Discover more from Sa'alouni El Nas
Guest Feature: Ahmed Ashour
Thanks for reading Sa'alouni El Nas! If you haven’t already, please subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
This week, I’m again sharing some resources and ways to donate to organizations supporting recovery and rescue efforts for people impacted by the earthquake in Morocco and Storm Daniel in Libya. Here are just a few places where you can donate:
Again, donating will not fix everything. It is the very least we can do, and both communities need all of the support possible.
Okay friends, let’s get right into it. I am so excited to introduce this week’s guest feature: Ahmed Ashour!
Ahmed is a Bahraini-Egyptian multidisciplinary creator and pop culture vulture. Most recently, Ahmed served as a producer at Kerning Cultures Network, helping tell stories from the Middle East, North Africa, and the spaces between. He is forever indebted to everyone who worked at KC for changing his life and inspiring him to now pursue grad schooling in audio journalism. In the meantime, Ahmed is working on launching a weekly newsletter/podcast discussing events in pop culture from an Arab/MENA perspective. Hit him up if you would like to learn more about it.
Ahmed grew up on Saturday Night Live, Britney Spears/Ruby music videos, and ma7shi kromb, before moving to the US for high school. After landing the HIGHLY coveted role of a literal tree in a production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses (IYKYK), Ahmed got bitten by the theater bug. He studied Theatre Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University, after which he returned to Bahrain to make theater, installation art, sound art, music, film, audio documentaries, and everything in between.
Ahmed wants you to know that he has a dark past as a bass-baritone singer in his all-suspendered college a cappella group, The Brown Bear Necessities. He’s also an avid record collector, with his most prized possession being an out-of-press original of Ziad Rahbani’s “Bil Afrah” (shoutout Diran Mardirian and Chico Records in Beirut). Finally, he’d like to preface this list by saying that, as someone who grew up listening to morning radio on his way to school, he would like to dedicate the songs on this list to specific people, old school radio style.
Ahmed is a genuine soul and one of the kindest people I’ve had the chance to get to know. He’s done incredibly work with Kerning Cultures, and he’s been an avid supporter of Sa’alouni El Nas from day one, for which I’m incredibly grateful. Ahmed really came through with some excellent song choices and it’s an honor to have him part of the newsletter:
1. What song do you have on repeat right now?
I grew up on maximalist pop music, and no matter what mood I’m in, I always make sure to have an honest-to-Allah banger on rotation. That being said, I’ve recently been obsessed with Chappell Roan’s “Red Wine Supernova,” and let me tell you, [Stefon voice] this song has everything: the rush of falling in love, go-go boots, a spoke-sung middle 8, and, of course, red wine. This one goes out to college bestie Yong Hui Chin in Singapore, as well as DMV food legend Danny Dubbaneh of Z&Z fame, who shouted out Roan’s “Pink Pony Club'' on a previous edition of Sa'alouni El Nas. Taste recognize taste.
I had the life-changing honor of watching the 1-of-1, number 1, and only 1: Mrs. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, live for the Renaissance World Tour last month. “1+1” has been on repeat ever since. Play this timeless ballad at my wedding AND my funeral. Goes out to fellow children of destiny: iconic researcher Deena Sabry in San Francisco, and incredible environmental researcher Yousif Bucheeri in Bahrain.
2. Tell me a song that makes you cry.
Fun fact: this song, from the 1993 film Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, is my college a cappella group’s legacy song, so it holds an extra special place in my heart. For anyone not familiar, the film depicts a gay lawyer diagnosed with HIV/AIDS during the 1970s/80s crisis. The song captures the loss, pain, and loneliness felt by the queer community during that time, but has also taken on different meanings for different communities over the years. As a queer man witnessing the recent ruthless attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community in the MENA region, this song is a reminder to find strength in community as we fight for queer liberation. Goes out to the MENA queer community and, of course, my Brown University Bear Necessities.
Two quick facts: 1. Ahmed Ashour is a huge musical theater nerd. 2. There isn’t much Arab/MENA representation in the musical theater canon. Enter Daniel and Patrick Lazour, Lebanese-American siblings and musicians/composers extraordinaire who created We Live in Cairo, a musical about 6 young revolutionaries living through the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. I saw its world premiere in 2019, and it was simply transcendent. In 2020, the Lazours collaborated with some of the biggest MENA names in music to record songs from the musical, including this one with Emel Mathlouthi. It makes me long for Egypt, for the streets of Cairo, and for a better future for the place I call home. Goes to everyone who has fought/continues to fight for a better Egypt, especially under the current regime that’s been on a mission to destroy its own national heritage and that of its people.
3. What song reminds you of your childhood?
Phew, that was heavy. Here’s a lighter one, showcasing Taylor Swift’s incomparable ability to transport you to a specific place and time with such an economy of words. It’s a portrait of childhood innocence and imagination, while also being an ode to mothers who stand still so their daughters can look back and see how far they’ve come (heh). May or may not have also inspired my high school valedictorian speech. Goes out to my own mom, and my lawyer-in-the-making bestie Shayna Toh in Cambridge, MA. See you at the Eras Tour in Amsterdam 2024!
