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Guest Feature: Lina Mounzer
I was struck by this piece in The Guardian earlier this week about the GRAMMYs lack of diversity in their “Global Music” category. This summer, the Recording Academy renamed the category from “World Music” to reflect a “more relevant, modern and inclusive term,” yet that means nothing when the nominees and winners remain the same.
The “Global Music” category truly the only one where artists who perform in languages other than English or Spanish have a shot. But check out these statistics from the story:
“In the world music category’s 38-year history, nearly two-thirds of the nominations have come from just six countries (the US, UK, Brazil, Mali, South Africa, India) and only 12 nations have ever had an artist win.”
“Only 5.8% of nations have ever had an artist win and almost 80% of African nations have yet to have any musical act nominated.”
“No Middle Eastern or eastern European performer has ever won and only one group from eastern Europe (Bulgaria in 1994) has ever even managed a nomination.”
“Similarly, just a single east, central or south-east Asia-based artist has won (Sacred Tibetan Chant, 2004), with that award actually going to the producer, a New Zealander.”
This proves how incredibly subjective music is and how the GRAMMYs can’t measure or validate an artist’s or an album’s impact. Amr Diab for example, arguably the biggest Arab pop star in that 38 year span since the Global Music category was created, was never once nominated. But he doesn’t need the GRAMMYs to tell him how impactful all of his songs are — look at the pop artists in the Middle East/North Africa/Southwest Asia today who mimic his sound. Look at every single Arab wedding that plays “Nour El Ein” constantly!
I don’t want to take away from GRAMMY winners and the artists who are nominated. They pour their energy and time into their creations. And I’ll admit, I watch the GRAMMYs because I appreciate live performances. I’m just saying the Recording Academy has so much more work to do if they want the “Global Music” category to truly be global and properly recognize artists.
Let’s get right into it. I am really excited to introduce this week’s guest feature: Lina Mounzer!
Lina is a writer and translator living in Beirut. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, 1843, Literary Hub, and Bidoun, as well as in the anthologies Hikayat: An Anthology of Lebanese Women’s Writing (Telegram Books: 2007) and Tales of Two Planets (Penguin Books: 2020) an anthology of writing on climate change and inequality.
When you read Lina’s work, you understand just how moving the written word can truly be. She wrote a piece last year in The New York Times about resilience in Lebanon — literally a day before the August 4th Port of Beirut blast — that still hits your soul in such an impactful way. I truly admire Lina, and was so excited when she agreed to share some of her go-to songs:
1. What is your favorite song right now?
It's impossible to say. But in the last few weeks I've been listening obsessively to Joanna Newsom's album Ys on repeat (which I am like fifteen years late to). It's 55 minutes but just 5 songs long, and they all tumble and flow into one another seamlessly. The first song, “Emily”, is especially stuck in my head right now. The whole album is very fairy-tale-esque, all dreamy and warbly and warm and otherworldly in its imagery and it feels like a perfect sensory escape from Beirut's oppressiveness right now.
2. What’s your go-to song for all your feels?
So many, because I have many feels! But one song I love and which is pretty much guaranteed to make me weepy is the MTV unplugged version of A-ha's “Take on Me”. I grew up listening to A-ha in the background of my life and I've always loved the original of this song, which is so very poppy and bright. But then suddenly in this acoustic version, with Morten Harket visibly (but so handsomely!) aged, singing so slow and tender, it opens up onto this vast sense of longing. It feels like a song about aging, capturing that sweet pain with which you look back on your younger selves as they fade backward into time, which is something I'm thinking a lot about these days.
3. Name a song that reminds you of home.
Arcade Fire's “Sprawl II” from their album “The Suburbs,” which is one I listened to on repeat for months when it first came out. It reminds me of my brothers, who live very far away, in a place I don't consider home, but being with them is the most fundamental sense of home. My middle brother and I actually did our own recording of the song with him playing acoustic guitar and both of us doing vocals and that's the version I listen to when I'm feeling especially nostalgic for my family.
