Friday, December 23, 2011

Peace...


Yes, I've posted this in previous years around this time. And of course it ignores Kwanzaa and Hannukah, so just to be clear, no, I'm not throwing in my lot with the crowd harping about the "war on Christmas." I remain, for another year at least, an atheist.

But one doesn't have to be devout to know that "peace on earth" is a sentiment worth making into reality. And so, yet again, here is one of John Lennon's most legendary. Farewell 2011, you've been one hell of a year. The words of Lennon, Ono, Seeger, Guthrie, Simone, Strummer and the rest seem a lot less far off. If history is kind to us, there'll be even more revolutionary hope in store for us in 2012.

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Just a reminder that Rebel Frequencies will be suspending its normal Monday through Friday schedule until the new year. Publication will resume on January 9th.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rihanna Strikes Back Against Racism and Sexism


Let's be honest: there were a lot of people (myself included) who thought that Rihanna was going to be little more than a flash in the pop music pan. Lately, however, she's shown some real chops--not to mention made some gutsy moves that cut against dominant expectations for a female pop artist. First came her video for "Man Down," which, after being denounced by several parent groups, Rihanna rightfully defended as a statement against sexual abuse. It was a brave song to record and video to film.

Then comes this. Rihanna could have just let it slide when the editor of Holland's Jackie magazine resigned over an article calling RiRi "the ultimate niggabitch." Some "polite" circles might assert that the singer should be somehow "graceful" and let the editor, Eva Hoeke, step aside and let the controversy die.

In these cases, though, screw politeness. Hoeke's explanation for why she allowed the article to run in the first place was far from sufficient: "I realize that my first reaction through Twitter, in which I indicated that it was a joke, has been an incomplete description of what me, and also the author of the article, meant. The term ‘niggabitch’ came from America and we solely used it to describe a style of dress."

First of all, I've heard those two words used together, but I wouldn't exactly call it a term on its own, and certainly never to describe a style of dress. Second half-asses stabs at blaming a slur on cultural imperialism still don't excuse its usage. Evidently, Rihanna agreed, and even after Hoeke's resignation, let herself loose via Twitter:

"I hope u can read english, because your magazine is a poor representation of the evolution of human rights... There are 1000′s of Dutch girls who would love to be recognized for their contributions to your country, you could have given them an article. Instead, u paid to print one degrading an entire race! That’s your contribution to this world! To encourage segregation, to mislead the future leaders to act in the past! You put two words together with the intent of abasement, that made no sense... 'NIGGA BITCH'?!... Well with all respect, on behalf of my race, here are my two words for you... FUCK YOU!!!"

Plenty of people have said that she "overreacted," and that she shouldn't have cursed out the disgraced editor. But to be clear: Hoeke deserves every ounce of shame being heaped on her right now, especially from Rihanna. Those who say they aren't defending Hoeke's actions and yet also denounce the comeuppance automatically end up doing the former.

I have no idea how familiar RiRi is with Dutch politics (her mention of Dutch girls reveals she may know more than media may be led to believe), but it's also important to recognize that this whole incident is taking place in the context of the threat of a rising far-right in Europe. The Party of Freedom, led by hyper-bigot Geert Wilders, is currently the third largest in the Netherlands. Wilders, who is also infamous for saying "I don't hate Muslims, I hate Islam," has fronted the party's campaign against the "Islamization" or Holland and has publicly expressed his desire to have all foreign Muslims deported.

This has, unsurprisingly, opened the door for a more generalized backlash against all people of color. It's not far-fetched to say this atmosphere has rubbed off on a magazine editor. Luckily, there are still artists--even in the highest heights of the mainstream--who know when to call out bigotry for what it is.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Punk Is Not a Crime (and Neither Is Islam)


One doesn’t have to sport a mohawk and listen to the Exploited to find this story utterly revolting. Still, since it was picked up two weeks ago, the millions of people who have had their lives touched by punk rock have found themselves not only moved but outraged. Rightfully so.

On December 10th, police in Banda Aceh, capital city of Indonesia’s Aceh territory, raided a local concert. Featuring several local punk groups, the show was held as a fundraiser for the area’s orphans; punks from all over Indonesia had reportedly travelled to attend. None of this apparently mattered to the police, who stormed into the venue with batons swinging. Of the 100 people in attendance, 64 were arrested and taken to a detention center 30 miles outside the city.

There, the 59 men and 5 women had their clothes confiscated: dog collars and chains, spiked belts and tight jeans. They were all given toothbrushes and ordered “use it!” by prison guards. After being taken outside, guards forcibly shaved off their mohawks and long hair; women were given a short bob. They were then bathed in a nearby lake before being subjected to “moral re-education” classes.

