Panel 5H

Music and Movement in the Middle East

11.30 – 13.30
Chair: Stephen Wilford, City, University of London

Performing Palestine, or Mandating Britain? Tracing Palestinian Musics in London

Polly Withers, CBRL, Kenyon Institute

Since the cultural ‘turn’ in Palestine studies, scholars increasingly address issues of power, politics, and identity formation(s) in performative and expressive musical cultures in the Palestinian context. Such studies, however, often foreground musics’ local, national, and regional dimensions. Less forthcoming is analysis on what happens when aesthetic practices travel in global circuits of consumption. Using a transnational lens, this paper therefore unravels how the local identities Palestinian youth perform through their self-defined ‘alternative’ musics, shift as they are branded to the UK.  Drawing on thirteen months of fieldwork in Ramallah, Haifa, and Amman; and observations in the UK; I ask how far the mobility of Palestinian musicians is premised on their embodying identities international hosts direct. Using examples from music festivals across Britain, I suggest UK promoters deploy the signifier of ‘the Palestinian’ to market young Palestinian performers to UK audiences. Particularly, such institutions use reductive folkloric and/or national-resistance frameworks, silencing the complex aesthetic identities with which musicians situate themselves locally. I show how Palestinian musicians are co-opted to (re)signify British ‘multiculturalism’, whereby displaying ‘Palestinian’ art enables the UK to (re)produce itself as a site of ‘diversity’ through those whose musical production it ‘others’. Interestingly, these mobile musicians are often aware gains are attached to investing in such ‘ethnic’ capitals, and thus – to an extent – permit such representations to circulate. Tracing these dynamics, this paper argues, points to complex intersections between ‘race’, capitalism, and ‘political’/‘world’ musics, highlighting how geopolitical power shapes, and is shaped by, Palestinians’ musical practices that travel.

‘We are All Algerian Here’: Music, Movement and Cultural Identity in Contemporary London

Stephen Wilford, City, University of London

The Algerian diaspora in London has grown exponentially over the previous two decades, with individuals and families moving to the UK for work and education, and to escape the effects of their country’s civil conflict of the 1990s. These people have brought with them a rich musical culture that has thrived in London, despite a lack of venues or financial support for the local Algerian music scene. The city is now home to andalus ensembles and cafes featuring performances of chaabi, as well as Algerian rock bands and hip hop artists.  The emergence and growth of this music scene is far more complex than simply a relocation of Algerian culture to London. Local Algerian music-making and consumption is shaped not only by Algerian traditions and the place of Algerian culture within the city, but also by a complex relationship with the large diaspora that resides in France. Musical culture is therefore constantly circulating between multiple locations, connecting Britain, Algeria and France through both the physical journeys of people and via the flow of sounds and images through the Internet.  This paper explores the notion of a distinct Algerian-British cultural identity in twenty-first London through the lens of my extensive ethnographic fieldwork with the city’s Algerian diaspora. Drawing upon interviews and discussions with musicians, composers and listeners, I explore the ways in which music allows London’s Algerian community to draw together different physical locations, the past and present, and personal and collective experiences.

‘Bear Left’: Movement and Other Metaphors in Cairokee’s Songs

Mariam Aboelezz, The British Library

The explosion in alternative art in Egypt during and following the 2011 uprising has been well-documented by researchers. This includes musicians who have successfully crossed over from the underground scene to the mainstream such as Cairokee: a youth band from Cairo. With four albums since 2011, their songs provide a window not only on the shift in revolutionary mood and aspirations over time, but also on the social concerns of the generation they belong to. Using critical discourse analysis, I study Cairokee’s songs to reveal a number of recurring metaphors which correspond to similarly recurring topoi. Most of the metaphors occur in binary pairs such as light/darkness, dreams/nightmares. One of the most frequent and complex metaphors is that of movement (or lack thereof): movement acts as a metaphor for a range of topoi in the songs, some positive and others negative. I unpack this web of metaphors and demonstrate how they all relate to each other, the social realities and concerns that they articulate and how these have evolved over the four albums.

Shubban Shik [Young Chic Men]: The Rise of Popular Music and the Modernisation of Beirut during the French Mandate

Diana Abbani, Sorbonne University Paris 4

Shubban Shik [Young and chic Men] is a famous popular song written by the eminent Beiruti “chansonnier” and poet Omar al-Z‘inn? (1885-1961), who, in its satirical text, criticised the modernisation and the decadence of Beirut’s society. Through the analysis of Shubban Shik and other popular songs, this paper examines the emergence of popular music during the French mandate. The rise of popular music in Beirut, as a cultural movement, involved not only artists. It also included record company, concert producers, music critics and diverse audience. All these various actors made up the musical world of Beirut. Artists brought their talent and musical expertise, while others joined them by fashioning their practices and contributing to the success of popular music. This paper aims to present how the emergence of new musical places of consummation and the arrival of record industry contributed to the rise of popular music and songs that used to criticise the society, its decadence and changes in manners, and its obsession in modernisation. Moreover, it will show how the rise of this popular music was also an expression of a long struggle over the meaning of music making and its practices in Beirut and the region since the beginning of the century. Accordingly, and based on an analysis of written articles published during the mandate in the local press, I will show how some Beiruti intellectuals called for musical modernisation and criticised the musical scenes.

Download Paper (Abbani)