Music, Immigration and Transnationalism: Shadia Mansour and Excentrik

For our shared discoveries this week, I decided to research Arab rap and hip hop, since it is an area I really know nothing about. The two songs I have chosen I like both for their message and their sound. The first is in Arabic by Palestinan-British artist Shadia Mansour (featuring American rapper M1), the second in English by Palestinian-American artist Excentrik.

I chose Mansour’s first single, the Keffiyeh is Arab because I think it raises a lot of good questions about cultural appropriation. Written when she discovered that an American company had created a blue and white version of the Keffiyeh with stars of David on it, the lyrics are a call for maintaining the Keffiyeh’s cultural roots, taking pride in that Arab identity and condemning those who have already taken so much (They imitatin’ us in what we wear, wear/ this land is not enough for them/ What else do you want?).

Both in the lyrics of the song and in her interview in Rolling Stone Magazine, Mansour talks about her conflicted identity as an artist in the diaspora (I was raised between fear and evil/ between two areas/ Between the grudging and the poor/ I seen life from both sides) who shares pain and cultural identity with those living in the occupied territories, but with access to privileges they don’t have. M1’s rap connects the situation of the oppressed in Palestine to the situation of the oppressed in the United States (M1 in solidarity from the ghetto to Gaza), where issues of cultural appropriation are also important in the context of the African American community.

In the video M1 wears a Keffiyeh and raps: the Keffiyeh ain’t no scarf/ it’s part of the movement…tie that thing around your head and rhyme/ wave it in the air and let me know what side you on. Who has the right to wear the Keffiyeh? Only Arabs? Non-arab allies like M1 who understand it’s cultural significance? Is it the changing of the Keffiyeh from an Arab to Israeli symbol that Mansour finds most disrespectful, or the transformation of an important cultural symbol into something hollow and ‘trendy’? In what contexts do the use of cultural symbols by other groups become appropriation? Can taking aspects of a marginalized culture out of their context for use by a dominant culture ever be ethical?

Shadia Mansour. The Kuffiyeh is Arab

“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 Arab, and it will stay Arab.

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; this land is not enough for them. What else do you want?
They’re greedy for Jerusalem. Learn how to say “human beings”.
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 Arab.
That’s why we rock the kuffiyeh, our essential identity.
The kuffiyeh, the kuffiyeh is Arab.
Come on, throw up the kuffiyeh (throw that kuffiyeh up for me).
The kuffiyeh, the kuffiyeh is Arab.
Throw it up! Come on, Greater Syria!.
The kuffiyeh is Arab, and it will stay Arab.

[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.

While Mansour tackles a culturally specific issue in her work, I chose Palestinian-American artist Excentrik’s song Now Here Nowhere because he takes a very different approach to related subject matter. Excentrik draws upon his personal experiences as a Palestinian-American living in the United States to inform his lyrics, but without knowing his background, I thought the song was ambiguous enough to speak to many experiences of marginalization along gender (offer you tea, you always decline/ offer you me and you cross the line), class (you see us crying you walk away/ you’re the one flying we paved your way) or racial (I’m on the bus and you grab your child/ I see your fear and you see my smile) lines. The music video of Now Here Nowhere provides a more specific class based reading of the song, as wealthy bankers posting foreclosure notices, smoking cigars, doing cocaine and sleeping with multiple women are kidnapped by a group of masked (Palestinian?) youth, tied up and hung from a crane.

Excentrik. Now Here Nowhere.

you see us crying you walk away
you’re the one flying we paved your way
offer you tea, you always decline
offer you me and you cross the line

Its your scene, gasoline, fire for your soul
you play me I play you, drop some gold
its a test of your best but you fell down
you don’t know where to go, or what I say

Im on the bus and you grab your child
I see your fear and you see my smile
I am your donkey, but you’re my ride
we are so happy that we collide

Im the breeze makes you sneeze
snots running out your nose
you’re the guest Ill open up the door
to your knees, excuse me please, but its time to go

you are my problem and I’m your sigh
take all your breaths as you watch me die
I know your guilt comes from all your shame
using my people… I guess we’re the same thing!

