Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Cultureby Hisham Aidi
This fascinating, timely, and important book on the connection between music and political activism among Muslim youth around the world looks at how hip-hop, jazz, and reggae, along with Andalusian and Gnawa music, have become a means of building community and expressing protest in the face of the West’s policies in the War on Terror. Hisham Aidi interviews
This fascinating, timely, and important book on the connection between music and political activism among Muslim youth around the world looks at how hip-hop, jazz, and reggae, along with Andalusian and Gnawa music, have become a means of building community and expressing protest in the face of the West’s policies in the War on Terror. Hisham Aidi interviews musicians and activists, and reports from music festivals and concerts in the United States, Europe, North Africa, and South America, to give us an up-close sense of the identities and art forms of urban Muslim youth.
We see how the current cultural and political turmoil in Europe’s urban periphery echoes that moment in the 1910s when Islamic movements began appearing among African-Americans in northern American cities, and how the Black Freedom Movement and the words of Malcolm X have inspired the increasing racialization and radicalization of young Muslims today. More unexpected is how the United States and some of its allies have used hip-hop and Sufi music to try to deradicalize Muslim youth abroad.
Aidi’s interviews with jazz musicians who embraced Islam in the post–World War II years and took their music to Europe and Africa recall the 1920s, when jazz inspired cultural ferment in Europe and North Africa. And his conversations with the last of the great Algerian Andalusi musicians, who migrated to Paris’s Latin Quarter after the outbreak of the Algerian War in 1954, speak for the musical symbiosis between Muslims and Jews in the kasbah that attracted the attention of the great anticolonial thinker Frantz Fanon.
Illuminating and groundbreaking, Rebel Music takes the pulse of the phenomenon of this new youth culture and reveals not only the rich historical context from which it is drawn but also how it can foretell future social and political change.
In dense and turgid academic prose, political scientist Aidi explores the ways that Muslim youth culture across the globe has embraced various forms of music, from hip-hop to jazz, as a means of protesting, proclaiming identity, and building community. At the same time, he observes, nation-states from Saudi Arabia and Iran to France and the U.S. monitor musical tastes among youth, especially in fringe urban areas, to calculate the power this music might have for undermining and challenging the status quo. Through interviews with many musicians, Aidi reveals the power of music to challenge religious and political categories. For example, in Philadelphia, Luqman Abdul Haqq, who as Kenny Gamble wrote some of the 1970s most-recognized hits of the Philly R&B sound, has ruffled Muslim feathers by building a center for R&B in his Philly neighborhood, asserting that faith, music, and economic uplift go together. In Pakistan, the rock band Junoon, led by Salman Ahmad, combines the poetry of Rumi with the rhythms of Led Zeppelin in their protest music, but they also drew the ire of orthodox Pakistani Sufi mullahs with a narrow interpretation of Rumi. While Aidi’s study explores uncovered territory in music and politics, its labyrinthine structure turn this into a tuneless composition on what is a compelling and timely subject. (Mar.)
“A marvel. . . . Hisham Aidi is a brilliant expositor of this powerful planetary cultural phenomenon.” —David Levering Lewis, author of God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215
“Impressive. . . . With the confidence of a charismatic professor, Aidi’s discussion wanders through Detroit, Brazil, and ‘Jim Crow’ Arabia.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Mohammed meets Malcolm; Gnawa meets Guantanamo; Bandung meets B-boys; banlieues meet Bahia: this is the vibrant, noisy, embattled world Hisham Aidi brings to light. . . . In what can genuinely be described as a tour de force for its global scope, historical sweep, cultural virtuosity, and political sophistication, Rebel Music examines this soundtrack in a global context, from slavery to the latest war on terror.” —Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
“Rebel Music may be the most bafflingly significant book I’ve read in years. It is a marvel. . . . Hisham Aidi is a brilliant expositor of this powerful planetary cultural phenomenon.” —David Levering Lewis, author of God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215
“A brilliant, utterly unique, effortlessly transnational and wonderfully written account of hip hop and new Muslim youth culture.” —WashingtonPost.com
"Rebel Music offers an extraordinarily rich and variegated [musical] map . . . From Paris to Rio, from Philadelphia and Brooklyn to Morocco and southern Spain, Aidi is the peripatetic chronicler of the intricate intersecting musical and political worlds whose shared issues have never before been so cogently crystallized." —American Literary History
"Rebel Music has no antecedent or peer in musical historiography . . . [Aidi] acts as historian, musicologist, journalist and theologian, no easy juggling act . . . It is a virtuoso performance of historical knowledge and cultural observations, as Aidi jams on personalities and communities."
