Video Inverted Worlds: Arab Hip Hop – Rhymes and Revolution

Like a scratched up 45-rpm/7” record, the purveyors of the Arab hip hop movement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have been repetitive about the nature of the messaging. From Tunisia to Jordan, to Lebanon and Libya, from Syria and back to Palestine, Arab hip-hoppers have been producing for their insular fanbase(s) with lyrics that presaged the rhetoric of the so-called Arab Spring. But they developed in the shadows. They spoke more about the theft of Palestine, or the plight of the disenfranchised, and the corruption of the ruling classes rather than the idea of mass rebellion sparked by the selfimmolation of Mohamed Al-Bou’ziz in December 2010. The backbone was their reliance on the beats.

Cairo trio Arabian Knightz perform in Doha.
(Omar Chatriwala | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

And to this end, the movement’s rhythmic signposts grew from the mimicry of the Western, Afro-influenced 4×4 rhythm structure to a very homegrown distillation of the Tarab melodies and beat structures of their musical forebearers – with SP-808 sampler effects taken from the wealth of Arab records made in Egypt and Lebanon for decades prior to cassettes and CD’s. But the revolutions didn’t change the movement. If anything, the revolutions helped the movement serve notice to the West and to the corporate entities that would exploit the talent coming from the Arab hip hop movement – “they need no validation from anyone but themselves and their growing fanbase.”

Indeed, the lyrical and musical litmus tests within the Arab hip-hop movement have evolved to be “about” the social messaging, and about the innovations of homegrown sampling than about money or fame. Who are the main actors in the pan-Arab hip hop movement? Is there a Pan-Arab hip hop movement? What real impact will Arab hip hop have on the shaabi audience or the mainstream? Can it or has it affected revolution in the region? Will the next battles of free expression be fought by members of the Arab hip hop movement? These are all questions that, in the very least, deserve debate. The questions were discussed at the Inverted Worlds Congress by the cultural filmmaker and writer Jackson Allers.

He has spent the last 6-years documenting the alternative and independent musical trends in the Arab world for outlets like The National, Rolling Stone ME, National Public Radio, Red Bull Music Academy Magazine and primarily on his blog Beats and Breath. His work on Arab hip hop in the region has been cited frequently as a reference point in numerous academic settings. His 29-min radio documentary – Rhyme and Revolution – about the Arab hip-hop movement and the revolutions has travelled to three continents and aired on over 200 radio stations worldwide, and his short documentary about the young Palestinian hip hop group I-Voice (Bourj al Barajneh refugee camp) and their search for a back-up generator for their camp studio has been cited by critics as a “non-polemic” look at the legacy of the Palestinian conflict. He is writing a book on the rise of Arab hip hop in the region and Diaspora, and is also helping to document the making of the Arab hip hop compilation “Khat Thaleth” – produced by the Stronghold Sound record label.

Arab Hip Hop – Rhymes and Revolution from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Video Inverted Worlds: قصة الأمس

في الخامس والعشرين من كانون الثاني العام 2011 ، تغيّرت قصة مصر.
لكن الصحف الصادرة في الخامس والعشرين المذكور، كانت تروي قصة الأمس.
فكيف كانت حياة مصر تجري في ذاك الأمس، عندما كانت القصة القديمة تتجه بلا تردّد إلى تتماتها، بثبات لم يراودها شكّ للحظة بأنه قابل للاهتزاز؟
أي عالم رسمت معالمه، بينما العالم الذي يعرفه المصريون يتجه إلى زواله؟ بأي عناوين احتفت، عند أي أحداث توقفت؟ كأنها الصفحة الأخيرة من
رواية لا تعرف إنها ستنتهي اليوم.
الصحف، القومية كما المعارضة، المصرية كما العربية والدولية، هي تلك الصفحة الأخيرة.
سأعود إلى قراءتها، لأعيد تركيب مشهد النهار الأخير من العهد السابق لثورة، مثلما حفظه الأرشيف اليومي، بأخباره السياسية والأمنية والاقتصادية
والثقافية والفنية والمتفرقة، مصرياً وعربياً وعالمياً.
ثم سأعاود كتابتها بلغة روائية، كقصةٍ قصيرة تبدأ كما الأيام العادية، وتنتهي كما الأيام العادية، غافلةً عن سياقٍ آخر يسكنها ويتربص بها.
هو مشهد الفصل الأخير.. ولم يكن يعرف كتّابه حينها أنه الأخير.

