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Guest Feature: N.A. Mansour
We are coming up to one year since the August 4th Port of Beirut explosion. Recently, VICE News did an investigative documentary feature about the St. George Hospital in Beirut, the city’s oldest hospital that was almost completely destroyed in the blast. VICE tells the story of that day through the eyes of the doctors and nurses who were there and investigates what happened. It’s a little over 44 minutes long and I hope you take the time to watch this documentary. (Warning: this documentary contains graphic images)
*At the time of its release, it was only available to stream in the United States. I’m not sure if that has since changed, but if you have any issues watching this documentary and would like to, please reply back to this email and I’ll be happy to help
Let’s go ahead and get right into it. I am so excited to introduce our guest feature for this week: N.A. Mansour!
N.A. is a historian and a PhD candidate at Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies, where she is finishing a dissertation on the transition between manuscript and print in Arabic-language contexts. Her book project, however, is on the history of Muslim devotional literatures: she is trained as a codicologist as well as an intellectual historian and an art historian. She produces podcasts for different venues, edits Hazine.info, and works for different museums and archives. She also writes for the general public on culture, Islam and history, with publications in Contingent, Bon Appetit, Eater, and more, whereas her scholarly work is published or forthcoming from Routledge and Brill.
N.A. is someone I’ve been honored and privileged to get to know over the last year. She brings nuance to her analysis, context to conversations, and a lot of sass (in the best way, I promise). I have learned a great deal about music and culture from her, and I know you will learn so much from her song selections:
1. What is your favorite song right now?
This changes down to the minutes and I suppose it kind of depends on what I’m doing at the time. Lately, when I’m writing, I listen to “Jamal al-Wujood” by the Sharmoofers featuring the Muslim devotional group al-Hadra, which I’ve seen perform live multiple times in Cairo (they’re PHENOMENAL; they never fail to get the crowd moving; they also perform sometimes with Aida Ayyoubi, who is another favorite). “Jamal Al-Wujood” is an adaptation of an 18th century poem by Shaikh Abdul Ghani al Nabulsi (d. 1731) who is one of my favorite figures from Islamic intellectual history. The mashup of the Sharmoofers and al-Hadra –whose whole deal is that they document and re-envision traditional Muslim devotionals, particularly from Egypt– is this raucously rebellious stand against society’s attempts at secularization. I also like that the Sharmoofers didn’t try to adapt the song to their style –which is cheeky, musiqat al-jakr– but adapted their voices and instrumentation to the song and al-Hadra’s style.
2. What’s your go-to song for all your feels?
I was going to go for an Oum Kulthoum, who is well-documented as one of my favorite artists of all time (I post her art to social media! A close friend gave me the coffee mug I use everyday with her face on it!) but the song this year that just fills me with joy is Mohammad Wardi’s “Al-Sourah”. It feels so evocative of the time and place it came from –Sudan in the 1970s– in the same way Oum Kulthoum’s later work was very 1960s, with the bass in the background. The drums, the wind instruments, Wardi’s voice. We’ve seen his music emerge both at critical moments in his own lifetime and in others: the 2018-19 revolution in Sudan.
3. Name a song that reminds you of home.
One thing I hear from Palestinians who grew up outside of the Arabic-speaking world is that they didn’t have role models to look up to or see themselves in the media. I struggle with the idea that we need celebrities to represent us, but I think it’d be hypocritical of me to make any call on whether or not having representation actually helps because I had representation in the media, as the daughter of a Mexican-American in the form of the singer Selena Quintanilla. She died when I was young but I remember the impact her death had on my mom and my mom’s family. She looked like us, with her skin, hair and body-type; she sounded like the mix of music my mom and her siblings listened to: her blend of tejano, mariachi, pop, reggae, ranchera, and more matched that generation of Mexican Americans. Anything by Selena reminds me of coming to the US to visit my Mexican-American family, but in particular, “Como La Flor (the Astrodome Version)” and “Besitos” feel like dancing with my grandmother in her living room or eating beans and tortillas at a barbecue.
