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Guest Feature: Mariam Elba
Normally, I make to sure to list all stories I’m reading in their own section below (and there are certainly plenty to choose from this week). But there are two more that I want to spotlight here that were particularly interesting and beautiful in their own way:
Abo Sahar Is Making His Own Blend of Egyptian Electronic Music - Frank L’Opez, OkayAfrica
This story profiles Egyptian artist Abo Sahar and how he creates his own version of electro shaabi music, one that emphasizes feeling and emotion. He calls his music “Trobby” to differentiate from the electro shaabi that we have come to know.
He says: “Electro Chaabi has only one mood but Trobby has many in just one track. My music will take you to the memories of my childhood, to the train stations, high buildings and saying goodbye to my village. It is pure feeling.”
The Loss of Tatas - Tareq Baconi, Baffler Magazine
Tareq beautifully and heartbreakingly tells the story of losing both of his grandmothers last year, and what this means for him as a Palestinian living in exile.
“Palestinian Tatas are a force unto themselves. They are the formidable older women facing young Israeli soldiers who steal their homes and desecrate their olive trees in Palestine. They teach us to rage with dignity; they are fragile in their resistance and precious in their embodiment of our history. For those of us who grew up in exile, our grandmothers, more so than our grandfathers, are Palestine.”
Okay friends, let’s get right into it. I am so excited to introduce this week’s guest feature: Mariam Elba!
Mariam is an Egyptian-American journalist based in New York. Currently, she’s a research-reporter at ProPublica where she works with reporters to track down hard to find information, and organize and investigations. She also teaches investigative research to journalism graduate students at the City University of New York. She also worked at The Intercept where she oversaw the fact-checking desk. While a journalist by day, she’s a “fanthropologist” by night. In January 2020, she spoke at the BTS Global Interdisciplinary Conference in London on her research on how Muslim BTS fans around the world develop community and maintain religious practice through fandom. She has upcoming work on K-pop fandom in the global south coming out later this year. Mariam also writes K-pop song recommendations on the K-pop Kollective's "What We're Listening To" collection.
Y’all, MARIAM’S RESEARCH! Seriously, she is a badass reporter AND a badass researcher. Her work has to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen (yes I am TOTALLY geeking out)! And let me tell y’all, Mariam’s genuine love for K-pop is heavily reflected in her answers too:
1. What is your favorite song right now?
I have too many at the moment, but I’d like to highlight these two (very different songs but very good) songs. I discovered the late and legendary Sahrawi singer Mariem Hassan last year. These days I’m listening to “Gdeim Izik” a lot (the song title is a reference to the protest camp that emerged in 2010). The song is incredibly moving with the fusion of blues guitar with Hassan’s mournful yet strong and powerful voice singing of struggle and resistance.
K-pop has lifted my spirits in these last two years, and SHINee (pronounced like: shiny) is one of my favorite groups of artists. This live performance of “Love Like Oxygen”, from one of their 2015 concerts is among their best. They’re known for retro dance-pop you can’t help but get up and jam to. In a time when live music is scarce, it’s comforting to listen to the live album version, where you can hear the acoustics and fans cheering in the background.
2. What’s your go-to song for all your feels?
In following with the K-pop live album kick, I love this live performance of “Lights Out” by Chen of EXO. His voice and lyrics can evoke a range of emotions and this performance is especially moving. The song’s lyrics seem to directly speak to the collective loneliness of these last couple of years.
The instrumental track “Springfield”, from British progressive rock band Anathema, takes you places. The song starts out with a singular guitar riff, then gradual layers of drums, keyboard, bass, and haunting vocals are added on and the result will leave you feeling like you just flew to another world.
3. Name a song that reminds you of home.
Growing up, the TV was always on as background noise. When my parents installed Arabic TV channels via satellite dish in the late 90s, I heard this song, “قضية عم احمد” (in English, roughly, “The Case of ‘am Ahmed”) often on TV. I only learned a few years ago it was composed by the great Omar Khairat. It makes me think of our old living room and images of the old buildings in downtown Cairo at the same time.
4. Name a song you know all the words to.
I’m not as enthusiastic about Mounir as others are, but I love “قلبي مساكن شعبية” (very roughly in English, “My heart is a crowded apartment building”). This song always makes me so happy, you can’t help but sing along. In my case: many times.
5. Name a song that gets you really hype and ready to go.
Anyone who knows me knows I have to put a BTS song in here. “Not Today” is the song I go to for a confidence booster. Few songs have lyrics as empowering as this song. “If you can't run, then walk. Today we will survive!”
Recently, I also turn on Stray Kids’ “Domino” for a healthy dose of energy. When you need a hype song that goes hard, give this a listen.
Big shout out to Mariam for joining and sharing her song selections! All of Mariam’s songs will be included in this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen. Catch Mariam on Twitter and check out some of the incredible reporting she’s done with ProPublica!
