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Guest Feature: Adam Benkato
Apologies in advance for a very long newsletter this week.
It still feels surreal that one year has already passed since the blast in the Port of Beirut. It’s enraging that we still know nothing, that no one has been held accountable, and that an entire people — rightfully infuriated and in mourning — were attacked with tear gas by Lebanese Internal Security Forces while protesting.
I spent much of my time this week reading every possible story about Lebanon that was written. Usually, I would share articles in a section below titled “Lebanon” but this week I wanted to give those clips more prominence, so they’re all listed here up top. Additionally, all of the songs this week under the “Flows by Middle Eastern, North African, and Diaspora Artists” reflect Lebanon in some way. It was incredibly difficult to narrow down both lists, and there are plenty of stories and songs that were not included that are still worth checking out, believe me.
In addition, my friend Sherine Al Shallah, reached out to people directly impacted by the blast to ask them if there are any songs that they gravitate toward to help them cope with the day. Sherine created a playlist based on their choices, and I hope you take a listen to it.
“They Killed Us from the Inside” - Human Rights Watch
"And What Would You Like Me to Do About It?”: How the Lebanese Government Disabled Hundreds of People — and Then Left Them to Pay for Its Crime - Karim Merhej, Christina Cavalcanti, and Kareem Chehayeb, The Public Source
What we still don't know about Beirut's port explosion - Tamara Qiblawi, CNN
I Don’t Want to Remember - Ghalia Al-Alwani, Daraj
A Red Staircase of Imagination? - Anthony Elghossain, Newlines Magazine
The day home did not change: the politics of nostalgia - Sara M. Saleh, Overland
What We Lost That Day - Lina Mounzer, Tala Safie, Ben Hubbard, and Hwaida Saad, The New York Times
‘No sense of safety’: how the Beirut blast created a mental health crisis - Hannah McCarthy, The Guardian
Once, they were symbols of promise. The Beirut blast turned them to monuments of despair - Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times
Post-blast, Beirut's LGBTQ+ community swamped by a homelessness crisis - Elias Jahshan, The New Arab
Holding bay, refuge, dumping ground, home, war zone, community: The storied past of blast-devastated Karantina - Abby Sewell, L’Orient Today
Lebanon opts for social media blackout as Beirut blast anniversary ‘too difficult to bear' - Fatima Al Mahmoud, The National
Beirut was decimated last year. We are still picking up the pieces. - Sally Abi Khalil, The Washington Post
One year on from Beirut’s explosion, Lebanon is more broken than ever - Bissan Fakih, Al-Jumhuriya
Families of Beirut blast child victims demand justice a year on - Kareem Chehayeb, Al Jazeera
Thank you, friends. Let’s get into it. I am so excited to introduce our guest feature this week: Adam Benkato!
Adam is a Libyan-American archivist and academic currently based in Oakland with close ties to Berlin. His academic work focuses on the historical and sociolinguistics of Arabic as well as of ancient and modern Iranian languages and his public writing has appeared in Mizna, Africa is a Country, and Jadaliyya. He co-founded the open-access journal Lamma: A Journal of Libyan Studies in order to provide an accessible forum for multi-disciplinary research on modern Libya. He also runs LibyanVinyl, where he collects and shares Libyan music from the vinyl era.
Adam reps Libyan culture like no one else, trust me. This man is constantly working on something new, something that pushes your thinking and awareness of the artistry coming out of Libya. I was so excited when he agreed to share some of his go-to music:
1. What is your favorite song right now?
This is always such a tough question for me; it causes my brain to overload with all the music I've been listening to recently and then I blank and can't answer it. So after thinking about it for a week, I'll have to split the question. I've been jamming to "Sahra" from “Laissez-passez” by TootArd pretty regularly. They're from the Golan Heights and are exciting to me because they have such a fresh sound. I also love Bombino, and have had his song "Tamiditine" from his older album “Nomad” on repeat (especially when driving).
