February 28, 2009

K'naan Live at Millenium Stage

Excerpts from an interview by Clayton Perry on BlogCritic Magazine.

Pictures from the Kennedy Center Performance, February 26, 2009

Having traveled the world, you have an international view of hip-hop that a lot of people don't have, for better or worse. Is there a common thread of themes that transcends all continents that you have seen as you travel?

Yeah, there is. There are differences, too. I look at hip hop or any other kind of thing whatever it is — music or otherwise — and I just think you can exhaust that theme no matter what it is. As good as hip hop is, if there is no perspective shift, if there is no feeling of freshness or something new about it, it can kind of just become exhausting. When you go abroad and you see something fresh, it's eye-opening and it's beautiful. The one American perspective that we are all exposed to and the only one that exists is kind of exhausting. However, to the credit of the American form of hip hop, it's great that it is the one-track-minded element that it is, as well, because sometimes in the foreign world you find a corny element, too, that I can't listen to either. You find it rarely — the thread — but you find it. Sometimes it's great and fresh and not corny.

Do you think there will ever be a day when the lines between the labels of mainstream and conscious hip hop would be blurred?

Well, I don't know. I think that's dependent on what success the albums have. For example, my latest album is exactly what that is, but its success will be viewed on how it reaches people. Troubadour has incredible hook-based, melodic music. And lyrically, it's relevant. It has potential to be on the radio, so I don't understand why you can't do both. I think that is the answer to that question – not the only answer, but I certainly think that's one of the answers. It just depends on success.

At what point did you realize that your music had really made an impression upon people?

In 2008, I was playing a string of festivals in the US and I did a show in Honolulu. The turnout was so amazing! The organizers said they had to open up the back of the tent, which is something they never had to do before. At some point in one of my songs, I was singing to this crowd of thousands and I remember about 70% of the crowd singing along. It was amazing, because I haven't had any albums released in the US, at least not widely. I had no radio support, nothing like that. So I didn't understand how they knew the lyrics. It was a real pleasant and incredibly exciting and surprising moment. So much so, I stopped singing in the middle of the show and just started laughing. My band mates were laughing. The crowd didn't know what was going on. I said, "Excuse me, but I just want to ask how you guys know the song." People started cheering and whatever. It was a genuine moment for me, to actually take that moment and realize it and respond to it.

Over the years, you have mentioned three artists as major influences in your career: Bob Marley, Tracy Chapman, and Nina Simone. Of these, tell me how one has impacted your life and shaped your career.

I'll take Bob Marley. I think the amount of impact Bob Marley has had on humanity – just what he's sown and how many generations it has changed and how many people it has raised and how many kinds of causes it has fulfilled – I think that is, like, way more than any musician has ever been in the history of music I think. For me, that is one of the great things about life – we have the privilege to live under the banner in which he's created this music and this ideology and his relentless kind of spirit of justice and so on. I see myself as someone who is a humble student of that world. To have a connection to his world, in a way, for me is incredibly humbling. To have recorded my album in his house and work with his family, his friends and so on is a big thing for me.

When did you first fall in love with hip hop?

I had a crush on it from the early stages when I was much younger and listening to Eric B. and Rakim. That world – it was just a crush, infatuation. But when I really fell in love with it and became inextricable from my life was 1993 when the album Illmatic by Nas came out.

What did you admire the most about Illmatic?

I am a poet by nature, and I saw poetry in what Nas was doing. And I saw that a young black man can express and share the incredible intricacies of his own life and out of all the things that surround him. He painted the American black experience and the ghetto experience in such a vivid manner that I thought if that was possible in the English language, then it is possible for me to do that with the English language and paint the African experience.


February 26, 2009

RIP Tayib Saleh (1929-2009)

Sudan Tribune
February 17, 2009 (LONDON) — Al-Tayib Saleh one of Sudan’s prolific and iconic novelists died today in London from complications related to a kidney condition, one of his close friends told Sudan Tribune. He was 80 years old.

Saleh was born at a village in North Sudan in 1929 and moved to the Khartoum for his bachelors’ degree. He then traveled to UK to receive a degree in international affairs.

During his stay in London, Saleh worked at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Arabic service and managed to become the head of the drama division at a record young age.

The Sudanese novelist also worked for the Information ministry in Qatar and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris.

Saleh is best known for his masterpiece ‘Season of Migration to the North’ written in 1966 which deals with the perceptions of people in the third world to the West. The novel was translated to a number of world languages and a subject of intense debate inside and outside Sudan.

It was also selected by a panel of Arab writers and critics as the most important Arab novel of the twentieth century.

Owing to sexually explicit portions of the novel the Sudanese authorities banned the book in the 90’s. The Sudanese novelist at the time said the decision is similar to “locking the stable after the horse already gone”.

Some observers at the time described the move by Khartoum as retaliation to Saleh’s stance opposing the Islamic backed regime. He wrote highly publicized op-ed titled “Where did these people come from? Actually who are they?” questioning what he saw as blatant violation of Sudanese customs and traditions by the government and its figures at the time.

