World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Music and Society (138) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE 20, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description:

Chair: Dr. Lisa Urkevich (American University of Kuwait)

Paper presenter: Lisa Urkevich (Director, Arabian Heritage Project; Associate Professor Musicology, American University of Kuwait), “Women Musicians of Arabia: Cultural Identity, Roles, Functions, and Musical Genres”
In Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, events that are dominated by music are usually gender segregated. Women’s wedding parties, ‘hafla’, which are held nightly in some areas during certain times of year, are the most prevalent all-female music based activities. It is at these celebrations that most women of the community interact with live musical performance. As a matter of course, the singers and musicians at ‘haflat’ have been exclusively female, although today, frequently male musicians seated in an adjourning area to the wedding hall will have their sound piped in through speakers. Still, any performers in the actual room with the female guests, who may or not be singing with the piped in male-produced music, are female. What is notable is that, regardless of the ethnic background of the guests, the female musicians have historically been of African descent or sometimes of other non-Arabian or Yemeni heritage. Female wedding musicians are known as ‘taqq’qat’, beaters of drums, and may be appreciated in many ways for the delight they instill, but are nevertheless considered to be of a lowly status in the community. Of course, there are many women musicians of a higher status, these being primarily singers known as ‘mutribat’, that is, those who create ‘tarab’ or musical ecstasy. Famous Gulf and Saudi performers of this rank include Nawal, Ahlam, Fatoomah, Ibtisam Lotfi. Etab, and Tuha. It is of note that these women too are of non-Arabian or Yemeni ethnicity. This paper will discuss the phenomenon in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf that women of African descent and other ethnically ‘foreign’ singers have dominated female music making, while local Arabian women are culturally forbidden to be professional musicians. In order to better understand the issue, traditional women’s music making in the region will be discussed along with the nature of the musical events and their history, function and composition type. Also investigated will be the role of African slaves and their descendants in the region, interpretations of Islam, and prescribed Bedouin and other cultural norms in regard to women’s public musical performance.

Paper presenter: Nirit Ben-Ari (Ph.D Candidate, Graduate Center, City University of New York), “Everybody Talks about Peace, No One Talks about Justice: Talking Politics in Israeli Rap Music”
Because of its nature, rap music has opened a space in Israeli protest music for political commentary that was rarely possible before in popular music. Rappers of different political affiliations find rap music the most appropriate musical genre to express their opinions on political issues. In this paper I will focus on the dynamics that exist among Israeli rappers by exposing the ways in which, through rap music, they define and redefine political affiliations and advance a political agenda. Finally, I will discuss the way in which rap music is appropriated by the Israeli government to advance its hasbara (explanation, propaganda) efforts abroad. I argue that the in order to legitimize themselves as rappers Israeli rappers deny that rap music is political. They frame their artistic production as personal, and disclaim any political meanings that might be associated with it. Although they acknowledge that rap music has originated with marginalized, oppressed black people, they deny the relevance of these politics for themselves as rappers. They take hip hop's unique qualities -the African American oral and cultural traditions embedded in it- and mimic them. However, although they deny the politics of rap music, the rappers make political use of it. I suggest that they see themselves as carrying the Zionist torch: their musical and cultural project is in the use of nation-building. In this paper, I analyze the rap music of Kobi 'Subliminal' Shimoni and Yoav 'Hastel (The Shadow) 'Eliasi, who are commercially successful rappers in Israel. I argue that by employing rap music as their platform to advance a right wing agenda, they turn upside down the original place that rappers has in society, from being opposition al artists to being used as the government's mouthpiece. I also study the music of the funk-rap band Hadag Nachash and the rapper Mookie. Like Subliminal and The Shadow, they consider rap music to be a suitable medium for expressing their protest politics, and they are perceived as protest artists by the media. I argue that these rappers do not make music outside of the mainstream, but rather create an alternative inside the mainstream. Finally, I discuss the ways in which the Israeli government has used (and continue to use) these artists as its representatives abroad. I argue that for the rappers and the government, the act of making of rap music in Hebrew is in itself an act of hasbara. I argue that the government co-opts these rappers to serve as a proof for Israel's diversity, pluralism, and open-mindedness.

