of hip-hop and hip-hop culture. How teenagers in Japan, for example, were rapping, wearing baggy clothing, and listening to American hip-hop groups. It explained how they used hip-hop as an outlet for their societal frustration, for expressing themselves when there wasn’t always another available medium.

I know of the DAM guys first and foremost through a friend, Sameh, “the Arabic beatbox,” who often collaborates with them. Sameh stayed at my house for a weekend when I was in high school with a program called Friends of Open House. I haven’t really kept up with the friendships I made in the program or with the program itself, but the idea is to bring together Israeli and Palestinian children who live in Ramle, a mixed Israeli-Arab town in Israel, to talk about the issues.

Anyway, the concert was great and there was a lot of energy. Of course, DAM is a political group and politics are part of their songs and their concerts. I cringed during one of their most famous songs called “Who is a Terrorist? (Min Irhabi?).” The chorus goes like this:

Who’s a terrorist?
I’m a terrorist?
How I am a terrorist
When you’ve taken my land?!
Who’s a terrorist?
You’re the terrorist!
You’ve taken everything I own
While I’m living in my homeland

This is a very strong message. But I think it is important to hear what people are saying and try to understand what they are feeling. They called Bush a terrorist, and they called “the occupation” a terrorist. I thought that was interesting. Instead of saying Israel is a terrorist state or the Jews are terrorists, they attacked the occupation. I think that says something. At the end of the show, they lifted their arms and made the peace sign. The group has collaborated with Israeli artists in order to bridge the gaps between Israeli and Palestinian youth through music.

I may not like or agree with everything these guys say, and their message is not always the most positive, but instead of blowing themselves up, instead of firing rockets, they are rapping and making music.

Here is another interesting article on DAM and their relationship with Israeli rapper Subliminal.