The Associated Press quoted one young punk, identified as 20-year-old Fauzan: “Why? Why my hair?” he said, pointing to his head. “We didn’t hurt anyone. This is how we’ve chosen to express ourselves. Why are they treating us like criminals?”

Banda Aceh’s Deputy Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal, remained unapologetic, claiming the detainees were in violation of the region’s interpretation of Islamic law: “The presence of the punk community is disturbing, and disrupts the life of the Banda Aceh public. This is a new social disease affecting Banda Aceh. If it is allowed to continue, the government will have to spend more money to handle them. Their morals are wrong… This training will be an example in Indonesia of the reeducation of the punks.

Meanwhile, perhaps feeling the pressure of international scrutiny, Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf claimed the punks’ reeducation wasn’t so much for sake of Islam as it was for their own good. Speaking at Indonesia’s presidential palace, he told reporters that “the government needs to think of their future.” Insisting that most don’t have jobs or go to school, he asked “if they don’t work, what will they be?”

This flies in the face of what some of the detainees have told reporters. One anonymous punk from the Medan area of North Sumatra said he worked as a contractor at a bank. “I’ll probably be sacked for not coming into work for a week.” Nonetheless, Djamal has promised the raids will continue until all punks have been caught and reeducated--personal consequences be damned.

At the time of this writing, the Banda Aceh 64 are scheduled to be released on Friday, December 23rd. For their own part, the detained punks have remained defiant.

Aceh is somewhat unique in Indonesia. After the 2004 tsunami, newly-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono brokered a peace deal with the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) that allowed for a relative amount of autonomy from the central government in Jakarta. Since then, the region has become Indonesia’s most conservative, embracing what governing politicians call “key elements of Sharia.” Adultery in Aceh is punishable by stoning to death, and residents fingered as gay or lesbian have been caned in public.

Persecution of music, however, isn’t as singular for Indonesian authorities. The 32-year rule of dictator Suharto (backed till the end by the US, of course) maintained a stranglehold on mainstream culture, including disappearances of dissident artists and musicians. When East Timor was occupied by the Indonesian military in 1976, traditional Timorese songs were banned. Bella Gahlos, a Timorese activist who fled the country in the early ‘90s, estimates that “thousands of people have been killed for singing these songs.

By the early ‘90s, not even MTV was allowed to broadcast in Indonesia (Suharto’s censors were notoriously paranoid of what they deemed culturally seditious). Nonetheless, songs from America’s “punk revival” began to seep through the nation’s archipelagic borders. It wasn’t too long until a growing number of bands began to spring out of an already vibrant underground rock community, armed with little more than a righteous sense of rage that had been pent up for way too long. Though still restricted to the extreme fringes of society, the burgeoning punk scene was an enthusiastic part of the revolutionary upsurge that overthrew Suharto in 1998. Says ethnomusicologist Jeremy Wallach:

"Almost from the beginning, musicians in the Indonesian underground movement performed songs attacking the corruption of the Suharto government, even when it was dangerous to do so. Thus, although Indonesian punk is as politically divided as its western counterparts, it is not surprising that many Indonesian punks place their movement and their allegiance in the context of the struggle against Suharto."

Punks’ support for that struggle could indeed be dangerous. Rumor has it that during these uprisings there was an unofficial order for army and police to “shoot anyone with a tattoo,” so widespread was the counter-culture’s involvement.

Now, almost fifteen years after the end of Suharto’s rule, the Indonesian punk scene is the most vibrant in Asia and, according to some, among the largest in the world. Its beginnings might have sprouted initially from the import of America’s most mainstream groups (Green Day, the Offspring, Rancid). But since then its roots have deepened, and the movement has blossomed into one both uniquely Indonesian and organically interwoven with a global sub-culture motivated by a strong DIY ethic and profound distrust of authority.

A small handful of bands, like Bali’s Superman Is Dead, have gone on to a measure of international acclaim and signed to Sony Records (even while encouraging their fans to “steal” their albums). Others, like Jakarta-based Marjinal, have made a name for themselves playing entirely in Indonesia’s kampung (poor urban neighborhoods), giving their tapes away for free and teaching street kids how to busk on trains and corners.

Homeless youth are among the most neglected and abused in Indonesian society. Since 2001, Jakarta’s government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on “anti-poverty” initiatives that consist of nothing but hiring out local thugs to round up homeless youth and turn them into the police. Naturally, these types of programs have accelerated with the economic crisis. Given the popularity of the sub-culture among poor and working class youth, punks have found themselves frequently in the cross-hairs of such initiatives.

Mike, lead-singer of Marjinal, told a journalist for Time magazine in 2007 “Music gives these kids a way to survive, to make some kind of living… Punk, to me, is addressing the things that are rotten in society. It tells us that we have the ability to be independent and take care of each other.” It’s a spirit of camaraderie familiar to anyone who’s been in attendance at a local gig, be it in Milwaukee, Prague, Johannesburg or Tokyo.