4. Name a song you know all the words to.
Hard to pick -- I love to sing and was actually headed toward being a singer at one point. So belting out lyrics to a song is my favorite way to enjoy it (though maybe not so enjoyable for other people!). But the theme song to the Arabic-dubbed anime ”Jazeerat al Kanz”, sung by the one and only legend Sammy Clark is probably one of the earliest songs I learned the lyrics to -- and which I still love hearing and singing. This song can also double as an answer to "song that gives me the feels" because there's nothing like a song that blasts you viscerally back into childhood to get you all emotional.
5. Name a song that gets you really hype and ready to go.
Depends on what I'm getting hype for! If I want to get first-pumping hype for life I listen to Queen's “Don't Stop Me Now” . If I want to get hype to smite some enemies it's Diana Damrau singing “Der Hölle Rache” from The Magic Flute; I get goosebumps every time she's so damned fierce and virtuousic and technically perfect. And if I want to break out into a dance routine with a hairbrush in front of the mirror it's the incomparable Whitney Houston's “How Will I Know”.
Big shout out to Lina for joining and sharing her song selections! Most of Lina’s songs are available on Spotify and will be included in this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen. And PLEASE check out Lina’s latest piece in The Baffler where she writes honestly about shame, language, diaspora vs. locals, and what it’s actually like to be a woman having sex in the “Arab world.”
What I’m Listening To
🎧 Arab Flows (Middle Eastern & North African artists) 🎧
Santa Fe - ElGrandeToto
Les ailes - Meryem Saci
3 Al3alam - Alaa Burhan featuring Sajo and Hkim Husein
Hayati - DJ Youcef featuring Carole Samaha, L’artiste, and Daffy
Habiba - DYSTINCT featuring Tawsen
Ezayak - Batistuta featuring L5VAV
Nightmares - Ellise
Nari - Ghita Lahmamssi
Rakwa - UmKuBu featuring Ra
Walhani - Apo & the Apostles
🎤 Las Vibras (Latinx & Hispanic artists) 🎤
Machu Picchu - Camilo featuring Evaluna Montaner
Diplomatico - Major Lazer featuring Guaynaa
Dámelo To’ - Selena Gomez featuring Myke Towers
Ojos Negros - Desta French
Ten Cuidado - Pitbull featuring El Alfa, Farruko, IAmChino, and Omar Courts
Aloha - DJ Luian featuring Maluma, Beéle, Rauw Alejandro, Darell, Mambo Kingz
Sabaneta - Paula Cendejas
La Noche - Lennis Rodriguez
Cuando Me Llamas - Pilar Victoria
Templos - Rosas
🎼 Other Music 🎼
Wants and Needs- Drake featuring Lil Baby
Leave The Door Open - Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak)
Noya - Ayzha Tyree
Breathe Again - Toni Braxton
Drama - Erika de Casier
Addicted - Jorja Smith
Beautiful Life - Pink Sweat$
Crud - Ghetts featuring Giggs
Be Sweet - Japanese Breakfast
BKGW - Nana Lourdes
What I’m Reading
🇱🇧 Lebanon 🇱🇧
More than a ‘Hezbollah stronghold’: The complicated past and present of Haret Hreik - Abby Sewell, L’Orient Today
Haret Hreik is often uncritically reduced to being a “Hezbollah stronghold.” Abby Sewell explores the history and complexity of this southern suburb of Beirut.
'I want my rights': The 80-year-old Lebanese musician fighting for a COVID-19 jab - Timour Azhari, Reuters
In a nation where corruption and state mismanagement are widely blamed for causing a socioeconomic crisis, Joseph al-Hajj, a career musician who has played brass and wind instruments for most of his life, said his patience snapped when he read about the MPs’ vaccinations, which violated the terms of the national immunization plan that prioritized the over-75s.
Burning tires: Lebanon’s protesters send dark, angry message - Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press
Anti-government rallies first began gripping Lebanon in late 2019. Since then, the local currency has collapsed, after being pegged to the dollar for nearly 30 years. Salaries have remained the same as inflation skyrocketed. People lost their jobs and poverty affected nearly 50% of the population.
They Went to a Protest Against Inequality, Then They Got Charged as Terrorists - Ollie Marsden, VICE
Ali Hachem and Rabeh Shemaly are among dozens of young people in Lebanon to have been rounded up and charged in a sweeping clampdown.