I would legit turn on Melody (feel old?) after my parents went to sleep and wait for this song’s music video to come on (which, in retrospect, might’ve been a bit too salacious for 8-year-old Ahmed…). This song, its music video (workout queen!), and Ruby in general all played a crucial role in me discovering my own identity and love for music. She felt, to me, like the closest thing to an Arab Britney Spears. Also helps that it is a proper tune. Goes out to my little niece, who I’ll make sure is all caught up on early-aughts pop hits at an appropriate age.
PS: If you think “Toxic” is Britney’s best song…I have a lot of questions. Number 1: how dare you?
4. Name a song you sing in the shower or in the car.
MUNA’s music is catharsis for the masses, and while “Silk Chiffon” (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) is a euphoric shower/car screamer, “Home by Now” is THE canonical gemini-singing-in-shower/car anthem. It’s a song about breaking up with someone…but not being sure you made the right decision. So you start wondering if you called-it-quits too soon. Truly gemini behavior if I’ve ever seen it. Goes out to certified people person Soumaya Bouabdellah, my absolute butterfly of a pal in Casablanca.
Angham is many things, but on this song, she is a capital A Actor. (I just wish her acting career ended there, because that one TV show she did with Nelly Kareem…rough.)
The nearly-7-minute epic is a one woman show in three acts, where she speaks to a friend about a former lover. In the darker, more melancholic verses, she inquires whether her ex brought her up in conversation recently. In the chorus, however, our tragic lover’s world is turned upside down by the news that he DID in fact bring her up. She asks if he asked about her “with his words, or with his eyes,” and you can hear in her voice the glimmer of hope for a reunion. The DRAMA, mama! Fantastic song to act out in the shower or car, and I am nothing if not a theater kid looking for any excuse to act out in showers and cars. Goes out to my pals Ahmed Al Kuwaiti in Abu Dhabi and Mohamed Buqais in Bahrain, who got me on to Angham in the first place.
5. Tell me a song everyone should listen to.
Audience participation segment! I would like for you to do the following. First, finish reading this incredible newsletter. Then, turn on the loudest speaker you have or put on headphones, and play “Faith” by George Michael. For the entire 3 minute and 13 seconds duration of this song, I want you to move. Jump. Shake. Dance. Flail. Run. Walk. Bop. Do the macarena. Whatever it is that feels right to you in that moment. If you can’t physically do any of those things for whatever reason, that’s okay. Do it in that little corner of your brain that hasn’t been ruined by emails and bills and stress. Just do it.
This is my favorite song of all time that never fails to lift me up, and I hope it does the same for you - even if just a teeny weeny bit. This one goes out to you, my dear Sa’alouni El Nas reader, because you’re a brilliant human being who was brought here by the brilliance of one Danny Hajjar. Now and forever, you gotta have faith!
Big shout out to Ahmed for joining and sharing his song selections! All of Ahmed’s songs will be included in this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen. Be sure to follow Ahmed on Twitter and Instagram!
What I’m Listening To
Click/tap here for Spotify
Click/tap here for Anghami (*some songs in the playlist are not available on Anghami)
🎧 Middle Eastern, North African, & Diaspora Flows 🎧
Ekhir Hamme (Remix) - Blu Fiefer featuring Nayomi and Perrie
HAKA - Minerva
KAMASHA - Mahdy Madness featuring Wezza Montaser
AJI TCHOUF - Kira7 featuring Bo9al
Haram - Samara
Ana Mali - DJEZJA featuring SRNO
2MNT - Flenn
Zalaana - Shereen Yehia
Ma Dakhlakum - S H I R A N
Le Paradis - Bachar Mar-Khalifé featuring Meryem Aboulouafa
REWIND - Yaseen711 & Omar Monster
Wala Forsa - zeyne
Leila - Nouran AbuTaleb featuring Zeyad Essam
Tishrab Min Rouhi - Ghada Sheri
Te3rfy (Alternate Version) - Dirty Backseat
Machkalni Hobak - Dareen featuring Gustavo51 and S13
Giddy Up! - Bahjat
Nos Leil - Rust
Lezem Lezem - Stou
Shi Makan - Johanna Markos
🎤 Latinx & Hispanic Vibes 🎤
El Jefe - Shakira featuring Fuerza Regida
Dubai - Yahritza Y Su Esencia
BUBALU - Feid featuring Rema
Buenas - Quevedo featuring Saiko
Borracho y Loco - Yandel featuring Myke Towers
Hora Loca - Rawayana featuring Monsieur Periné
Dararí - Aitana
En Ti - Play-N-Skillz featuring Dalex
Blam Blam - Chesca featuring Farina
ESO VA - ARIA VEGA featuring Hamilton
🎼 Other Good Music 🎼
Slime You Out - Drake featuring SZA
Go Baby - Cleo Sol
Nobody - Nissi featuring Fireboy DML
Body - Haley Blais
Paradise - Terrace Martin & Alex Isley
WY@ - Brent Faiyaz
Triple Threat - Headie One featuring K-Trap and Clavish
97 - Doja Cat
Plenty Evil - Cina Soul
Flavors of Karma - EARTHGANG featuring Spillage Village
What I’m Reading
🇱🇧 Lebanon 🇱🇧
In Lebanon's economic crisis, a lack of means equals a lack of healthcare - Lyana Alameddine, L’Orient Today
The economic crisis has forced many Lebanese to seek help paying for their loved ones’ medical treatment.
