Guest Feature: Donia Ismail
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The immigration attitudes coming from the governments of both the United States and Tunisia are on my mind this week, and not for any good reasons.
On one hand, you have the Biden administration working tirelessly to enact Trump-era policies that unfairly and inhumanely target asylum seekers.
On the other hand, you have President Kais Saied of Tunisia saying some incredibly racist remarks regarding refugees in the country.
These racist and xenophobic attitudes are abhorrent, period. More needs to be done, not just in Tunisia and the US but truly around the world, to ensure that all people are welcome and respected.
So much more to say, but I want to keep it brief for now.
Thanks for allowing me to share that, friends. Now, let’s get right into it. I am so excited to introduce this week’s guest feature: Donia Ismail!
Donia is a French Algerian-Egyptian journalist and Social Media Editor for Slate.fr. writing mostly about the Arab World and its diaspora. She has written on the concept of Arabfishing in France, Arab moms’ love for Lady Diana, the Egyptian rap scene, and the potentially complicated experiences of renewing Algerian or Moroccan passports in France.
Donia is also the deputy editor-in-chief of Arabia Vox, an online platform that sheds a light on the Arab World and its diaspora through social issues and culture, and questions the Arab identity.
In 2022, Donia joined the collective Arabengers which sheds a light on MENA cultures. The collective plans multidisciplinary events that showcase the diversity of identities and cultural scenes in the region. In July 2022, Arabengers organized Raconter l’Algérie (Recount Algeria), an event to pay tribute to the independence anniversary and shed a light on Algerian heritage.
Donia is one of the nicest and supportive human beings I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Always looking for ways to uplift and advocate for the community, she does so with infectious positivity. Donia wrote a story recently about one of my favorite Egyptian artists, Wegz, so I knew she was going to have quite the answers for the newsletter:
1. What is your favorite song right now?
I do have to preface all my choices by saying I’m so bad at pickings favourites. These are my children, Danny, you don’t ask a parent to pick their favourite (even if we all know they have one).
The easy pick would be “El Bakht” by Wegz. I mean I played this song over 340 times last year. But everyone knows how obsessed I am with this song, so let’s switch it up a bit.
Even since I wrote my piece on Wegz and the Egyptian rap scene for Slate.fr, I’ve been obsessed with this genre. I mean hip hop from the MENA region is so interesting and diverse, we should brag more about the myriad of talents we have! This song particularly, “Brazil” by Afroto and Marwan Moussa, is a fun, very catchy one and I don’t know why or how, but I can’t stop listening to it. It’s what we call a “hobsession” (hobby + obsession, yep clever one, I know).
But as I said, I can’t pick just one, sorry. So let’s add to this one, “Casino” by Disiz. The whole album, L’Amour, is the best French release of 2022. Such a beautiful a masterpiece. I have no words, it speaks for itself.
2. What’s your go-to song for all your feels?
It’s really hard for me just to pick one (again). I’m an emotional gal who has a love for ballads. The first one to come to my mind is “Best Days” by Alessia Cara because a) I love the album “In The Meantime” and b) what she says in the chorus… I felt that. Like, what if our best days are the days we’ve left behind, uh? Don’t get me started. It does make me sob ALL THE TIME.
Same with “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. I’m an emotional wreck whenever I listen to it. And even more when it’s the Glee version. Yes, I love Glee, I’m not going to lie about it or argue on why it’s the best show ever. Nope. But in season 2, when Santana and Brittany sing that song together with Holly Holiday, when they confess their undying love for each other, I cry. Automatically.
3. Name a song that reminds you of home.
I mean, you’re in no luck here, because your gal has three nationalities. So, for that one, it depends on what home is.
I’m Algerian on my mother’s side. So if home is Algeria, it would be “Vent du Nord” by TIF. His album, “Houma Sweet Houma”, is a nostalgic ode to the Algeria he had to leave reluctantly to pursue his dreams in France. The way he mixes darja and French is so poetic, powerful and raw: it really speaks to your soul. There’s a sentence in this song which resonates with me so much: “This is our life, but God gives us patience”. Add on top of that, the trumpet in the intro and the piano at the end? Beautiful.
I’m Egyptian on my dad’s side, even if people tend to forget it. So if home is Egypt, it has to be any Oum Kalthoum’s songs. But if I had to pick one, I’d go with my dad’s favourite, “Al Atlal”; for all the memories I have with him in the car going to Sharm-el-Sheikh with nothing but the desert surrounding us. And also because it’s Oum Kalthoum, duh. She’s such an important figure in my life. I mean, you’d have to see my bedroom to understand the extend of the love I have for her.
But home can be France as well! And for that one, easy: “Bebeto” by Kendji Girac and Soolking. I’m not ashamed, I love this song and I have played it so many times. It reminds me of my numerous trips to Marseille with one of my closest friends, Sabrine. I cherish these memories so muuuuuuuch.