—Journal of the American Academy of Religion
“In this bracing, fascinating, and utterly timely exploration of music, race, and cultural identity, Aidi examines young European and American Muslims and their search for what he calls ‘a nonracist utopia’. . . . This book will be especially appealing to young people who want to better understand the Muslim perspective on war, prejudice, and national identity.” —Booklist (starred)
“A multilayered and intriguing story of the mobilization of Muslim youth through music rather than militancy. . . . Moving from jazz to the late Algerian pop star Salim Halali, Aidi’s wide-ranging, dense work persuades by its passionate accretion of detail.” —Kirkus Reviews
Since 9/11, young Muslims worldwide have worked to forge a distinctively racial, radicalized identity in the face of the West's War Against Terror, resisting American efforts in particular to subsume Muslims within the larger white culture. As documented by Aidi, a lecturer at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, the Muslim youth movement is shaped by urban culture, political activism, and, interestingly, music from hip-hop and jazz to Gnawa, Andalusian, and Judeo-Arabic. At the same time, he argues, Western governments use music in an effort to defuse Muslim consciousness. The consequences of a Muslim youth culture, religious or secular, are far-reaching, and there's big in-house excitement.
A multilayered story of the mobilization of Muslim youth through music rather than militancy. As Muslim youth across the world are beleaguered by the crackdown on terrorism, the economic recession and the rise of the far right, they are either turning to a more conservative form of Islam or tapping into the rich inspiration of the "Black Atlantic." In this intriguing study, Aidi (School of International and Public Affairs/Columbia Univ.; co-editor: Black Routes to Islam, 2009) demonstrates the immense and widespread appeal to transnational, disgruntled Muslims of black music such as hip-hop, drawing its roots from Muslim influences since the 1970s--e.g., in the form of the Nation of Islam. Indeed, there are many layers to this story, and Aidi has to wear both the scholar's cap, to trace first the Muslim diaspora from Spain circa 1492, which brought Muslims across the Atlantic to Brazil and elsewhere, where they then mixed with black Africans, as personified in the mythology of the "enchanted mooress" and the mulata; and the journalist's hat, as he recounts concerts he attended from Copenhagen to Tunis. The author carefully delineates between the converts to Salafism, the Saudi-driven puritanical form of Islam aiming for a "superior moral order," and the Western-backed assimilationist advocates of Sufism (Gnawa in Morocco, Gülen in Turkey), which tolerates trance and even dance for its mystical reach into the divine, as practiced by most of the American converts. The latter form has been embraced by the U.S. State Department, no less, in promoting American values of diversity and tolerance abroad and as a "counter-narrative" to the rigid views of Salafism. Aidi shows how the Western "soundtrack of struggle" inspires the world in surprising ways. Moving from jazz to the late Moroccan pop star Salim Halali, Aidi's wide-ranging, dense work persuades by its passionate accretion of detail.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
One muggy afternoon in July 2003, I headed up to the South Bronx for the Crotona Park Jams, a small festival that is little-known locally, but manages to draw hip-hop fans from around the world. The annual event is organized by Tools of War, a grassroots arts organization that invites artists from across the country and Europe to perform in the Bronx, hip-hop’s putative birthplace, and to meet some of the genre’s pioneers, figures like Afrika Bambaataa and Kurtis Blow. I arrived at the park and asked around for Christie Z, a local promoter and activist. Christie, who has blue eyes and a ruddy complexion and wears a white head scarf, is the founder of Tools of War and a smaller group called Muslims in Hip Hop. She is married to Jorge Pabón (aka Fabel), a well-known dancer and master of ceremonies (MC), who appeared in the classic 1980s hip-hop film Beat Street and currently teaches “poppin’ ” and “lockin’ ” dance styles at NYU. The two—Christie Z & Fabel, as they’re known—are a power couple on the East Coast’s hip-hop scene, but they’ve become significant players internationally as well, organizing shows in Europe and bringing artists from overseas to perform in America.
Christie’s story is unusual. “People always ask me,” she says with a laugh, “how did a white girl from central Pennsylvania become a Muslim named Aziza who organizes turntable battles in the Bronx? I say the lyrics brought me here. I was in high school when I heard ‘The Message,’ ” she says, referring to the 1982 breakout song by Grandmaster Flash, which vividly described life in the ghetto during the Reagan era, and was one of hip-hop’s earliest mainstream hits. “I heard that track and I followed the sound to New York.”