What I’m Listening To
🎧 Flows by Middle Eastern, North African, & Diaspora Artists 🎧
Outpour - Bea Kadri
OMG - Nayomi
Kathab - Freek
Toot Barri - Temp Job
Bringi - Soulja
Neighborhood - Felukah
Star - Arsenik
Manimane - DJ Sem featuring Kader Japonais
Meen Bint Sgheeri - Rasha Nahas
Khalini - Mocci
🎤 Vibes by Latinx & Hispanic Artists 🎤
MAMIII - KAROL G featuring Becky G
El Heladero - La Ross Maria
Háblame Bajito - Fonseca featuring Cimafunk
Emilio y José - Rosaly Rubio featuring Lapiz Conciente
Yin Yang - Marissa Mur featuring Alex Cuba
Niña de Mis Ojos - The Change featuring Leon Leiden
Salvaje - Kim Loaiza featuring Ely Blancarte
Enchulao - Beéle featuring Blessd
SAOKO - ROSALÍA
🎼 Other Good Music 🎼
Better When We’re Close - Poolside featuring Brijean
DMFU - Ella Mai
Cosmic - Amber Mark
Diet Coke - Pusha T
Wildones - Mwanje featuring Sampa the Great
Party Sickness - Hope Tala
Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him - Betty Davis
an Interlude Called “Circus” - Saba featuring Eryn Allen Kane
Stay Soft - Mitski
Celowi - Basketmouth featuring Peruzzi
The Beach - Giveon
What I’m Reading
🇱🇧 Lebanon 🇱🇧
“While most acknowledge that a single opposition alliance is the best chance of wresting parliamentary dominance from an entrenched ruling class, the devil is in the details, and the formation of such a broad coalition has so far been blocked by ideological and personal differences between the groups.”
Beijing Winter Olympics: Lebanon's only female athlete beats injury and hardship to ski - Fatima Al Mahmoud, The National
Manon Ouaiss wants to show her country is 'more than our troubles'.
How Lebanon exploits migrant workers - Tessa Fox, New Frame News
The kafala system allows residents to bring workers into the Middle Eastern country, where they are often abused and overworked with no recourse to protection under labour law.
Localisation only pays lip service to fixing aid’s colonial legacy - Maha Shuayb, The New Humanitarian
Maha Shuayb, the Director of Centre for Lebanese Studies and visiting fellow at Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, says “When I read organisations’ policies and objectives for localisation, I can’t help but feel I somehow missed the train when it came to conceiving them.”
What’s to become of Beirut’s forgotten castle? - Mohamad El Chamaa, L’Orient Today
All that remains of the ancient structures in Beirut are ruins hidden from the public, blocked from view by the bustling Foch street and the nearby Beirut Souks and Biel. This is not by chance; it results from the Lebanese capital’s complex planning and design history.
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
A Black Iraqi’s Sudden Career in TV News: ‘They Wanted to See All Colors’ - Jane Arraf, The New York Times
Randa Abd Al-Aziz was joking with friends in a Baghdad cafe when she got a surprise job offer: broadcasting the news in Iraq, whose Black citizens have little media presence and even less power.
Amnesty's 'apartheid Israel' report shifts the conversation - Sara Saleh and Randa Abdel-Fattah, The Canberra Times
“The importance of Amnesty's report is that now, those who discount Palestinian voices cannot ignore the fact that one of the world's leading and most respected human rights agencies has affirmed, through meticulous evidence and detail, what Palestinian organisations and experts have been documenting for years.”
Cancer in the Arab world: An emerging health risk - Yara M. Asi, The New Arab
The lack of a comprehensive healthcare strategy, weak advocacy campaigns and exorbitant rates of illness-inducing risks has exposed the MENA region to rising levels of cancer. Without a proper culture of screening, these rates will only increase.
Worst Drought in Decades Grips Swathe of North Africa - Souhail Karam and Megan Durisin, Bloomberg
Wheat is wilting, and cities are planning to ration water, as stretches of North Africa’s grain belt suffer the worst drought in 30 years.
After #WhereisNoof, Qatari women question how safe they really are - Dania Akkad, Middle East Eye
If a Qatari woman with a public profile can disappear for three months, what happens for those without one?
🎶 Music, Arts, & Culture 🎶
In Egypt, Indie Music Finds an Outlet Despite Repression - Yasmin El Banhawy, New Lines Magazine
Even as Sisi clamps down and self-censorship rises, mahraganat thrives through alternative means.
The extraordinary world of artist Hassan Hajjaj - Aimee Farrell, Financial Times
The Moroccan artist loves Bics, Technics decks and Palmer’s Cocoa Butter.
Arab film directors tackle gender taboos on big screen - Tala Ramadan, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Award-winning short joins new cadre of Arab films busting taboos on LGBTQ+ issues.
When Hip-Hop Was Young - Hua Hsu, The New Yorker
Sue Kwon photographed the artists whose music would go on to change the world.
Introducing “Bel-Air”: How a “Fresh Prince” Fan Trailer Became a Reimagined Story for a New Generation - Kaitlyn McNab, Teen Vogue
Meet the fresh faces of Bel-Air.
📚 Other Reads 📚
Close to 20 bomb threats have targeted HBCUs this month. Students say they want more safety measures - Roby Chavez, PBS NewsHour
Nearly 20 HBCUs in five states and the District of Columbia received bomb threats since Feb. 1. In Louisiana, Xavier University of Louisiana, Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge were among campuses that received threats since the beginning of Black History Month. And again on Tuesday, students at Spelman College sheltered in their rooms after another bomb threat — its third this year.
The Black Migrant Trail of Tragedies - Kovie Biakolo, The Nation
Immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean who make the dangerous trek across the Americas to the US face racist policies and practices everywhere they go.
Cheetos Flamin’ Hots Made Me Who I Am - Summer Kim Lee, The New York Times
“In middle school, I envied the wealthy white kids. But I had something they didn’t have, too.”
Wrongly accused of genital cutting, a Muslim mom won’t accept ‘case closed’ - Hannah Allam, The Washington Post
The family calls the incident on an island off the coast of Washington state an example of the long reach of Islamophobia.
In Boston, a growing community of Uyghurs fights to save its culture and its people - Aysha Khan, The Boston Globe
Local Uyghurs are working to strengthen their bonds, pass on their language to the next generation, and call attention to the intensifying repression in Xinjiang, China.