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Guest Feature: Ahmad A. aka BLAD
Yesterday, a German court handed down a landmark and precedent-setting decision, finding a former Syrian army colonel guilty of crimes against humanity and handing him a life sentence.
This is the first time that a legal court examined state-sponsored torture in the Syrian civil war.
Anwar Raslan was found guilty of overseeing the murder of 27 people and the torture of over 4000 people during his time as army colonel.
As my friend Mai El-Sadany said on Twitter, the decision by the court is itself historic, but the crimes committed are not. In fact, they continue today under the brutal Assad regime.
Accountability is only made possible because of the tireless efforts of Syrian activists, witnesses, survivors, and human rights organizations working to expose the harsh and fatal practices happening in Syrian detention centers.
Many still languish in Syrian prisons. Many still have not been found after disappearing for years. While this decision brings about some semblance of accountability, more work needs to be done to achieve justice and end these atrocities once and for all.
Okay friends, let’s do this! I am incredibly honored and excited to introduce this week’s guest feature: Ahmad A. aka BLAD!
Ahmad works in international education as an academic advisor. But that just pays the bills! His true passion lies in curating MENA art, music, and culture via his online platform: BLAD (@bladelsham on Instagram). In conjunction with its sister-page NORF (@norfafrica), both platforms tell stories and share histories by highlighting music and art, as well as connecting dots between our homelands and their respective diaspora communities.
BLAD x NORF are official Apple Music Curators, while also in talks with Anghami to (hopefully) formalize their relationship. BLAD’s first brand collaboration drops soon with Ya Habibi Market, honoring a late Arabic music icon! (Stay tuned)
Ahmad holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, during which he published a book of original poems and Mahmoud Darwish translations (named one of Brooklyn Rail’s “Best Books of 2017”). After years in NYC and Dubai, he’s now back home in Chicago’s Arab community, where he and his wife are raising two proud young Pali boys.
Y’all, Ahmad truly does so much for our culture. His voice and his work are incredibly vital to the preservation of our artistic contributions. And he’s always on the lookout for new dope music. I look to BLAD constantly for songs and artists, and this newsletter could not exist without Ahmad’s invaluable work:
1. What is your favorite song right now?
Been exploring a range of new music these days, so it’s hard to pinpoint! But I keep going back to “Obsessed With You” by Central Cee (UK rapper). It’s a drill love song with a fascinating sample and hyperpop influences. Excited about the trajectory of rap! Also been enjoying the new dltzk album, which is sonically unlike anything I’ve heard before.
2. What’s your go-to song for all your feels?
“Want It All” by Burna Boy and Polo G. IDK what it is about this track! Makes me feel good and proud – almost victorious. Whenever I’m feeling down or unmotivated, the melody and lyrics bring me joy.
3. Name a song that reminds you of home.
“Nassam 3lena el Hawa” by the OG Fairouz. You already know! Immediately transports me home and validates feelings of ghorba.
4. Name a song you know all the words to.
“Still D.R.E.” — Every single word. Can recite verbatim, following the various flows and cadences! Should be mentioned I used to (semi-seriously) rap for years, and at one point was a pretty big Eminem stan (lol).
5. Name a song that gets you really hype and ready to go.
“Blood on the Leaves” by Kanye West. Regardless of how you feel about Ye, it slaps hard and is guaranteed to make your neck hurt. Sometimes I take a long drive to blast it and scream. You know, self-care.
Big shout out to Ahmad for joining and sharing his song selections! All of Ahmad’s songs will be included in this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen. Check out BLAD on Instagram and be sure to listen to their playlists on Apple Music!
What I’m Listening To
🎧 Flows by Middle Eastern, North African, & Diaspora Artists 🎧
Stylo warqa - RYM
Ego Bil Kilo - Big Hass featuring Tamer Nafar, Dodix, Illiam, and BigMoe
Daya3 Daya3 - El Sawareekh
BELEK - Koast
Sabra - Balqees
C’est fini - Douki featuring Didine Canon 16
7OUMA - Keta featuring Kaso and Nko
Hal Sehry - Hawas
Harba II - Abdou HK featuring Youppi
Zuggy - Alewya
🎤 Vibes by Latinx & Hispanic Artists 🎤
Los Illuminaty - Rochy RD featuring Anuel AA
Escape - Enrique Iglesias
Contigo en la Distancia - Christina Aguilera
Señor (El Búho Remix) - Desta French
Amor Pasajero - Sebastian Yatra
A Un Paso De La Luna (Remix) - Ana Mena featuring Rocco Hunt and Reik
Prada - Arca
Cuento Breve - Natti Natasha
Sincero - Don Omar
TE DESEO LO MEJOR - Bad Bunny
🎼 Other Good Music 🎼
Love Me More - Mitski
Green Light - John Legend featuring Andre 3000
Bernie Mac - ENNY featuring Odeal
Deliveroo - Swarmz featuring Kwengface
Louie Bag - Yebba featuring Smino
Ready - BenjiFlow featuring Juls
Puerto Rico - IDK featuring Lucky Daye
Pink Lemonade - Lily Rayne
Unloyal - Summer Walker featuring Ari Lennox
jealousy - FKA Twigs featuring Rema
What I’m Reading
🇱🇧 Lebanon 🇱🇧
Reading in times of crisis: Lebanon’s bookstores and bibliophiles battle through the storm - Tala Ramadan, L’Orient Today
With many people financially struggling in Lebanon, books have become an out-of-reach luxury, as discretionary spending falls, turning a practically irrevocable hole in the balance sheet of most bookshops. The book sector in Lebanon has thus suffered a serious blow from the economic crisis, of which the precise dimensions are not yet clear.