4. Name a song you know all the words to.
So many songs –”Sekka Shamal fi Shamal”, “Zahret al-Mada’in”, “Ali’ al-Koufeyyah”, “Deniz Üstü Köpürür”, “Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayım”, “Dudu”, the Mulan soundtrack– but the song I find myself singing –mostly when making a cup of tea or walking to the bakery, is “Maskhara” by Bashar Murad, because so many of the lyrics match my mood right now. I’m just tired and frustrated with everyone and everything; I feel like my entire brain is on fire. “Maskhara” is about just that and it’s got all these lines that are so specific about being Palestinian (Murad’s from Shaikh Jarrah). In a world where I’m constantly adapting to different Arabic dialects (and I am very very happy to do so), it’s also just nice to hear Palestinian Arabic.
5. Name a song that gets you really hype and ready to go.
One is Lina Makoul’s “3 Sneen”. I listen to “3 Sneen” when I’m starting a run, I listen to it when I’m writing. I listen to it when I’m trying to catch a train. I actually think it was my most-listened to song of 2020. The superficial read of the song is that it’s about a break-up but to me, Makoul’s singing about her relationship with Israel as a society and embracing her Palestinian identity through her repeated mention of being from Akka and the mijwiz on the second half of the track. I usually play it back to back with Marwan Asad’s “La Biniyya”, which is perhaps one of the songs I cannot sit still to; there’s been a lot of attempts at ‘sham-step’ in the last few years, most of it excellent and this song is easily my favorite.
Big shout out to N.A. for joining and sharing her song selections! Most of N.A.’s songs are available on Spotify and will be included in this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen. Check out her GIF game on Twitter and be sure to read some of the incredible stories in Hazine!
What I’m Listening To
🎧 Flows by Middle Eastern, North African, & Diaspora Artists 🎧
Hayak Eglet - Flipperachi
My Land Is Calling - Perla Joe
Baddi Hada Hebbou - Nancy Ajram
Dima Yesrali - Cheb Wahid
Wide Open - Wafia featuring Ta-ku and Masego
Calma - Dareen featuring Rashed Muzik
Haiyu - Mariem Hassan
Big Body Benzes - Narcy featuring Ransom
Farashat - Jamila & The Other Heroes
Je m’endors mal luné - Jul featuring NORDO
🎤 Vibes by Latinx & Hispanic artists 🎤
MAFIOSA - Nathy Peluso
Camelias - APHELIA
Cortar - Raquel Sofía featuring Los Macorinos
Calor - Chesca
Buena - ¿Téo?
Pantera - SOULFIA
La Old Skul - Rauw Alejandro
TODO O NADA - Lunay featuring Anitta
Sobrio - Maluma
Whine Up - Kat Deluna featuring Elephant Man
🎼 Other Good Music 🎼
I Believed It - dvsn featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Mac Miller
Vibin’ - Boyz II Men
Sans moi - Franglish featuring Aya Nakamura
ARE YOU WITH THAT? - Vince Staples
Kamata - Diamond Platinumz
Ex - Nikita Kering’
Witchoo - Durand Jones & The Indications featuring Aaron Frazer
Dude - Beenie Man featuring Ms. Thing
Aura - Mariah the Scientist
Two Cents - Chanelle Kazadi
What I’m Reading
🇱🇧 Lebanon 🇱🇧
The harrowing consequences of Lebanon’s financial crisis are too big for the world to ignore - Bel Trew, The Independent
The solution to a myriad of problems is not immediately clear – but too much is at stake for nothing to be done.
As Lebanon’s Crisis Deepens, Lines for Fuel Grow, and Food and Medicine Are Scarce - Ben Hubbard, The New York Times
The World Bank said the financial crisis could rank among the world’s three worst since the mid-1800s. The currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value and unemployment has skyrocketed.
‘Our future is in Beirut’ – the designers helping to rebuild Lebanon - Gilles Khoury, Financial Times
A year after the blast, and despite severe financial setbacks, these creatives believe that recovery and beauty will always be entwined.
Spike in 'chemsex' among Lebanon's LGBT+ community, broken by Beirut blast - Timour Azhari, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Chemsex parties in Lebanon risk re-fuelling epidemics of HIV among gay men, with apps like Grindr used to seek out drug-heightened and often anonymous and unprotected sex.
