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Guest Feature: Ali Harb
This week, the Recording Academy released their nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards. As with each year, many artists and creatives were snubbed from receiving a nomination in any category. But this year felt particularly egregious. Aside from the obvious omissions (um The Weeknd and Alicia Keys being shut out completely?!) it felt as though the Recording Academy was especially tone deaf in a year that demanded more from us. Not a single rap album nominated for Album of the Year? Not a single female artist nominated for Best R&B Album? How can the Recording Academy possibly select artists for “Best New Artist” who have been releasing music for close to 10 years (Kaytranada) and not actually select any new artists (K-Pop sensation Blackpink)? And don’t even get me started on the “World Music” category.
None of us should be surprised, but it’s still infuriating. The Grammys have a history of racism, sexism, and xenophobia, and Black artists continue to be snubbed while their white peers, many of whom have built their careers off of Black music, continue to receive accolades. There should be greater transparency in the nomination process.
In the moments where I start to feel frustrated by this, I try to remind myself that music is subjective. I bet you all could tell me an artist, song, or album that evokes an emotion or memory for you far quicker than you could tell me who won Album of the Year in 2005 (by the way, the album that won in 2005 was Genius Loves Company by Ray Charles).
Appreciate you all letting me rant a bit about this. We have so much to get into today. I’m very excited to welcome our guest feature this week: Ali Harb!
Ali is a writer based in Washington, DC. He reports on US foreign policy, Arab-American issues, civil rights and politics. He is a product of Beirut, where he grew up before moving to Dearborn, Michigan where he spent most of his adult life.
Any chance I get to spend time with Ali, it feels like ayam zaman (“the old days”). His sense of humor, his love for life, and his deep commitment to the community are just some of the reasons why he’s a great friend and a vital voice:
1. What is your favorite song right now?
Contemporary-ish - Billie Eilish's “Bad Guy”. But I recently rediscovered Sayed Darwish's "El Helwa Di," as sung by Fairuz. It's a tune about laborers getting up in the morning and seeking hope despite the greed of the rich and lack of resources. Like most of everyone who grew up with Arabic music, I'd listened to the song as a child and hummed along to it. It's part of our folklore. But after examining the depth of the words and underlying message about equality and workers' struggle, nowadays I find myself listening to it a few times on repeat. "Patience is a virtue; that's good. But what has changed the state of things? You, people who have money, [should know that] the poor also have a generous God."
2. What’s your go-to song for all your feels?
Fairuz's "Shati Ya Denya". The song has a quintessential Rahbani feel to it that accomplishes the seemingly impossible feat of sounding both dramatic and playful. It is a celebration of the rain, a concept synonymous with giving and pure goodness in the Arab World. While calling on the rain to fall, Fairuz segues into meeting her lovers amid the lushness that the water has produced. But as always with Arabic music, the emotion of love is mixed with angst over the possibility of loss. "Wait for me and don't depart and leave me alone on the hill; I have collected a field of flowers for you - jasmin and manthoor and fill. My flowers in one hand. My heart in one hand. O my fears - if I find that you're far away."
3. Name a song that reminds you of home.
Let's define "home" first. Joking, that would be futile. Generally Arabic pop songs from the early 2000s take me back to the place that's closest to the idea of home for me. I'm going to go with Fadel Shaker's "Ya Ghayeb".
4. Name a song you know all the words to.
I want to brag, so I'll go with Abdul Halim's "Qariat el-Fingan" - an hour-long song about a fortune teller telling the legendary poet Nizar Qabbani about his melancholy stemming from the inevitability and agony of love.
5. Name a song that gets you really hype and ready to go.
Big shout out to Ali for joining and sharing his song selections! Most of Ali’s songs will be included with this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen (Fairuz’s version of “El Helwa Di” is unfortunately not on Spotify, so there’s a different version included even though nobody can come close to Fairuz). And be sure to follow Ali on Twitter and check out his incredible reporting!
What I’m Listening To
🎧 Arab Flows (Middle Eastern & North African artists) 🎧
Unpredictable Freestyle V2 - Khtek
Ain’t Gonna Stop - Daffy featuring Flipperachi
Enta - Kabreet
Haki Ktir - Nayomi featuring Moudy Al Arab
Ya Ghali - Nouran AbuTaleb
Esma3ni - Douki
Machine - Maestro
Ya Habibi - Sami Shamsi
Ba9i - Leil
Hazeena - Nour Khan
🎤 Las Vibras (Latinx & Hispanic artists) 🎤
LA NOCHE DE ANOCHE - Bad Bunny featuring ROSALÍA
Borrachos - Mau y Ricky
Could I Have This Kiss Forever - Enrique Iglesias featuring Whitney Houston
BEBÉ - Camilo featuring El Alfa
De Noche - Noreh featuring Pitizion
CULEBRA - Nani
Cupido - Ana Mancebo
Por Fin - Corina Smith
Otra Día Otra Intento - Polimá Westcoast
Colombia Caribe - ChocQuibTown
🎼 Other Music 🎼
Escape From LA - The Weeknd
Memories - David Guetta featuring Kid Cudi
Anger - Shaybo
Blue Skies - Birdy
Miss Me? - dvsn
Te Amo - Rihanna
Flawed - Wale featuring Gunna
Remember That Night? - Sara Keys
Lonely - Chloe x Halle
Get Paid - Aluna featuring Princess Nokia and Jada Kingdom
What I’m Reading
🇱🇧 Lebanon 🇱🇧
Ihsan Al-Mounzer: The godfather of belly dance disco - Natalie Shooter, Al Jazeera
The Lebanese composer’s fusion of Middle Eastern and Western music created a new genre during the country’s civil war.