However in an interview with Sudanese TV last year Saleh praised the Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir. He also said that a newer version of the government has emerged following the breakaway between Bashir and Islamist leader Hassan Al-Turabi.

A number of Sudanese organizations have recently pushed for nominating Saleh for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Saleh enjoyed immense popularity and respect among ordinary Sudanese. He is survived by his wife and three girls.



February 23, 2009

الفاتحة في السوحلي

Kwa jina la Mwenyezi Mungu, Mwingi wa rehema, Mwingi wa ukarimu.
Sifa zote njema zinamhusu Mwenyezi Mungu, Mola wa walimwengu,
Mwingi wa rehema, Mwingi wa ukarimu,
Mmiliki wa siku ya Malipo.
Wewe tu twakuabudu, na Wewe tu twakuomba msaada.
Utuongoze njia iliyonyoka,
Njia ya wale Uliowaneemesha; siyo ya (wale) waliokasirikiwa,
wala ya (wale) waliopotea.

Al-Fatiha in different languages


February 22, 2009

Hizbu'llah and Terrorism: Dispelling the Misconceptions

Sura al-Qasas (28) :5 (English): And we wished to be gracious to those who were being oppressed in the land, to make them leaders and make them heirs.

The above verse constitutes one of the foundational beliefs on which the organization of Hizbu'llah draw. There is an all too common misconception, perpetrated by so-called journalists--who write copy using the worst sort of cliches to lock certain mental images into their readers' minds, that Hizbu'llah is a fundamentalist sectarian and terrorist organization. Two relatively recent books help to dispel this notion by placing Hizbu'llah's accomplishments within the framework of Shi'ite political mobilization, the political opportunities offered by the civil war, and the heteregenous nature of Lebanese society. Each book shows the development of Hizbu'llah from a guerilla movement who at times engaged in what the international community deemed as acts of 'terror' into a full-fledged political party with a stake in Lebanese politics.

The first book, by former U.N. observer Augustus Richard Norton, is a short but authoritative account of Hizbu'llah's development in the context of recent Lebanese history. It has the advantage of including some analysis of the 2006 war with Israel, in which Hizbu'llah emerged from a devastating bombardment organizationally intact.

The second book is an older account by a Lebanese insider, based on interviews, televised speeches, and an excellent review and critique of the secondary literature about the organization. Amal Saad Ghorayeb analyzes Hizbu'llah through the paradigm of 'oppression' and sees Hizbu'llah as a theologically flexible, guerilla movement which stands ideologically on the side of the oppressed. This is a helpful paradigm, because it sees Hizbu'llah as basically responding to opportunities to organize people against oppression, using Islam as an idiom, not as an Islamic movement to 'Islamisize' Lebanon and the world.

Hizbu'llah's mission (if not always its tactics) stand in the best traditions of Islamic liberation theology, and are fundamentally consistent with Biblical teaching about God's special concern for the poor (see Matthew 5:5 for the Biblical precursor to the Islamic idea).

One thing both authors stress is the evolution of the party, from a entity existing outside of the system, to a major player on the Lebanese political scene. Hizbu'llah's challenge will be to remain relevant to its mass base and yet manuever within the convulutions of Lebanese politics without being corrupted by the alliances it forges.


February 15, 2009

In An Antique Land

Its hard to describe this engaging book from Amitav Ghosh. Is it a novel? A memoir? A travelogue? A historical reconstruction? A distillation of the best traditions of Orientalistism? In fact it is all these and more, a most remarkable journey into a lost world. Ghosh is an Indian historian researching the history of a 12th century Jewish merchant while living in an Egyptian village. Interwoven with his search for Ben Yiju's life from Mangalore to Aden to Alexandria is an often hilarious account of his relationships with the residents of the village. Ghosh humorously relates the litany of questions he is bombarded with about the customs of India ("Ya Allah, do they REALLY burn their dead in India?" is a constant one)

What emerges most strongly from Ghosh's account is the fluidity of medieval Indian Ocean society; how merchants crossed political boundaries with ease and how this movement generated a level of cosmopolitanism and cultural familiarity, a shared understanding across nation, religion, and ethnicity, which we see through Ghosh's account, has broken down. (if it existed at all for the common people).

One of the most affecting sections of the book involves Ghosh's encounter with a healer named Imam Ibrahim who refuses to part with his knowledge for Ghosh's anthropological interest. Goading Ghosh about 'those savages' who burn their dead and worship cows, he provokes an angry outburst from Ghosh, who brags that his country "has had a nuclear explosion."
Writes Ghosh, "At that moment, despite the vast gap that lay between us, we understood each other perfectly. We were both travelling, he and I: we were travelling in the West. The only difference was that I had actually been there, in person: I could have told him a great deal about it...but it wouldn't have mattered. We would have known, both of us, that all that was mere fluff: in the end, for millions of people on the landmasses around us, the West meant only this--science and tanks and guns and bombs."

Altogether this is a most unusual book, and an interesting diversion from more straight-ahead scholarly treatments.


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