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Guest Feature: Aymann Ismail
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There have been some interesting stories around the World Cup that I want to share up top here — mainly so there’s room for other non-World Cup stories below:
Waving the Flag of the World Cup’s Unofficial Team - Tariq Panja, The New York Times
At the World Cup, the Arab world rallies to Palestinian cause - Ishaan Tharoor, The Washington Post
Morocco’s World Cup magic potion: Football parents and fans - Maher Mezahi, Al Jazeera
‘We showed up’: Morocco’s World Cup performance fuels pride among Philly Arabs - Massarah Mikati, The Philadelphia Inquirer
In the Arab world, everyone unites behind Morocco - Noura Doukhi, L’Orient Today
Okay friends, let’s get right into it. I am so excited to introduce this week’s guest feature: Aymann Ismail!
This is Aymann with two n’s (2 Chainz voice) because his parents wrote out his name a couple different ways and had the Filipina nurse who delivered me in that Jersey City hospital read them out loud, and they picked the one that sounded like it does in Arabic. Aymann got into journalism by accident, it was supposed to be a stepping stone to help round out his portfolio so he could get into filmmaking, but Aymann liked it a little too much and stayed.
At Slate Magazine, Aymann made a video series called “Who's Afraid of Aymann Ismail” that let him interrogate the questions about Islam that he didn't have the answers to, and he made a podcast called “Man Up” that let Aymann do the same about manhood and masculinity.
Now he’s mostly a writer and photographer. Aymann did a pretty big story about the store that called the cops on George Floyd and wrote a silly piece about wanting to taste a Halal Pork. You can read his latest pieces on Slate.com, and follow Aymann on Twitter and Instagram @aymanndotcom, but he hasn’t been posting much since Elon because — and I quote — “I'm petty.”
Aymann is arguably one of my favorite writers. And I had a chance to finally meet him in-person in November, which was SO cool! A genuinely funny and thoughtful human being, Aymann’s guest feature here in the newsletter is a special one. And his go-to music is *chef’s kiss.
1. What is your favorite song right now?
I need to preface this choice with my iPod story. From elementary school all the way through college, I was just completely obsessed with music. It was "haram" in my house but I think that only made it cooler in my eyes. I picked up the bass in high school. I traded a CD player for a broken iPod, then traded that for a guitar. I really liked the “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, so I traded for a bass. I still listened to reggaeton (it's all we listened to in the Ironbound where I grew up), but I spent all night on the internet looking for new songs to learn on the bass. I used Limewire to download these "indie playlist" mp3 compilations, and if I liked a song a lot I'd download the rest of their entire discography. Going in to high school I had a LOT of music. At least 20,000, easily. And right around when music streaming services came out — Pandora, last.fm, Soundcloud, etc — I dropped and smashed the iPod where I stored all my music. It was like losing a family member. And instead of trying to download those albums again, I just streamed music and listened to whatever.
So that brings us to Jorja Smith. Her song “On My Mind” came on the shuffle and I went, “Hold up, who does this singer think she is??” I went looking for the rest of her album, but there was no album! She hadn't even released an EP yet. I wasted so much time looking for more of her music and couldn't find anything. A year later, she did drop an EP, which didn't even have “On My Mind” on it, then an album that STILL DIDN'T HAVE THAT TRACK ON IT. It's cool though, every song was giving me strong vibes and I loved that. Her voice, the instrumentals, you can skate, cook, love, do just about everything with it playing. And when she dropped her album “Be Right Back”, the first track “Addicted” gave me those same feelings I had when I was collecting music on my iPod in high school. I needed more Jorja. And “Be Honest” is still that song I throw on every time anyone passes me the aux.
2. What’s your go-to song for all your feels?
I can't choose between these two. I'm an emotional guy, I've got a range, Danny. That Modest Mouse album “The Lonesome Crowded West” got me through a lot the angstiest moments in my life. Messy breakups, being forced to move out of the neighborhood I grew up in, fights with my parents. That album carries such an enormous emotional weight for me that I can't help but turn to fuul slopping out of a pita when I listen to it. I don't get so soggy anymore, but I can't help but love diminishing chords in indie sad boy songs. And when I'm in a bad mood at work and need to keep it pushing, this song (any King Krule song, really) will reliably get the knot in my gut to loosen.