4. Name a song you know all the words to.
Something people don’t know: I’m a huge fan of musicals. Seriously, I could spend hours watching them.
One of my favorites has to be “In the Heights”, writing by the MAGNIFICENT (yep, capital letters) Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s an ode to taking back its own narrative, making sure the stories of our elders and our communities are heard and visible.
His musicals are groundbreaking. He introduced hip-hop to Broadway and made musicals less boring and more exciting. It’s not your typical grandmother one: it’s fun, sarcastic, political and well-written and it showcases people and stories we rarely -not to say never- saw on Broadway before. The opening scene of In the Heights has to be one of the most inventive one. In over 7 minutes, the main character, Usnavi, introduces all the characters of the musical in a catchy eponym song influenced by hip hop, latin and classical music (and the references to West Side Story? Legendary). The film version is mind-blowing. As a diaspora kid, you’ll get it. Go watch it.
I’ll add to this, “Don’t rain on my parade” by Barbra Streisand. See, Funny girl is my favourite movie, the one I keep watching endlessly -might be because Omar Sharif plays in it. This song gives me the confidence boost I sometimes need. I’ll add as well “You are Woman, I am Man” because I’m a human and hearing Omar Sharif sings is my weakness, I’ll admit it.
5. Name a song that gets you really hype and ready to go.
Ooooooh interesting one. First thing to pop up into my mind is “Gloria” by Laura Branigan. No particular reason, it’s just a bop and sometimes you just have to recognize when a song is great. This one is. I just love its energy.
I have to add a Dadju song to the list, and it has to be “Donne-moi l’accord”. These percussions, the sax in the chorus? Ooooorf. That’s what we call a pure jam, Danny.
Last one I promised -told you I was bad at picking. I’m obsessed with Stormzy, like properly obsessed. This album, “Heavy is the Head”, bruuuuuuuv. ON REPEAT. And this one, “Wiley Flow”, makes me want to have beef with someone. That’s what Stormzy does to you apparently.
Big shout out to Donia for joining and sharing her song selections! All of Donia’s songs will be included in this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen. Be sure to follow Donia on Instagram and keep up with all of her amazing stories and reporting!
What I’m Listening To
🎧 Middle Eastern, North African, & Diaspora Flows 🎧
New Era - Nadine El Roubi
TWAREG LATINO - TRIPLEGO featuring Lella Fadda
BAHZ - Afroto
The Chaos Rises - Laila Beshara
Fantastic - Soulja
GHAREEB - Shbash
Zay El Moug - Nour Khan
Chokran Jazilan - Aida Khaled
Aman Aman - JenJoon
Stress - Monika
Ya Salam - Flomine featuring Ard Adz, Miraa May, Smallx, YP, BLESSED, and Sybka
Zheimer - Moudy Al Arabe featuring Beko
Diali - Nassi featuring Tawsen
Agogo - Jocker
Ana Wein - zeyne
L’Melo - Greyzik
EL ASEMA - Husayn featuring FL EX, Abyusif, Ahmed Santa, and Abo El Anwar
Stava Bene - Mc Artisan featuring RedStar
Astro Lab - Omar Offendum & Thanks Joey
Mogador - D33pSoul
🎤 Latinx & Hispanic Vibes 🎤
KÁRMIKA - KAROL G featuring Bad Gyal and Sean Paul
Noche Primavera - Manú featuring Beéle and Andrés Cepeda
3 Boys - Omar Apollo
Nochentera - Vicco
En Este Amor - Adriel Favela
Bizitzeko Gogoa - Raimundo el Canastero featuring La wera
Pra Trás - Tagua Tagua
lo siento - Princess Nokia
Hasta Cuando - Kali Uchis
Como Agua - Rafa Pabön
🎼 Other Good Music 🎼
Die 4 Me - Halsey
Patience - Bella Alubo
People (Remix) - Libianca featuring Omah Lay and Ayra Starr
Gbese - Majeeed featuring Tiwa Savage
ICU - Coco Jones
on the street - j-hope featuring J. Cole
Fool’s Gold - Yazmin Lacey
On My Mind - Brandon Banks
Impurities - Arlo Parks
Dummy - Portugal. The Man
What I’m Reading
🇱🇧 Lebanon 🇱🇧
Burned, suffocated, beaten: why women in Lebanon are dying at the hands of their partners - Lizzy Davies, The Guardian
Amid economic crisis and a culture of ‘militarised masculinity’, domestic violence is on the rise in Lebanese households and the sizeable Syrian refugee community.