Lebanon’s prison inmates are running short of food - Edmund Bower, The Economist
Most have not even been convicted.
For many displaced by clashes in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian camp, return is not an option - Abby Sewell, Associated Press
Nearly a week after a cease-fire agreement between warring factions in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp brought a fragile peace, hundreds of displaced residents see no immediate prospects of return.
The Impact of the Economic and Monetary Crisis on Human Rights in Lebanon - Pascal Khodeir, Daraj
This report is the outcome of a two-month practical training period at Daraj as part of the second phase of the fellowship program. Prior to this practical training, the researcher underwent another two-month training on international law and human rights during the first phase of the fellowship program.
'We don't dare go out at night': In crisis-hit Lebanon, Syrian refugees are kidnapped for ransom - Philippe Pernot, The New Arab
As the economic and security situation continues to deteriorate, abductions are on the rise, with vulnerable Syrian refugees being taken hostage by Hezbollah and other allies of the Assad regime.
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
Saudi Arabia Once Banned Videogames. Now, It Wants to Export Them. - Humza Jilani and Donna Abdulaziz, The Wall Street Journal
The kingdom is pouring $40 billion into a bid to be a world leader in the industry.
Moroccan girls at risk of sexual assault, forced marriage after earthquake - Urooba Jamal and Kim Makhlouf, Al Jazeera
Concerns are rife about trafficking, menstrual hygiene and securing safe childbirth.
Periods, Pads, and Taxation: The Harsh Reality for Menstruating Women in Jordan. - Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, Daraj
Menstrual sanitary products such as feminine hygiene pads are not considered basic health products in Jordan. This subjects them to taxation, which raises the price of these essential items for girls and women, pushing them to resort to less expensive alternatives sometimes, which could expose them to serious health problems.
Citizens without citizenship: The Gulf women banned from giving their children citizenship - Nazeeha Saeed, The New Arab
Archaic citizenship customs in the GCC have brought untold stress to Gulf women married to non-Gulf men, and their children. Unable to simply pass down their citizenship to their children, they are made to feel unwelcome in their own country.
‘A hidden universe of suffering’: the Palestinian children sent to jail - Nathan Thrall, The Guardian
One night in 2005, Israeli soldiers came for Huda Dahbour’s teenage son. He was gone for a year and a half. The damage done to their family – and so many others like them – was incalculable.
🎶 Music, Arts, & Culture 🎶
Want to Enjoy Music More? Stop Streaming It. - Denise Lu, The New York Times
Build a real music collection. Reintroduce intimacy to the songs you care about.
How big-name concerts became unlikely places for immigrant parents and kids to bond - Kimmy Yam and Sakshi Venkatraman, NBC News
From Taylor Swift to Beyoncé to the Spice Girls, many children of immigrants say these big acts have helped bridge divides across generations.
Noname’s Fearless Complexity - Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, Pitchfork
Talking politics, sex, and radical human engagement with the rapper around the recent block party she organized to celebrate community, activism, and her brilliant new album, Sundial.
The magic of Tamino - Gilles Khoury, Financial Times
The Belgian-Egyptian singer, named after the hero of Mozart’s famous opera, is producing his own spellbinding tunes.
Jorja Smith Put Herself First and the Rest Fell Into Place - Larisha Paul, Rolling Stone
U.K. singer had to leave London and move back home to unlock her full potential for her long-awaited second album.
📚 Other Reads 📚
NBA Jam, a classic arcade game with an iconic voice, still ‘on fire’ 30 years later - Jason Jones, The Athletic
Thirty years later, after its first release in 1993, NBA Jam has become one of the most popular arcade games ever.
Hasan Minhaj’s “Emotional Truths” - Clare Malone, The New Yorker
In his standup specials, the former “Patriot Act” host often recounts harrowing experiences he’s faced as an Asian American and Muslim American. Does it matter that much of it never happened to him?
Black immigrants face more discrimination in the U.S. The source is sometimes surprising - Tyrone Beason, Los Angeles Times
Jamaica native Winsome Pendergrass is part of a surge of immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. She supports solidarity among Black Americans, but has been shunned in return.
Return to the office? These workers quit instead. - Danielle Abril, The Washington Post
Companies are increasingly cracking down on remote work, spurring employee pushback and resignations.
The story behind New Balance’s ‘Call Me Champion’ campaign for Coco Gauff - Aaron Dodson, Andscape
The tennis star’s celebratory shirt has been years in the making.