I had arrived early hoping for a pre-show interview with the French rap crew 3ème Œil (Third Eye), who had flown in from Marseille to perform that evening. The rap trio is known in France for its socially conscious lyrics. Since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the group had become even more political, rapping about what they call the West’s “stranglehold” on the East. I stood around the stage waiting. A circle had formed with a group of boys clapping and dancing, as the DJ on duty that evening—another pioneer, DJ Tony Tone of the Cold Crush Brothers—spun rap and Latin soul classics. Soon Third Eye’s manager, Claudine, a brown-haired woman in her early twenties, appeared and led me backstage. I explained that I was a researcher at Columbia writing about global hip-hop. Her face lit up. “We’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while,” she said, as she walked me through a backstage tent and out into the open. Later I found out Claudine had thought I was a representative of Columbia Records, about to offer her group a contract.
The sun was setting, a blue glow had enveloped the park, and I walked up to the four young men lounging on a bench facing the spectacular Indian Lake, which sits at the park’s center. Soon I was chatting with the rappers—Boss One (Mohammed) and Jo Popo (Mohammed), both born in the Comoros Islands off the coast of East Africa, but raised in Marseille—and their DJ, Rebel (Moustapha). They were dressed similarly in sagging denim Bermudas, eighties-style Nike high-tops, and baseball caps. Jo Popo gave me a copy of their new hit single, “Si Triste” (So Sad). I told him I’d already seen bootlegged copies at African music stands in Harlem. He nodded and gave me a fist bump. The song, popular among West African youth in New York, offers social commentary over a looping bass line, decrying police brutality and mass incarceration (with a special shout-out to the American death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal). I asked them how the French press responded to their lyrics, and about the anti-immigrant National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen’s claim that hip-hop was a dangerous musical genre that originated in the casbahs of Algeria.
Boss One shook his head, “For Le Pen, everything bad—rap, crime, AIDS—comes from Algeria or Islam.” This was mid-2003; the War on Terror was in its early years. “The more Bush and Chirac attack Islam and say it’s bad,” said Boss One, “the more young people will think it’s good, and the more the oppressed will go to Islam and radical preachers.” His tone became a little defensive when talking about the banlieues, the poor suburbs that ring France’s major cities, stating that life in France’s cités was better than in the American ghettos. “Life is hard in France, but we have a social safety net. Here there is no such thing”—he stood up to emphasize the point—“and it will get worse with Bush, the cowboy, le rancheur!”
Their bluster disappeared when I asked what they thought of the Bronx. They grew wistful talking about the Mecca of hip-hop. Jo Popo smiled describing their meeting the day before with hip-hop legend Afrika Bambaataa. “C’était incroyable!” Bam, as he is known, is particularly loved in France, where he was instrumental in introducing hip-hop in the early 1980s. The group’s music mixer, DJ Rebel, who previously hadn’t said a word, suddenly spoke up. “I have dreamed of visiting the Bronx for all thirty-six years of my life. This is where hip-hop started, this music which has liberated us, which has saved us,” he said with apparent seriousness. “Yesterday we met Bambaataa and Kool Herc. I thanked them personally for what they have done for us blacks and Muslims in France—they gave us a language, a culture, a community.” His voice broke a little.
I was struck by the emotion and sincerity of their words, and I had a few academic questions to ask: Why was the Bronx so central to the “moral geography” of working-class kids in Marseille? Where did this romantic view of the American ghetto come from? Why were they more fascinated by Bronx and Harlem folklore than by the culture of their parents’ countries of origin? Claudine suddenly reappeared and asked them to return to the tent. Grandmaster Flash, the legendary DJ and another iconic figure of global hip-hop, had arrived, and they were scheduled to meet him. “Flash invented scratching—I get paid to teach scratching in France,” said DJ Rebel getting up to leave. “A bientôt,” and the rap trio and their thoughtful DJ walked off. Half an hour later they were on the stage, waving their arms: “Sautez! Sautez! Sautez!” Boss One translated: “That means, ‘Jump! Jump! Jump!’ ”
Meet the Author
HISHAM D. AIDI is a lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs and the Institute of African Affairs at Columbia University. He was a Carnegie Scholar and Global Fellow at The Open Society Foundation and is coeditor, with Manning Marable, of Black Routes to Islam.
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