قصة الأمس from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Sahar Mandour was born in 1977 in Beirut to a Lebanese mother and an Egyptian father. She studied psychology at Saint Joseph University in Lebanon. While studying, she went on to work as a journalist and has been an editor and journalist at Assafir Newspaper since 1998. Her work as a journalist focuses on subjects related to culture, youth issues, human rights and the arts. Many of her articles have been featured in translation in the French weekly Courier International. Mandour also edits Sawt w Soura, a daily media monitoring page, Shabab, a weekly youth supplement and Mihalliyyat, a local non-political news spread for Assafir. Mandour is the author of several novels including 32 (Dar Al Adab Publishers, Beirut, 2010), Hobb Beiruti (A Beiruti Love) (Dar Al Adab Publishers, 2009) and Sa’arsom Najma Aala Jabeen Vienna (I’ll Draw a Star On Vienna’s Forehead) (La Cedetheque and Dar Al-Shorouq Publishers, 2007). Her highly acclaimed novels have been met with positive critical reviews and both 32 and Hobb Beiruti were best selling novels at the Beirut International Arab Book Fair.

Video Inverted Worlds: Critical Sounds from the Periphery: Palestinian Electro in Lebanon

The variety of musical imaginaries in Palestinian camps of Lebanon echoes the distinctive ways in which Palestinian worlds are connected to international cultural flows. Isolated and stigmatized by part of the local population, discriminated against, both spatially and socially, Palestinians in Lebanon are part of globalized cultural flows, which they adapt within their own particular conditions. Considered from this perspective, they compensate – both inside and outside of the camps – the decline of national artistic productions by exploring new esthetic, and by creating through this process the conditions for their integration into the musical and political circulation. Among these cultural paths, electronic music (or electro) is one of the newest. By composing rap and electro and musical poetry, these musicians negotiate a place to be in tune with the contemporary world.

Nicolas Puig during his lecture at the Inverted Worlds Conference.
(Photo by Orient Institut Beirut)

As a new generation of Palestinian artists, they create writings that open political spaces as well as new modalities of individual and collective subjectification. These writings reshape the local presence by using transnational networks and selected samples from different spaces and times. I will focus on the case of “Studio Katibé”, a place near Burj al-Barajné camp where “Osloub” (“Style” in Arabic), rappers of Katibé Khamsé and different musicians are pursuing their innovative aesthetic work. Jean-Luc Godard said that fiction is for Israelis and documentaries for Palestinians. Can the way some Palestinian artists create their own fiction point to the emergence of new voices from the worldwide periphery as well as from the Arab periphery? Like the recent upraising in the Arab countries, one of the meanings of these explorations is that they are an attempt to redraw the cartography of world
hegemonies or, at least, a way to engage with the contemporary moment.

Critical Sounds from the Periphery: Palestinian Electro in Lebanon from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Nicolas Puig is anthropologist at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (France). He works in the field of anthropology of music. He had done fieldwork in Egypt (popular music and urban society) and is now visiting researcher at CEMAM (University St Joseph) in Beirut.

Video Inverted Worlds: “Dégage – Out – ارحل “ A Password that Transcends Arab Countries

“Dégage” – Out – « ارحل » was one of the most widespread slogans by the youth of the Arab Spring (2011-2012) revolting against their Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan or Syrian tyrannies. This clause-equivalent or saying, comprised of a single word, plays the role of a sentence in terms of function, as it delivers a direct and transparent message.

