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.

[Chorus:]
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

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