Paper presenter: Alexandra D’Urso (PhD Candidate, The Pennsylvania State University), “Renegotiating Identity through Music: Faudel and Cultural Hybridity”
An issue of growing importance in post-colonial France is how to approach the changing nature of French identity/ies (Davet, April 7, 2007). While access to French identity/ies has been historically limited to those originating from France, some French citizens of North African descent have resisted a French identity that excludes them, instead constructing hybrid cultural identities that better reflect the experiences of those who assume agentic positions within an oppressive, post-colonial context (Echchaibi, 2001). Such a reconstruction of identity has been made possible largely through interaction with what Giroux (2001) calls public pedagogy, or ‘technology that functions as a powerful teaching machine that intentionally tries to influence the production of meaning, subject positions, identities, and experience’ (p. 587). In particular, public pedagogies of music have yielded opportunities for individuals to resist, appropriate, or negotiate multicultural identities. In this paper, I will discuss how the Algerian-French raï singer Faudel, working as a public pedagogue in post-colonial France, approaches the issue of cultural hybridity in his music. To facilitate such a discussion, I will first provide background information about Faudel and his rise to popularity in France. Second, I shall briefly theorize music as public pedagogy to provide a better understanding of how Faudel’s agency as a public pedagogue allows him to work as a mediator of knowledge and identity. Third, I will discuss Faudel’s position as a public pedagogue in a post-colonial context. Finally, I will present samples of Faudel’s music lyrics and discuss how issues relating to cultural hybridity are brought to bear through Faudel’s position as a public pedagogue who addresses the concerns of specific groups of people; such interpretations can offer an understanding of how Faudel’s identity explorations situate him at the crossroads of Mediterranean cultural exchanges occurring in France. At this critical juncture in French social policy (see “Egalite réelle: Le manifeste ‘Oui nous pouvons’ soutenu par Bruni-Sarkozy”, 2008; Rossant, 2005; van Eeckhout, 2009), a point during which discussions of ethnicity, racial discrimination, and diversity are entering the public discourse in conversations about what it means to have rights as a minority in France, the voice of Faudel is one of many important stories unfolding in the ‘struggle for recognition’ (Shannon, 2000, p. 90) within this volatile social context.

Paper presenter: Nahid Siamdoust (D.Phil. Candidate in Modern Middle Eastern Studies, St. Antony’s College, Oxford University), “Potent Poetry? Verse and Music in Iran's Social Movements”
My paper examines Persian poetry used for song in social movements in post-revolutionary Iran. Many of the songs that were produced around the time of 1979 were based on verse written at the beginning of the 20th century in support of the country’s constitutional revolution. It was at that time that song was first used in Iran’s modern period to rouse political sentiment in efforts of nation-building. Now, thirty years into the Islamic Republic, some of the same songs are being used by the so-called ‘green’ movement to awaken sentiments for long-desired, yet never fully achieved political and social goals, such as freedom and independence. I study the nature of this poetry, and its political potency in the modern Iranian communicative context. What are the differing nuances in thematics and symbology, and what do they say about Iranian social and political values as expressed now versus a hundred years as well as thirty years ago? What are the qualities of this turn-of-the-century poetry that have allowed it to pass on from generation to generation? What are its discursive elements? How are this poetry and the subsequent songs different from newer verse in resonance of the country’s political situation? Political verse has been set to both Iranian art and pop music, as well as more recently, to rock and rap music. My paper describes the different musical carriers of politically potent poetry, and examines the different contexts in which they are listened to or even sung. My research is mostly a discursive one based on textual analysis, enriched with fieldwork observations in Iran as well as interviews with the relevant musicians and others engaged in the Bourieuian notion of this ‘field’.