2. What’s your go-to song for all your feels?
I have a lot of feels often and all sorts of music helps me out with that. But for a song that can always sort of reset me, it's probably "Heaven's Gonna Burn Your Eyes" by Thievery Corporation. I think I started listening to it this way in college, not sure, but I've been listening to the album for years, and this song in particular can go on anytime. If I need a chill start to the day, a few moments of reflection before bed, calming down for any reason, anything. It's funny cuz I'm not super into Thievery Corporation in general. I like them enough, but I pretty much only intentionally put on this album, “The Richest Man in Babylon”.
3. Name a song that reminds you of home.
As someone born and raised in the great nation of Houston, I would have to say any and all Houston rap. But I want to shoutout Khruangbin. They are a more recent band, so I didn't grow up with them, but I absolutely love that they're from Houston, explore diverse genres of music globally, and have cultivated a rich yet mellow sound. Great for just relaxing or for writing to. "Texas Sun", a collab with fellow Texan Leon Bridges, is a particular "home" fave. But as a Benghazino, anything by the universally-acknowledged master of miriskawi music, Ibrahim al-Safi. Something in his voice takes me back to late-night wedding parties in Benghazi streets. Check out "صبر العاشقين" or "جميلة" or "الزينـه خذاته عقـلي راح" (or anything else of his online). If you've never heard of miriskawi before, I hope you dig it. It's Benghazi's finest.
4. Name a song you know all the words to.
So many! I don't even know where to begin. Definitely "Wahrane Wahrane" (Cheb Khaled's version), which is another song I come back to frequently. On a long solo drive recently I realized I know almost all the words of the entire album Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness by Coheed and Cambria. Yikes. And a random one, I actually learned the words to "W-4" by Dead Prez before I ever heard the song, because a friend of mine used to sing it to himself all the time.
5. Name a song that gets you really hype and ready to go.
To be honest, I'm not much of a music to hype me kind of person. I mostly like sitting and listening, or listening while working. If I can tweak the prompt to music which instantly makes me feel like dancing, then I will shamelessly take the chance to shout out another Libyan: Ahmed Fakroun and song "Soleil Soleil", which is the best Arabic 80s song of all time (I will fight anyone on this), especially the freaking music video! But also since I mentioned Houston rap, it would be remiss of me not to mention the now relatively obscure song "Back Back" by Lil O, which I've sort of turned into my pandemic anthem: the refrain, anticipating social distancing 20 years later, goes "Back back, gimme 50 feet". (Also, if anyone can identify that sitar sample, please let me know.)
Big shout out to Adam for joining and sharing his song selections! Most of Adam’s songs are available on Spotify and will be included in this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen. Don’t forget to follow Adam on Twitter too!
What I’m Listening To
🎧 Flows by Middle Eastern, North African, & Diaspora Artists 🎧
Sint El Ew - Blu Fiefer
Lil Watan - Mashrou’ Leila
Li Beirut - Fairuz
Beirut Sette Donia - Majida Al Roumi
Toot Toot, A’ Beirut - Marcel Khalife
M66i - El Rass
Ard El Ghajar - Jahida Wehbe
Zuruni - Dana Hourani
Mawlai - Rust
Shou Hal Ayyam - Ziad Rahbani
🎤 Vibes by Latinx & Hispanic artists 🎤
Volví - Aventura featuring Bad Bunny
Agua - Casandra Paz
El Pescador - Totó La Momposina
Bahamas - Messiah
Si Es Trucho Es Trucho - Axel Rulay featuring Farruko and El Alfa
TATA (Remix) - Eladio Carrion featuring J Balvin, Daddy Yankee, and Bobby Shmurda
Mi Debilidad - Maria Becerra
Esta Si - Chimbala featuring Chucky 73 and Dowba Montana
Aventura - Las Villa
Que Se Vengen - Fufu
🎼 Other Good Music 🎼
Baby Got World (DJ Jazzy Jeff and Kaidi Tatham Remix) - De La Soul featuring Potatohead People, Posdnuos, and Kapok
Take My Breath - The Weeknd
Essence - WizKid featuring Tems
Hey Mista - Isaiah Rashad
Waiting For - rum.gold featuring Jamila Woods
Got Me Like - Amaria featuring Mick Jenkins
All of This - Jorja Smith and GuiltyBeatz
Raha - Zuchu
That’s On You (Japanese Remix) - Joyce Wrice featuring UMI
Nobody - Nas featuring Ms. Lauryn Hill
What I’m Reading
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
An ancient treasure may be returned to Iraq. Many others are still lost. - Nada Shabout, The Washington Post
“There are generations of young Iraqis who are far removed from — and have no access to — their history, collective memories or national identities. With such loss, how will they shape their future?”