Even in a Single Family, a Beirut Christmas Can Be Complicated - Faysal Itani, New Lines Magazine
A Sunni-Orthodox, Muslim-Christian reflects on his holidays in Lebanon.
Disinformation and electronic armies: How Lebanon's political class uses fake news to win elections - Justin Salhani, The New Arab
Ahead of Lebanon's upcoming elections, activists fear the political establishment will spread disinformation and fake news to retain power, in a country where the convoluted media landscape is already rife with political agendas.
Migrants fleeing Lebanon by sea accuse Greece of abuse - Kareem Chehayeb, Al Jazeera
Dozens of people in Lebanon attempted to sail to Italy on October 26, but they never reached their destination.
’It took months for the glass to leave her body’: making Memory Box and surviving the Beirut blast - Cath Clarke, The Guardian
Lebanese film-makers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige explain how their experiences of war shaped their new film – and how art freed them.
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
In Egypt, some are forced to trade citizenship for freedom - Osman El Sharnoubi, Mada Masr
“As for a regime that conditions enjoying your most basic citizenship rights of freedom and life upon your dropping your nationality, it is a regime that is reinforcing its repressive philosophy: to be a citizen necessarily means not to be free.”
Hejaz Railway: Turning Jordan's historic line into a park for the people - Clothilde Mraffko, Middle East Eye
The Ottoman Empire’s legendary Hejaz Railway has been closed for more than a century.
Mahrez is thriving in a more patient City team – and is now playing selfless role with Algeria - Sam Lee, The Athletic
“Riyad Mahrez is a national icon in Algeria, he’s a star in the truest sense of the term.”
How Mo Salah Became the New King of Football - Oliver Franklin-Wallis, GQ
Mohamed Salah is the best player in the world right now. The world just hasn’t admitted it yet.
Starving for freedom: The role of hunger strikes in the Palestinian struggle - Yara Hawari, The New Arab
Hisham Abu Hawash joins a long lineage of political prisoners in Palestine and across the world who use hunger strikes to reclaim their power over their bodies and bring awareness to their cause.
🎶 Music, Arts, & Culture 🎶
What Bob Saget And ‘Full House’ Meant To Immigrant Kids - Marina Fang, HuffPost
The death of the "Full House" star and "America's Funniest Home Videos" host has struck a particular chord among many immigrants and children of immigrants.
Alia Shawkat Is a Cult Classic - Carrie Battan, The New Yorker
The actor talks “Search Party,” Brad Pitt, and her love of painting.
‘A journey through the past’: lost music of the Palestinian uprising is restored - Bethan McKernan, The Guardian
Mo’min Swaitat uncovered 10,000 tapes in the West Bank during lockdown, and digitised Riad Awwad’s intifada album.
Alewya is unlocking her superpowers - Bruce Tantum, DJ Mag
With a string of powerful releases, including the recent ‘Panther In Mode’, Alewya creates a musical universe that merges the spiritual and the physical. DJ Mag catches up with the rising London star to find out more.
Hassan Hajjaj’s Photographs Embody Moroccan Maximalism - Rand Al-Hadethi, GQ Middle East
Immerse yourself in the hypnotic frames of iconic Moroccan-British contemporary artist Hassan Hajjaj.
📚 Other Reads 📚
How Three DC 20-Somethings Are Changing Lives With The Village Café - Cari Shane, Inside Hook
Yes, the Village Café serves coffee. But its real purpose is serving the community.
No escape from Guantánamo - Abigail Hauslohner, The Washington Post
For the former detainees of America’s war on terror, life after Guantánamo is its own kind of prison.
At ‘Touray Tower,’ the Broken Heart of New York’s Gambian Community - Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, The New York Times
Abdoulie Touray is believed to have been the first Gambian to move into 333 E. 181st Street. He drew scores of compatriots to the building where 17 died in a fire.
The Agony of Parents With Kids Under 5 - Jaime Green, Slate
“There is a knife hanging over our heads, as there is for every parent of a kid under 5. The text alert will come, or the phone will ring with a call from school. An exposure. A symptom. Come get them. Come get them and stay home.”
Novak Djokovic fought the public good — and won. That’s bad news for all of us. - Kevin Blackistone, The Washington Post
Sports already get plenty of concessions. They don’t need pandemic breaks.