Your eyes meet my eyes but you turn away
the problem is you know your biz, you ain’t got time to stay
faceless, traceless you try to hold me down
look my way try to stay but I ain’t around


Racial Segregation in American Cities

Racial Segregation in American Cities

“Last year, a pair of researchers from Duke University published a report with a bold title: “The End of the Segregated Century.” U.S. cities, the authors concluded, were less segregated in 2012 than they had been at any point since 1910. But less segregated does not necessarily mean integrated–something this incredible map makes clear in vivd color.

The map, created by Dustin Cable at University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, is stunningly comprehensive. Drawing on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, it shows one dot per person, color-coded by race. That’s 308,745,538 dots in all–around 7 GB of visual data. It isn’t the first map to show the country’s ethnic distribution, nor is it the first to show every single citizen, but it is the first to do both, making it the most comprehensive map of race in America ever created.

White people are shown with blue dots; African-Americans with green; Asians with red; and Latinos with orange, with all other race categories from the Census represented by brown.”

(click photo for full article and lots more pics)

week 1: music, immigration, transnationalism

So I’m currently reading Mohanty and Alexander’s Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. In the book, ‘third world’ and ‘first world’ women of colour challenge the construction of feminism as a “white women’s social movement that has no concrete link to black women or the black community” (Rose) by writing about “the underlying theoretical perspectives and organization practices of the different varieties of feminism that take on questions of colonialism, imperialism, and the repressive rule of colonial, post-colonial and advanced capitalist nation states.” I started reading the book in agreement with Rose that the most familiar brand of white liberal ‘feminism’ fails pretty spectacularly to address how ethnicity, class and race intersect to “fracture gender as a conceptual category” (Rose). Coming from that perspective, here are some of the main things that this week’s articles brought to mind for me.

          1. Keny Arkana and M.I.A.

These are the first two artists that came to mind when thinking about (my pretty limited knowledge of) diaspora rap. Arkana is Argentine-French and M.I.A is Sri-Lankan-British. Both deal with a range of complex political issues in their work.


           2. Also, lets talk about Beyonce for a second.

Beyonce’s ‘Flawless‘ (while more hip hop/pop than rap), is also pretty interesting to think about in the context of these articles and their discussion of black women and the family in the US. ‘Flawless’ features a monologue by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in which she defines a ‘feminist’ (“a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”) and questions society’s gendered expectations of marriage. Referencing her marriage and new baby, Beyonce sings “I took some time to live my life, but don’t think I’m just his little wife, don’t get it twisted, this my shit, bow down bitches.” Very cool to see an empowering collaboration like this, plus the song is just damn catchy.

          3. The amazing bell hooks’ commentary on rap

bell hooks has some really great commentary on rap music and it’s dominant perception as a primarily violent and misogynistic art form in which she takes an intersectional perspective to examine how capitalism and racism inform this reading:

Rap music is so diverse in it’s themes, it’s style, it’s content, but when it becomes a vehicle to be talked about in main stream news, the rap that gets in national news is always the rap that perpetuates misogyny, that is most obscene and then this comes to stand for what rap is. Really for me it’s a perfect paradigm of colonialism. That is to say, if we think of rap music as a little third world country that young white consumers are able to take out of it whatever they want, we would have to acknowledge that what young white consumers, primarily male, oftentimes suburban, most got energized by in rap music was misogyny, obscenity, and pugilistic eroticism and therefore that form of rap began to make the largest sums of money.”

hooks argues that the demonization of rap is a “sensationalist drama of demonizing black youth culture in general and the contributions of young black men in particular” while ignoring the greater context in which “the sexist, misogynist, patriarchal ways of thinking and behaving that are glorified in gangsta rap are a reflection of the prevailing values in our society.”

More from hooks on that theme here.