Little wonder that the global punk community has rallied so fiercely around the Banda Aceh 64. When the Guardian and other major outlets picked up on the story, punk websites blew up in protest and solidarity. Propagandhi, well-known as a fiercely anarchist group for almost two decades (who also paid tribute to Bella Gahlos in 2001) was one of the first to release a statement:

"In the past Propagandhi has received letters from people in Banda Aceh and all over Indonesia so any one of these people could be the same people who have contacted us… In the off chance that they might see this post I’d like to say to all the Punks who’ve been victimized by authorities in Indonesia that we, the members of Propagandhi, are supporting you and admire that you have expressed yourselves even at your own expense."

They weren’t alone. A petition supporting the kids and released on Change.org gained over 8,500 signatures in five days. Seattle-based Aborted Society Records has announced a “mix tapes for Aceh” initiative, asking people to donate homemade mix CDs to eventually be sent to Aceh. German band Red Tape Parade have launched a similar campaign, urging their fans to send them not just CDs but ‘zines, records, shirts, pins and anything else for support.

Already, demonstrations and actions by local scenesters have taken place at Indonesian embassies and consulates in London, Moscow and Los Angeles. And in Jakarta, the Bendera Hitam punk collective protested outside the Aceh representative’s office.

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Almost as troubling as the events in Banda Aceh has been the reactions of some here in the western world–specifically the anti-Muslim bigotry that they’ve attempted to promote. Mainstream media, including the AP and Guardian, have emphasized the religious fundamentalism of Aceh’s government, meanwhile failing to provide a wider context.

For the most part, there’s been little mention of the vibrancy of Indonesia’s punk scene, its class characteristics, or the long history of harassment its endured, even in more moderate regions. And while questions are asked of Aceh’s governor, there don’t seem to be any questions asked about why the US continues to give support to a government guilty of such flagrant violations of cultural rights.

Instead, the problem is made out to be one of Sharia law, and, in turn, Islam. This has suited the “stop Islamization” crowd just fine, most of whom couldn’t care less about punk rock. Unfortunately, while many of these professional Islamophobes may be on the extreme right of the political spectrum, their ideas have become common currency, even in parts of the punk community.

PunkNews.org, an otherwise apolitical site who have nonetheless done an excellent job reporting in solidarity with the kids in Aceh, have been the most obvious example, albeit briefly. The site’s initial post on December 13th made the assertion that not just Aceh but all of Indonesia was under Sharia — a factual error. The editors were quickly called on it, and two days later they retracted that portion of the post. Even more disheartening, though, was that they linked to Robert Spencer’s reprehensible “Jihad Watch” blog.

Spencer, who many will surely remember from his role in the hate campaign against the “Ground Zero mosque” earlier this year, never misses a chance to smear Islam as a religion of hate. Though he obviously cares not an inkling for the right to cultural expression, he inevitably released a story on Jihad Watch entitled “In Aceh, Sheena is not a punk rocker.

Spencer may be smiling at the supposed cleverness of such a title (I happen to think it’s a bit cheap and obvious). His editorializing, however, is nothing but pure bigoted vitriol:

"Aceh is a case study in how creeping Sharia works. It gets a foot in the door with promises of moderation, tolerance, and limited applications... As its proponents gain confidence, enforcement of Sharia becomes more aggressive and intrusive on private behavior, because, in truth, Sharia is a comprehensive system of governance for every aspect of human life, and knows no compartmentalization of public and private behavior... Muhammad’s well-known antipathy toward musical instruments can’t help."

One might wonder which part of his own ass Spencer pulled this argument out of, but it’s hard to tell with his head still up there. He is willfully oblivious to the similarity his description holds with any form of religious fundamentalism, and to how such extreme ideas are more a tool of state repression rather than the root. Look, for example, at how the Christian fundamentalism of John Ashcroft and George W Bush ran perfect cover for the crimes at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

Spencer also deliberately ignores that what we have come to refer to as “Sharia” was, for most of its history, a set of clerical guidelines for living and governing rather than a political dogma. Deepa Kumar, in a recent article on political Islam, distinguishes: “While the clergy insisted that the potent rule society in a way that conformed to Sharia law, they viewed their role as censures of a bad ruler rather than rulers themselves.”

In other words, religious ideologies are bent to political agendas; not the other way round. As for the assertion that Muhammad hated musical instruments, it’s groundless. While zealous sects have interpreted it as such over the past hundred or so years, most mainstream Islamic scholars are in agreement that it was only vulgar songs that were proscribed; what counts as vulgar is open to interpretation. Muhammad was known to have musicians play and sing at his wedding.