Leave – ارحل in several languages
(RamyRaoof | CC BY 2.0)

It in effect reflects an imperative verb, demanding the immediate fall of tyrants. The French version of this clause-equivalent, “Dégage”, saw the day at the end of 2010 in Tunis. Its Arabic equivalent, « ارحل », subsequently spread in Tunis, then in Cairo at Tahrir Square by January 2011. My paper aims to study the style or sarcastic tone adopted by young Egyptians claiming Moubarak, even Ben Ali and Khaddafi Out. The clause-equivalent « ارحل », repeated orally or written on numerous signs and billboards has given way to around 20 dialectal variants in Egypt. It has thus translated the sarcastic popular temperament in addition to the renowned Egyptian sense of humour.


“Dégage – Out – ارحل “ A Password that Transcends Arab Countries from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.
Nader Srage is a professor of linguistics at the Lebanese University since 1981. Throughout his professional career, he focused on functional socio-linguistics, and especially the relationship between language and society in its various levels, aspects and developments. He is currently working on a linguistic study regarding political slogans in Arab countries, in collaboration with the OIB. He received his PhD with honours from the University of Sorbonne (Paris III). He is member in various associations, including the International Society for Functional Linguistics and the Union of Arab Translators. He is the founder of the Beirut Urban Observatory, through which he published two books and organized two conferences regarding cultural heritage in Beirut thus far. He is the author of 10 books in Arabic and French, and more than 200 articles. Amongst others, he is also an expert in communication and PR.

Video Inverted Worlds: The Voice of Freedom – Egyptian Revolution Pop: Provocation or Encouragement

The lyrics of songs composed during or immediately after the Egyptian Revolution in the spring of 2011 are a topic that is worth to be shed a light on. About 25 songs covering different genres from mainstream pop to hip hop and rap will be analysed with regard to their underlying messages. What kind of atmosphere did the composers of these songs create? Are martial revolutionary themes preponderant or does Hani ‘Adil and Amir ‘Id’s song “The Voice of Freedom” (sot il-hurriya) typically reflect the spirit of Midan at-Tahrir during the “hot phase” of the revolution?

Live music at Tahrir Square during the protests.
(Lorenz Khazaleh | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

With more than 2 million hits on YouTube this seems to be the most popular of all songs. One hypothesis is that the songs that were sung at Tahrir Square or uploaded during the first weeks of February 2011 do represent the voice of those parts of the opposition that were actively involved in the revolution. Particularly little-known or new singers like Ramy ‘Isam created an encouraging atmosphere of non-violence and mutual understanding, above all the bridging of religious and social boundaries. In this regard the phrases and metaphors of Egyptian revolution songs much more resemble the music of the 1968-movement than, for instance, songs from the revolution of 1848.

Very striking is the almost complete absence of references to the Islamic religion and to “external enemies” such as Israel or the West. Stars of the Egyptian music scene entered the stage only very late and composed often sentimental and emotional songs glorifying the martyrs of the revolution. A theme common to almost all songs can be interpreted in the light of cultural motion, namely the wish to shape a better society based on freedom (hurriya) and dignity (karama), which are the two concepts most often mentioned.

Stephan Procházka is Professor of Arabic Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies, University of Vienna, Austria. His main areas of research are Arabic dialectology and popular religion and culture of the Middle East and North Africa. He is the head of several research projects and has published widely on numerous topics related to contemporary spoken Arabic and aspects of everyday culture.

The Voice of Freedom – Egyptian Revolution Pop: Provocation or Encouragement from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Video Inverted Worlds: The State of the Media just before and during the Libyan Revolution: Impact, Violation and Challenges

Media during the Qaddafi era was a family means of controlling and directing the masses. There were four TV stations and a similar number of newspapers which were owned and controlled by the “great” leader’s children and favoured kinsmen. Libyans who fled persecution found in the diaspora a breathing space to set up less glamorous media posts in Arabic and English, such as websites/radio in London and the USA, that proved to be more effective and impact making than those of the regime with budgets and corruption in millions. Qaddafi and his lynch men especially the head of the security services, Mousa Kousa, saw that a looming danger had to be stopped by any means including jamming centres and hiring foreign technical expertise from east and west to do that.