3. Name a song that reminds you of home.
So this answer depends on "home." We're Brown folks, Danny, you should know better. If you want to know which track reminds me of Egypt, it's easily this Hakim song. There are a few types of Egyptians, and I'm the sha3by kind. I'm not the Amr Diab kind, and I honestly don't know how anyone could choose Amr Diab over Hakim. Nobody is out here belly dancing to “Habibi Ya Nour El Ein”, sorry. But they are shaking it to “Haboso”. But I've never lived in Egypt, and if you ask me where I'm from it's Ironbound. So what does the Ironbound sound like? Tego. Just Tego.
4. Name a song you know all the words to.
C'mon. Listen. Either you were there, or you weren't.
5. Name a song that gets you really hype and ready to go.
So remember when we met and we talked about how people who put obscure stuff into this newsletter are trying too hard? This is my trying to squeeze the Arctic Monkeys in. I love this band. I love Alex Turner so much I even listened to his dumb shadow puppets band. This was the first song I heard from them and it was also around the same time I was trying to learn to skateboard. I'll never forget one of my best friends Dan Bracaglia trying to teach me by bringing me to the steepest hill in Weehawken, which was so steep that the board would wobble and flick you off no matter how good you got. We both really liked the Arctic Monkeys, and when we'd get home all scraped up, we'd put this album on and do the next thing. And I love this newsletter so much for reminding me how much I love all of these songs, and for reminding me that if I'm ever feeling like I can't type anymore or that the world is ending, I have the Arctic Monkeys to kick me right in the ass and get me excited about the next thing.
Big shout out to Aymann for joining and sharing his song selections! All of Aymann’s songs will be included in this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen. Catch Aymann on Twitter and Instagram, and be sure to keep up with all of his writing here!
What I’m Listening To
🎧 Middle Eastern, North African, & Diaspora Flows 🎧
Khatar - Blu Fiefer
Baby Woke Up - Felukah
ESH3IL JIGARA - SOM3A featuring Omar Monster
FUXK ELALAM - L5VAV
Tmechay - Don Bigg featuring Skales
NOUR EL AIN - Lune featuring Nej
Malleit - Lella Fadda
Divide - RealestK
7doude - LAÏ
Filamen - NORDO
🎤 Latinx & Hispanic Vibes 🎤
KI-KI (Remix) - YEИDRY featuring ENNY
Quiero - Aitana
Real G - Bad Gyal featuring Quevedo
Ya Te Perdí - Ivan Cornejo
Mañanas Tristes - La Doña featuring Fernington
A Tu Lado - Dos Santos
LA NENA DE ARGENTINA - Maria Becerra
Otra Vez - Prince Royce
Tú Y Yo - Brray featuring RaiNao
Infeliz - Lennis Rodriguez featuring Chus Santana
🎼 Other Good Music 🎼
Peppermint Tea - Xavier Omär featuring Alex Isley
Know The Vibes - Kamaiyah
Yao - DarkoVibes
One of a Kind - Russ Millions featuring A1 xJ1 and French The Kid
Boy’s a liar - PinkPantheress
SMS - Aya Nakamura
Yun - RM featuring Erykah Badu
Ghost in the Machine - SZA featuring Phoebe Bridgers
Su Mo Mi - R2Bees
Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd - Lana Del Rey
What I’m Reading
🇱🇧 Lebanon 🇱🇧
'There is no future': Lebanon's new poor face long-term stagnation - Timour Azhari and Laila Bassem, Reuters
“I have a very pessimistic view of the future. I take each day as it comes, there is no future for me.”
Charbel Nahed and Bechara Lahoud, the pinball wizards - Carla Henoud, L’Orient Today
Charbel Nahed and Bechara Lahoud collect and repair vintage pinball machines, gaming devices, slot machines and jukeboxes.
Debut author George Jreije creates Harry Potter-style world with an Arab twist - Maan Jalal, The National
Lebanese-American writer has released Shad Hadid and the Alchemists of Alexandria.