Meet the World’s Most Honorable Bank Robbers - Zach Goldbaum and Todd Bieber, The New York Times
A wave of armed bank robberies has been sweeping Lebanon amid its economic meltdown. But the heists have followed a highly unusual pattern: The robbers are the banks’ clients, and the money they have been demanding is the contents of their own accounts.
Sleiman Damien: The Producer Reconceptualising the Music Mainstream - Lana Mawlood, CairoScene
Having produced for the likes of pop icons Abeer Nehme and Assi El Hellani, the Lebanese producer is lifting up a new generation of artists to fuse the line between mainstream and indie music.
‘Dollars or Lebanese lira, it’s the same thing. Prices are still just as high’ - Nada Ghosn and Antoine Gallenne, L’Orient Today
On March 1, supermarkets and other shops in Lebanon started displaying their prices in dollars, causing various reactions.
Why Lebanon Is Having a Surprising Solar Power Boom - Adam Rasmi, TIME
TIME reports from Beirut on the tens of thousands of Lebanese who have embraced solar energy.
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
Tunisia’s President Embraces the ‘Great Replacement Theory’ - Erin Clare Brown, New Lines Magazine
Kais Saied’s recent speeches project a funhouse mirror version of a racist ideology normally targeted at Muslims in Europe, spurring a wave of violence against the country’s Black citizens and immigrants.
The Syria-Turkey Earthquake Has Worsened An Invisible Crisis For Women - Rowaida Abdelaziz, HuffPost
Mental health professionals say that women in Syria were already traumatized, but the recent earthquake has taken an additional psychological toll.
From Camel Herding to Blues Music to Tacos al Pastor: Finding the Middle East in Texas - Saliha Bayrak, Texas Monthly
“I long thought the two cultures were at odds, but after a summer in Texas and a deep dive into its history, I discovered that they have been married for decades.”
Identity, citizenship, and the Amazigh language in Morocco - Hatim Rachdi, The New Arab
A recent bill in Morocco recognised Tamazight as part of the criteria for citizenship, but activists argue it does little to address the marginalisation of Amazigh communities and could be used to exclude other groups.
Too hungry to weep. The tragedy of Yemen’s starving children - Thomas Sadoski, CNN
“Everywhere is the ache of terminal starvation – the nightmarish effects of which include the inability to regulate body temperature, to produce tears when weeping and then a final decline into ghastly, emaciated, lethargic death.”
🎶 Music, Arts, & Culture 🎶
Welcome to Kali Uchis’ High-Femme Fantasy - Isabelia Herrera, Pitchfork
Bouncing in a lowrider and chilling at home with the L.A.-based singer, whose music opens up a world of mischief and beauty, luxury and vulnerability.
Get to Know the New Perrie, the Egyptian-Moroccan Artist Whose Latest Album is Her Most Vulnerable Yet - Danny Hajjar, GQ Middle East
Yes, a shameless plug for something I wrote about my favorite artist. But really, check it out!
Marwan Moussa is hungry for more - Nasri Atallah, Esquire Middle East
The multi-award-winning Egyptian rapper has millions of fans. He portrays himself as a chill, laid-back guy stumbling into projects. The reality is, he’s got a plan for global success.
The trajectory of Alevi-Kurdish rapper Ebow. - Larena Amin, AZEEMA
The German rapper sat with AZEEMA’s Larena Amin in Berlin, the pair naturally got to breaking down Kurdish European-ism, being your own artist, and generational learnings.
The Arab Diaspora Pioneers New Wave of Music - Sara Ibrahim, GQ Middle East
Arab artists create music reflective of their experiences living abroad, gaining global attention in the past year.
📚 Other Reads 📚
Alone and Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the U.S. - Hannah Dreier, The New York Times
Arriving in record numbers, they’re ending up in dangerous jobs that violate child labor laws — including in factories that make products for well-known brands like Cheetos and Fruit of the Loom.
‘A historian, babysitter, sat-nav’: everything I learned as a tour guide in Kyoto - Florentyna Leow, gal-dem
In this extract from How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart, author Florentyna Leow reflects on her time as a tour guide in Japan.
A Venezuelan Family’s Three-Thousand-Mile Journey to New York - Words by Stephania Taladrid and photography by Oscar B. Castillo, The New Yorker
Fourteen relatives—children, grandparents, and a pregnant mother—traversed the notorious Darién Gap, six nations, and the Rio Grande for a life that they hope will be full of promise.
Hidden, illegal casinos are booming in L.A., with organized crime reaping big profits - Matthew Ormseth, Los Angeles Times
Casitas represent ‘more than just gambling,’ says a Los Angeles sheriff’s detective. ‘It’s extortion, it’s murder, it’s assault.
Who really taught Kareem his hook shot? The answer might depend on whose story you believe - Joe Vardon, The Athletic
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar used the skyhook to become the NBA's scoring king. The story of how he learned it remains in dispute.