Faraj Najem
(Photo by Orient Institut Beirut)

When the revolution broke out on the evening of the 15th of February 2011 in Benghazi, the regime reverted quickly to old habits by liquidating and arresting activists all over Libya. At the same time, they carried on monopolizing his media mouthpieces and advocating violence against the revolutionaries, depriving them of any voice. This necessitated alternatives and ultimately led to an explosion in the number of media outlets in the hands of the revolutionaries culminating in more than 170 newspapers and 20 TV satellites stations. Now the revolution triumphed in Libya with almost 50 thousand casualties. However, there remains a threat that Qaddafi’s immediate family and cronies around the region are bent on sabotaging thesuccess the Libyans have made in the last year post liberation. The future will be determined by the influence exerted by media, as we have seen in the case of Libya where Qaddafi was defeated primarily by Libyans on the ground and NATO jets and Aljazeera and its likes in the skies. Also, the local media post revolution impacted on ordinary Libyans and made them cast their vote against the Islamist parties in an unprecedented move that shocked the Muslim Brotherhood and surprised the rest of the world.

Faraj Najem is a widely respected Libyan author, lecturer, historian, political commentator and advisor on Libyan matters, and a leading member of the Libyan diaspora in the UK. He has acted as a special advisor to the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Office as well as many colleges, universities and think tanks in Britain. He is a regular interviewee on Aljazeera, BBC, CNN, SKY etc. His book ‘Tribe, Islam and State’ is recognised as the seminal work on the tribal history of Libya. Following the February 2011 revolution in Libya, he founded the Forum for Democratic Libya with others, advocating “active citizenship & democratic participation” and served in the Commission for Advice & Support to National Transitional Council of Libya. Born in Benghazi, Libya, he came to the UK as a student in 1983. He soon found out that he was seen by the Qaddafi’s regime as “persona non grata”. Since the revolution, he has returned to Libya on many occasions helping out with media appearances defending the military action against Qaddafi’s troops and moderating the various revolutionaries’ forces on the battle fields across Libya and most recently to host a series of seminars right across the country on electoral and constitutional reform. He is currently running for election to the Libyan National Assembly.

The State of the Media just before and during the Libyan Revolution: Impact, Violation and Challenges from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Video Inverted Worlds: Muhammed Mahmud Street. Egyptian Heritage and Popular Saga

Graffiti is an art of rejection that reaches its audience through the street. It is an expression of social and political conditions, addressing issues concerning society. There have been some attempts to express the Egyptian revolution and the rejection of the colonial mandate over the people. Such attempts were linked to Egyptian heritage as an important part of the culture of society. Means of expressing popular resistance and suffering have varied, and included humour and irony as a natural result of oppression practiced by the regimes against the people.

Alaa Awad
(Jonathan Rashad | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The downtown area of Cairo was one of the most important areas which witnessed the events of the Egyptian revolution, including demonstrations and sitins against violence. Muhammed Mahmud Street is one of the most important streets where revolutionaries recorded their views and rebellion on the walls, turning the street into the biggest witness to recent events. It is impossible to understand ourselves and appreciate our capabilities unless our past is fully grasped as it contributed to creating us. Our understanding of the past is only an understanding of ourselves. The historical consciousness complements the national culture. It highlights the national character and creates integration between the past, the present and the future.

Alaa Awad has been instructor in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Luxor, in the Department of Painting (Mural Painting Section) since 2006. He obtained his Master Degree from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Zamalek, Helwan University. He participated in a number of collective exhibitions inside and outside Egypt, and contributed to several workshops. Alaa has experience in implementing field murals using different materials. He carried out Graffiti art works in Egypt.