Designing Women In The Mix: How Music Inspired The Artwork Behind The Debut GRAMMY Week 2021 Event - Jess Pickett, GRAMMY News
Lebanese artist Nourie Flayhan is behind the illustrations for the GRAMMY’s Women In The Mix. She spoke with them about her creative experience, the women and music that inspire her work, the power of collaborating with other women, and her vision for women artists in the future.
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
It Gets Better - Amna Ali, LevantX
“Growing up female, black, an Arab immigrant, an apostate, and queer, is as difficult as you can imagine.”
Little Arabia has become a community hub for Arab Americans in Orange County, mostly, but also from across the state.
Amid the Rubble of Mosul, Francis Offers a Salve for Iraq’s Wounds - Jason Horowitz and Jane Arraf, The New York Times
The first pope ever to visit Iraq, Francis voiced sorrow and hope for a shrunken Christian community that has suffered persecution, and preached fellowship among religions.
He told the world about his brutal torture in Syria. Then, mysteriously, he went back. - Liz Sly, The Washington Post
Mazen al-Hamada's decision left friends and family to agonize over why he'd returned to the arms of his tormentors. The answers go to the heart of Syria's tragedy.
The Freedom of Natural Curls: Egypt’s Quiet Rebellion - Vivian Yee, The New York Times
For decades, many Egyptians have been straightening their hair to fit a conservative, Western-influenced beauty standard. Many younger Egyptians are rejecting all that.
🎶 Music, Arts, & Culture 🎶
Queer life, occupation and expectations: How Palestinian-singer Bashar Murad challenges conservative norms with music - Elias Jahshan, The New Arab
Palestinian singer-songwriter Bashar Murad uses his music to confront conservative norms, the Israeli occupation, and LGBT+ rights in the Middle East.
Palestinian-Chilean Singer Elyanna Is Unapologetically Ready For Stardom - Alya Mooro, GQ Middle East
The 19-year-old Palestinian-Chilean singer Elyanna is ready for big things, and she wants to take the Arab world with her for the ride.
Obay Alsharani: the Syrian refugee keeping his mind free with ambient music - Joe Muggs, The Guardian
The music producer escaped Assad’s Syria and ended up in a Swedish refugee centre, where the space and minimalism of ambient allowed him to express his alienation.
These BAME female DJs are smashing boundaries of social and institutional gender inequality - Anu Shukla, The New Arab
Anu Shukla crossed continents to speak with female DJs who have cultivated a spectrum of projects in the face of political instability and gender inequality to elevate other artists everywhere.
How Netflix’s New Biggie Smalls Documentary Tells the Origin Story of Christopher Wallace - William E. Ketchum III, GQ
The creative team behind Biggie: I Got a Story To Tell explain how they unearthed stories about Biggie that even his closest friends and family didn’t know, address criticism of the doc, and talk about getting live-texts from Jay-Z.
📚 Other Reads 📚
Visa Lottery Winners From Muslim Countries Still Can’t Get Into The U.S. - Rowaida Abdelaziz, HuffPost
The Biden administration has unraveled much of Trump’s travel ban. But many past diversity visa winners still have no way to actually enter the country.
'War Doesn't Even Compare': A Year In The Life Of A Traveling Nurse - Farah Eltohamy and Ari Shapiro, NPR
Grover Nicodemus Street, a military veteran who has been a nurse for more than two decades, is among the traveling nurses on the front lines in the battle against coronavirus."
The Rigorous Empathy of “Oprah with Meghan and Harry” - Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Royal Family exit interview, an instantly iconic artifact of pop culture, could not have been without Oprah.
Pokémon was a key part of my childhood. Now it's 25, I feel old - Keza MacDonald, The Guardian
Today, the video games are as much a part of kids’ fiction as Disney.
‘I want to do that’: Meghan McPeak hopes to raise the NBA’s play-by-play ceiling - David Aldridge, The Athletic
As a biracial woman, Meghan McPeak is a party of one in her industry at her level, always subject to being “the first” in what she does, as she’s worked up the ranks of the business. But that doesn’t mean it still isn’t important.
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