Revolutionising Lebanon’s agriculture sector as food runs out - Robert McKelvey, Al Jazeera
Lebanon’s farming industry has gone underfunded and underdeveloped for many years, hindered by a lack of modern equipment and inefficient production techniques.
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
As Ons Jabeur bows out at Wimbledon, Tunisia cheers her history-making achievement - Liz Clarke, The Washington Post
As the first Tunisian and Arab woman to reach Wimbledon’s quarterfinals, Jabeur hopes to inspire others in North Africa.
Who is the Palestinian Authority protecting? Not us. - Mariam Barghouti, The Washington Post
Palestinians are facing violence, either from Israeli settlers, police and army, or from Palestinian authorities.
Stripped, Groped and Violated: Egyptian Women Describe Abuse by the State - Mona El-Naggar, Yousur Al-Hlou, and Aliza Aufrichtig, The New York Times
Speaking publicly for the first time, these Egyptian women say they were sexually abused during invasive searches and medical exams by government authorities.
A father and daughter’s grave marks the cost of Yemen’s war - Samy Magdy, Associated Press
Among the growing number of graves of the war dead in the cemetery of the Yemeni city of Marib, one tombstone stands out. It has two “martyrs” listed — a father and his young daughter.
Iraqi Poet Sinan Antoon Looks Back On Donald Rumsfeld's Career - Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR
NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro speaks with Iraqi poet and scholar Sinan Antoon about the legacy of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who died last week.
🎶 Music, Arts, & Culture 🎶
Faouzia Talks New Single ‘Hero’, Her Debut Album - Teresa Lam, Hypebae
The Moroccan-Canadian singer, who just turned 21, is a superstar in the making.
Sonic Liberation Front: Palestine’s Underground Music Experimentalists are Resisting Erasure - Shirine Saad, I Care If You Listen
“The sound of liberation is a battle with silence. It is a mad mashup of noise, nostalgic ballads, and clashing sounds. It is a reckoning with the deafening chaos. It is a radical transcendence from death. This is poetry: a transformation of destruction into hope.”
“The sound of injustice”: Muqata’a turns the noise of warfare into protest music - Zab Mustefa, Mixmag
Zab Mustefa speaks to Palestinian artist Muqata'a about life under occupation, sampling weapons of war and fighting back through music.
Tamer Al-Ahmar: The Jordanian artist paying homage to Arab divas - Rami Abou Diab, Arab News
“They are icons that have had a defining influence on our cultural identity.”
Tyler, the Creator’s Victory Lap - Sheldon Pearce, The New Yorker
The rapper teams up with the mixtape legend Drama for his triumphant new album, “CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST.”
📚 Other Reads 📚
Local Haitians express shock, frustration as nation is again plunged into turmoil following slaying of president - Tiana Woodard and Julia Carlin, The Boston Globe
“Too many folks in the diaspora have lost loved ones,” said Jean-Claude Sanon, a Haitian community organizer who has lived in Massachusetts since 1975. “And they were also feeling that they were not free enough to go back to their home country, visit their loved ones, or be able to go back and enjoy the country.”
The Biased Rulebook For Black Women Competing at The Olympics - Tomi Otekunrin, AMAKA
A slew of incidents pointing to biases and discrimination are affecting athletes competing in the 2021 Olympics reveal a culture of policing Black women and structural racism in sports.
How the Montreal Canadiens helped this immigrant settle into Canada - Mouhamad Rachini, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Dr. Tahira Ahmed will be cheering for the team as they compete in the Stanley Cup finals.
Miami’s Climate Dystopia Gets Real - Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone
South Florida’s real estate is only going to get more deadly if we continue to ignore all the warning signs of a doomed coastline.
“This isn’t about Maria vs. Rachel:” ESPN must address pervasive race problems - Iliana Limón Romero, Los Angeles Times
“The overwhelming majority of journalists of color have heard a form of this attack relayed either to their faces or behind their backs. You filled their quota. You are the diversity hire. You are only here because of your gender or race.”