Mohammed Mahmud Street – Between Ancient Egyptian Tradition and The Modern Epic from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

During the Inverted Worlds Conference Alaa Awad explained his art to Mona Abaza. She is Professor of Sociology at the American University in Cairo. In 2009-2011, she was visiting Professor of Islamology, Department of Theology at Lund University. Previously she has been a visiting scholar in Singapore at the Institute for South East Asian Studies (ISEAS) 1990-1992, Kuala Lumpur 1995-1996, Paris (EHESS) 1994, Berlin (Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg) 1996-1997, Leiden (IIAS) 2002-2003, and Wassenaar (NIAS) 2006-2007. Her books include Twentieth Century Egyptian Art: The Private Collection of Sherwet Shafei (The Amercian University Press, 2011), The Changing Consumer Culture of Modern Egypt; Cairo’s Urban Reshaping (Brill/AUC Press, 2006), Debates on Islam and Knowledge in Malaysia and Egypt; Shifting Worlds (Routledge Curzon Press/UK, 2002), and Islamic Education, Perceptions and Exchanges: Indonesian Students in Cairo (Cahier d’Archipel, EHESS, Paris, 1994).

Alaa Awad explains to Mona Abaza about his Art from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Video Inverted Worlds: Keynote Address by Elias Khoury

The Inverted Worlds – Congress on Cultural Motion in the Arab Region was held in October 2012 by the Orient Institut Beirut and focussed on exploring arenas and manifestations of cultural change effective in the eventful and disruptive outbursts of the Arab spring. The Keynote Address was given by the journalist, literary critic, novelist and dramaturge Elias Khoury. Khoury was born in Beirut in 1948 and studied history and sociology at the Lebanese University in Beirut and in Paris.

He supported the interests and rights of Palestinians and worked at the PLO Research Center in Beirut in the 1970s and published Shu’un filastiniya (Palestinian Affairs) together with the Palestinian lyric poet Mahmud Darwish. In 1979, as editor for literature, he switched to the daily paper As-Safir, where he worked until 1991. Since 1992 Khoury has been publisher and editor-in-chief of the culture and literary supplement to Beirut’s daily paper An-Nahar.

Elias Khoury
(Suz, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Elias Khoury is considered one of the leading contemporary Arabic intellectuals and writers. His literary work includes eight novels, including al-Jabal al-Saghir (1977), Rahlat Gandhi al-Saghir (1991), and Abwab al-Madinah (1993). The novel The Kingdom of Strangers (1996) shows the Lebanese capital as the scene of warring historical and political powers, as the scene of the Israeli-Lebanese war, which breaks apart at the seams of its various ethic groups, languages, and religions during the civil war.

His novel Bab Al-Shams (1998) was translated into Hebrew and received the Palestine Prize. It was named Best Book of the Year by Le Monde Diplomatique, The Christian Science Monitor, and The San Francisco Chronicle, and a Notable Book by The New York Times and The Kansas City Star. A novel was thereby honoured that told of the Palestinian exodus and the life of the Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese camps. In 2004 the novel was turned into a film by Yousry Nasrallah.

Khoury’s novels have been translated into numerous languages. His recently released As Though She Were Sleeping was shortlisted for the Guardian’s 2011 Book of the Year. He also is the author of numerous plays, which have been performed, among other places, in Beirut, Cairo, Paris, and Vienna. Since 2001, Elias Khoury is global distinguished professor at New York University (NYU), and since 2011 he is the editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies.

During his Keynote at the Inverted Worlds Congress, Khoury made the point that the Arab Revolutions are still in the forming and that the Arab World is in the midst of a change, what oblies people like him to be humble. The Keynote Adress was filmed and can be watched here:

Congress “Inverted Worlds”: Keynote Address by Elias Khoury, October 4, 2012 from maxweberstiftung on Vimeo.