Hip Hopping Around the Globe: Getting in Tune to a New Cultural Revolution: Part 4


Tunisia is the location where the Arab Spring began in 2011. However a passive form of protest began in November, 2010, when a young rap musician calling himself El General posted a song on his Facebook page and YouTube. The song, Rais Leblel, was a mocking of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ali for the problems of poverty, unemployment, hunger and injustice. The YouTube video showed El General walking through a darkened, sewage-strewn alley, with graffiti spray-painted on the wall.

The video instantly became popular among young Tunisians. Al Jazeera picked it up, and it spread quickly across the Internet. As Robin Wright put it in her book, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, “It broke through the climate of fear in a country where no politician had dared to criticize a president in power for almost a quarter century.”

A few weeks later, a government inspector general demanded a bribe from a street vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi. The vendor’s produce was confiscated, and his livelihood was put in jeopardy. When Bouazizi found no recourse, he committed suicide by setting himself on fire.

As protests over the street vendor’s death spread across the country, El General’s rap lyrics became the rallying cry. After he wrote another protest song, the Tunisian police arrested and imprisoned  El General was released after three days when the government attempted to appease the demonstrators.

El General’s influence later spread to Egypt and Bahrain. His impact gained him the honor of being named one of Time Magzine’s 2011 Most Influential People.

Below is a YouTube video of El General’s video that had such a powerful impact on the Arab Spring.



Hip Hopping Around the Globe: Getting in Tune to a New Cultural Revolution: Part 3


Hip Hop in Iran has strong working class roots. Most Iranian musicians have chosen it because of rap’s history of political and social criticism. They also like the connection rap has to worldwide trends.

The history of Hip Hop in Iran began in the 1980’s. Souresh Lashkari, popularly known by the name Hichkas, founded a band named 021, which is the area code for Tehran. 021 uses elements of traditional Persian music, poetry, along with hip hop.

Hichkas was one of the musicians featured in a film entitled, No One Knows About Persian Cats. Although the film was inspired by Iran’s ban on taking cats and dogs out in public, it also covered the regime’s prohibition on secular music. Hichkas and 021 performed a song in it that has lyrics and video images of the extreme poverty in Tehran.

Another notable Iranian rap musician is also the country’s first female rapper, Salome MC. Salome began her hip hop career in 2002, recording her first song with Hichkas.

Her first album, a collaboration with a German rap musician Shirali, was entitled, Delirium. Two of the songs on that album are The War Within, and My Path, My Fight. “War, it’s war again, from the very moment of birth to the exact time of death.” But the closing lyrics are “because the voice of justice has conquered the war within me again.” Lyrics from My Path, My Fight include “I separated from the herd of the sheep from the beginning. Banished from grassland, without any homeland. Intellectuality, technology, movements, ideologies, politics, principals, side-tracks, religion obstacles, I pass them all with my invisible chainmail.”

In 2013, by this time having moved to Japan, she released an album  entitled, Salome’s Tale. Salome’s Tale featured her first English language song, I Officially Exist. In the song, Salome tries to reconcile her place in a world that is defined by politics and conflicting stories about right vs. wrong. As she puts it in the lyrics, “neither my hell nor my heaven is defined, my destiny is unknown and out of my hands, out of my brain.”

Below you will find YouTube videos for Hichkas in No One Knows About Persian Cats, and two for Salome. One of the Salome videos is about the Iran she left behind.

NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS on DVD now. The acclaimed fifth feature film from Bahman Ghobadi, the director of Half Moon and Turtles Can Fly opened the Certain Regard strand of the 2009 Cannes Film…
Added on 3/01/10

Hip Hopping Around the Globe: Getting in Tune to a New Cultural Revolution: Part 2

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]Palestinian hip hop began in the late 1990’s with a band named DAM. DAM has two meanings, blood in Hebrew, and eternity in Arabic.

They are a three member band comprised of lead singer Tamer Nafar, brother Suheil Nafar, and friend Mahmoud Jreri. DAM’s music blends Arabic melodies with hip hop beats. Borrowing from traditional rap music that was discussed in Part I, young Palestinian rap musicians have tailored their style to express their own grievances with the social and political climate in which they live and work.

Tamar and Suheil grew up in the slums of Lod, a mixed Arab and Israeli town near Tel-Aviv. As Robin Wright put it in Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, “just as rap initially provided an alternative to gang violence to young Blacks in the Bronx, hip hop has offered an alternative to suicide bombs and Molotov cocktails among Palestinians.” Or as Tamar describes it “hip hop is our CNN.”

Prior to the violence or intifada that erupted in 2000, DAM had collaborated with an Israeli hip hop musician, Subliminal, at many performances. However the two stopped after DAM released a controversial song in 2001 “Who’s the Terrorist.” The Palestinian trio was angry that the world did not understand the desperation felt by Palestinians because many more of their own people were killed by the Israeli military during the previous year of the Intifada.

However for all of their fury, DAM’s songs do not threaten violence. As Tamar put it, “I have a lot of rage, but I express it with a microphone, not a weapon.” He made this statement to an Israeli audience in 2007. In an album released that same year entitled Dedication, the band stated that “our album is the new intifada, and the lyrics are the stones.’

After the last Intifada ended, DAM collaborated with an Israeli band Shotei Hanuvah on a track entitled, Generations Demand Peace. This song was performed at peace rallies attended by young Palestinians and Israelis.

Below you will find YouTube videos of an interview with DAM, as well as one of a song for peace.