In poor area of Tunis, hopes for better times ahead - Jihed Abidellaoui and Ammar Awad, Reuters
Exacerbated by the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic grievances have fuelled discontent in Tunisia, leading to protests that encouraged President Kais Saied to remove the prime minister and assume governing authority last month.
Algerians in France raise funds to help their home country fight pandemic - MEE Staff, Middle East Eye
The new Delta variant is responsible for 71 percent of infections in July, while hospitals are short of oxygen tanks and the vaccine rollout is slow.
Yemeni Americans in Dearborn struggle to be included in city government - Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
"People that get elected are supposed to represent all of Dearborn and all of the areas and all of the constituents. However, we feel that as the brownest community, we've been marginalized, we've been systematically discriminated against by the city's actions and the city has not hold them accountable."
🎶 Music, Arts, & Culture 🎶
The Beat of a Generation - Gaia Caramazza and DJ Nooriyah, Shubbak
Arab Hip Hop is taking over South West Asia and North Africa. For this episode, DJ Nooriyah sits down with artists The Synaptik, Felukah, Bint7alal, and Philip Rachid aka Soultrotter to hear their stories and what music really means to them.
“Perhaps most crucially, the Concert for Bangladesh showed that celebrities could tap into their fan base to make Western audiences more attentive to geographically distant issues.”
Olivia Rodrigo Was Built 4 This - Gabriella Paiella, GQ
In the middle of lockdown, a Disney star transformed, seemingly overnight, into the rarest kind of artist: a self-made global pop star adored by Gen Z, boomer music critics—and everyone in between.
Aaliyah's Music to Return After a Decade: The Inside Story - Dan Rys and Gail Mitchell, Billboard
The singer’s biggest albums have been unavailable for a decade. Now her uncle, who founded her label, has a deal with EMPIRE to release them on streaming services. But Aaliyah’s estate isn’t happy about it.
📚 Other Reads 📚
My Sister Remembers Her Past Life. Somehow, I Believe Her. - Sara Aridi, The New York Times
Living with my sister during the pandemic taught me to suppress my cynicism and embrace her belief in reincarnation.
Basket weavers plant the seeds of Gullah culture in the next generation - Jamie Rogers, The Washington Post
Black women have been the keepers of the tradition of basket weaving, but men and younger people are embracing this Lowcountry craft.
Europe's hijab test - Jasmine M. El-Gamal, The New Arab
Muslim women in Europe are submitted to social, professional, and legal pressure to not wear the hijab, and if they do, many women are forced to submit themselves to the 'friendly enough' test, writes Jasmine M. El-Gamal.
How NBA Summer League found its way to Sin City: ‘Vegas had become a go-to place’ - Tashan Reed, The Athletic
The popularity of the league has grown exponentially. At the same time, so has the sports community in Vegas. It’s become home to the NHL’s Golden Knights, WNBA’s Aces, and NFL’s Raiders in the last three years alone. In many ways, Summer League paved the way for Vegas to become a destination for sports. And it doesn’t appear to be finished growing yet.
‘It has to be known what was done to us’: Natick couple harassed by eBay tell their story for the first time - Aaron Pressman, The Boston Globe
David and Ina Steiner were terrorized for weeks in the summer of 2019 by a team of employees from Internet giant eBay. Here is their account of the events, which have led to criminal charges and a civil lawsuit.