Lebanon water crisis fuels cholera outbreak: ‘Things are coming to a head’ - Raya Jalabi, Financial Times
Nearly half of cases are children as fears grow that disease could become endemic.
A people’s history of 1960s Beirut? Zeina Maasri illuminates a different ‘golden age’ - Farah-Silvana Kanaan, L’Orient Today
In a country where tribal differences block consensus on an agreed-upon history book, what role can visual culture play in understanding local history? That’s the question that Maasri explores in her books, exhibitions and research.
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
At Qatar’s Church City, Sunday Comes on Friday - John Branch, The New York Times
In a nation deeply rooted in Islam, worshipers from other faiths find community in a government-sanctioned island of Christianity on the outskirts of Doha.
Exile and life: Harissa encompasses Tunisian heritage - Farah Abdessamad, The New Arab
Farah Abdessamad celebrates the inclusion of Tunisian Harissa in the UNESCO Heritage list by recounting her personal relationship to it having grown up in France. She argues that amidst global attention, the condiment's essence must be preserved.
For Syrians in Jordan’s Za’atari camp, aid money doesn’t buy what it used to - Hanna Davis, The New Humanitarian
With food costs rising due to inflation, there are growing concerns over hunger and even child labour.
Alaa on My Mind - Mohammed El-Kurd, The Baffler
Watching Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s hunger strike from occupied Palestine.
A Forgotten Colony in the Sahara - Pawel Wargan, LA Progressive
Morocco controls 80 percent of Western Sahara. In the other 20 percent, the Polisario Front governs the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a state battling for recognition.
🎶 Music, Arts, & Culture 🎶
TikTok Is Filled With Sped-Up Remixes. Two Norwegians Pioneered Them. - Cassidy George, The New York Times
Thomas S. Nilsen and Steffen Ojala Soderholm made songs with superfast tempos and high-pitched vocals for a school project. They were shocked to learn their “nightcore” sound had gone global.
Red Sea soul: Revolutionary cries for recognition in Sudan - Zeinab Mohammed Salih, BBC News
Sudanese writer Zeinab Mohammed Salih samples some rhythms with a political agenda from Sudan's Red Sea state.
How Spotify’s Wrapped campaign for 2022 came together - Matt Alagiah, It’s Nice That
It’s one of the most widely shared marketing campaigns globally. Here, It’s Nice That speaks to the design team behind the visual identity to understand what it takes to grab the world’s attention.
Playwright Hannah Khalil: ‘I want to write roles for the really brilliant Arab women I know’ - Sarah Hemming, Financial Times
Her new play at Shakespeare’s Globe revisits the story of Scheherazade and the One Thousand and One Nights.
ElGrandeToto, 7liwa, Naar… Rap in Darija goes international - Jeanne Le Bihan, The Africa Report
A new wave of Moroccan rappers are gaining international influence with their creative, inclusive lyrics that are crossing borders and breaking through the language barrier.
📚 Other Reads 📚
Addressing Climate Change Will Not “Save the Planet” - Christopher Ketcham, The Intercept
The dismal reality is that green energy will save not the complex web of life on Earth but the particular way of life of one domineering species.
The Invasive Reach of ‘Digital-by-Default’ Immigration - Sanjana Varghese, WIRED
The UK's use of technology to enforce its hard-line immigration policy brings the border into every facet of migrants' lives.
They Trusted Their Prenatal Test. They Didn’t Know the Industry Is an Unregulated “Wild West.” - Anna Clark, Adriana Gallardo, Jenny Deam and Mariam Elba, ProPublica
As regulators stay on the sideline, a growing industry expands its reach but leaves some pregnant patients feeling misled and heartbroken. (*Content warning: This story discusses pregnancy loss and termination.)
A Final Meal: Remembering a Friend Through the Food We Shared - Ifrah Ahmed, Vogue
“Now, when I want to honor Halimo’s memory, I go back to what we ate together. I cook what we shared, I savor what she loved. In our shared meals, she will always live.”
Black deportees to Haiti face indefinite detention - Rebecca Chowdhury, Prism
Black detainees in Haiti face inhumane, torturous conditions without clear avenues for release.