Climate Change Closes In On Lebanon's Iconic Cedar Trees - Ruth Sherlock and Nada Homsi, NPR
The cedar tree is a source of national pride in Lebanon. But now the very survival of these ancient giants is in question.
To Die in the Time of Pestilence - Hisham Melhem, The Atlantic
Hisham Melhem, a Lebanese columnist for Annahar, writes about the pain of watching his wife pass away amidst the pandemic.
Behind the scenes of Macron’s failed gambit in Lebanon - Anthony Samrani and Antoine Ajoury, L’Orient Today
How was the French initiative put together? What did the French president say to Lebanese leaders, and what was their reaction? And nearly three months later, why has nothing come of Paris’ intervention in Lebanese affairs? This is the story of French diplomacy in the Lebanese quagmire.
US charities raise millions in wake of Beirut port blast - Mike Householder, Associated Press
“People were just waiting to help. They just wanted something to immediately give to, they wanted all that pain to basically get out and give something positive.”
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
Arab stories of a plague year - Text by Sarah Dadouche and Siobhán O’Grady; Photos by Nada Harib, Tasneem Alsultan, M’hammed Kilito, Samar Hazboun, Mohamed Somji, Nadia Bseiso, and Abdo Shanan, The Washington Post
Seven photographers weave their own histories of home during the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Welcome to hell’: Tales of torture and trafficking inside Libya’s migrant detention centers - Francesca Mannocchi and Alessio Romenzi, Newlines Magazine
War, hunger, blackmail, abuse, exploitation, and fear – in Libya, they’ve become an inescapable destiny for migrants fleeing dire situations in their home countries.
'White' Without The Privilege: An Arab American's Quest To Be Counted - Rashad al-Dabbagh, LAist
Soon after arriving in the U.S. from Saudi Arabia, Rashad al-Dabbagh learned he was expected to check "white" for racial identity in the census. But amid the anti-Arab hate that followed the 9/11 attacks, Rashad quickly realized that his "white" label came without the privilege.
Tunisia: COVID-19 Increases Vulnerability of Rural Women - Alessandra Bajec, Arab Reform Initiative
Tunisian women in rural areas have played a vital role in maintaining food security during the coronavirus pandemic but continue to suffer exploitation and exclusion.
The secret spaces giving a voice to Saudi Arabia’s youth - Rabiya Jaffrey, Huck Mag
In Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality merits the death penalty and many activists are still jailed or tortured for sedition, there are few places for the country's youth to express themselves freely. But a handful of underground events are seeking to change that.
🎶 Music & Culture 🎶
Reggaeton needed a racial reckoning. Afro-Latinos are leading it. - Bethonie Butler, The Washington Post
Reggaeton, a massively popular genre rooted in Black music, is reckoning with its own racial disparities.
Musicians on Musicians: Erykah Badu and Summer Walker - Brittany Spanos, Rolling Stone
Two R&B high priestesses trade wisdom on finding love, embracing their inner boss, and aliens among us.
Tiwa Savage: She’s Royal - Minou Itseli, Complex
Tiwa Savage discusses everything from her experience as a Black woman within the music industry, the legacy of her career and movement of Afrobeats, to her charitable AIDs and rape prevention work, Celia, and more.
Spotify Loves You. Will Everyone Else? - Rob Nowill, Hypebeast
How the streaming platform’s playlists became a market-shifting force in the music industry.
Yo-Yo Ma and the Meaning of Life - David Marchese, The New York Times Magazine
“Because of the practice of music, I delve into the inner life of whatever we are. I don’t have any answers, but I keep poking around.”
📚 Other Reads 📚
The Losses We Share - Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, The New York Times
Perhaps the path to healing begins with three simple words: Are you OK?
Jaylen Brown Won't Settle for Less - Michael Pina, GQ
The young Boston Celtic suits up in the new Louis Vuitton x NBA collection and talks about the bubble, social justice, and the wildest season in memory.
Children of Quarantine - Lisa Miller, The Cut
What does a year of isolation and anxiety do to a developing brain?
Diversity Work - Maya Binyam, Columbia Journalism Review
Media companies haven’t made newsrooms inclusive. Can unions?
Diego Maradona was brilliant. And flawed. And fearless. And complex. And spectacular. - Steven Goff, The Washington Post
Diego Maradona died Wednesday at age 60.
Your Weekly Sample
In his song “Girl” Myke Towers samples “21 Questions” by 50 Cent. Check it out!