The editors of PunkNews.org never responded to an email calling them on the inclusion of the link to Robert Spencer’s blog. They did, however, sever the link the next day. Once again, this is to their credit. However, if a reputable punk site can link to a blog like this without thinking twice, it reveals just how deep Islamophobia runs through post-9/11 America.

What makes this so especially tragic is that there is a brilliant history within punk of fighting bigotry. The very existence of a thriving Indonesian punk scene proves that it long ago ceased being a “white boy thing.” Back here on this side of the pond, there are punkers of every race and creed--from the Afro-punk movement to Chicano and Latino communities to yes, even Muslim punks.

Tanzila Ahmed, a Los Angeles activist and writer, lays it out straight up. “In America, being Muslim is an act of defiance,” says Ahmed. “That’s punk.” Ahmed, or “Taz” as she prefers to be called, runs the Taqwacore Webzine.

For the uninitiated, “Taqwacore” is the name for the movement of openly Muslim punk rockers that has taken hold over the past decade in North America. Since writer Michael Muhammad Knight’s 2002 novel The Taqwacores, the scene has coalesced around bands like Al Thawra and the Kominas. In 2010, director Omar Majeed released the documentary Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, currently making the rounds at festivals around the world.

In a commentary on the site, Ahmed puts her identity, her faith, and the idiocy of both the Aceh “Sharia police” and American Islamophobia, all in perspective:

"My baptism wasn’t by lake water but by fire, avoiding the glares of Christian fundamentalists with their barking dogs on the street corner protesting outside my American mosque, or being pulled out by TSA in airport security lines. My Islamic baptism happens when I watch my back for hate-crimes when walking down the street defiantly brown in a white America or when I get told by drunk bigots at parties to go back to where I came from. My boycott these days is of a hardware supply store for not supporting a reality show. That is the American Muslim punk baptism right there."

Taz’s experience--absorbing the sneers of a repressive society bent on shoving you into a box--isn’t unique among punks. And it’s certainly not unique among Muslims. It could justifiably be said that Taqwacore kids bear a double burden. One of the most poignant and enraging scenes in Majeed’s doc is when a Detroit club cancels a Taqwa gig, claiming they’re wary of “the Muslim thing”.

It goes without saying that the righteous indignation that Spencer spewed out against the raid in Banda Aceh doesn’t extend to the kids who have their shows shut down thanks to anti-Muslim bigotry. Neither for the punks thrown in prison in Indonesia’s more “moderate” provinces, squatters evicted from viable homes in London’s St. Agnes Place in 2005 or the countless gigs shut down by cops every year in Europe and America.

For the most part, the response to the arrests in Aceh among punks in the west has dodged this kind of blatant anti-Muslim bigotry. Even before PunkNews.org severed the link to Jihad Watch, people who left comments like “Fuck Islam. If I could put a picture of Muhammed [sic] here I would” were quickly rebuked by several other visitors to the site. Perhaps that’s because the instinct among punks--that repression is repression is repression--continues to ring true. And with it the time-honored suspicion of well-dressed people with cowardly ideas.

In the midst of all this, it’s worth stepping back and asking why, thirty-five years after the Sex Pistols first called Bill Grundy a “dirty fucker” on national television, despite so many attempts to sanitize and market it, punk can still be a threat. Indeed, how is it that this culture hasn’t only refused to fade into oblivion, but found its niche in almost every nation on the planet?

Ultimately, it’s because amidst the crumbling economic casualties of corporate globalization there continues to be a vast, pulsing mass of human beings sick of being pushed to the margins. The flip-side of that coin, then, must be that these indignant many deserve to run the world for themselves--be they black, brown or white, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist. It’s a dream that throughout history has been called a utopian pipe dream. But then, is there anything more punk than making the impossible possible?

First published at Dissident Voice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Holidays From Jail Guitar Doors!

If anyone is still trying to figure out a last-minute Holiday gift then they should by all means consider a poster, t-shirt, cap or belt buckle from Jail Guitar Doors.

Not only are the graphics on these pretty bad-ass, but the proceeds go to a damned good cause: buying musical instruments, equipment and lessons for prison inmates. It's a project that originally got its start in the UK thanks to Billy Bragg, but was also picked up in 2009 on this side of the pond.

Here's a message on the merch from the legendary Wayne Kramer, former guitarist from the MC5 and spearhead of JGD:

"I know prison reform isn't exactly at the top of the list of favorite topics of conversation during the holidays. We all have busy lives and there's plenty in the world to be concerned about, but I also know that there are a lot of people who are interested in seeing our country live up to its precious principles of justice and equality. So, Jail Guitar Doors is making this conversation one about positive change, and you can help us by joining in to carry the message. If you'd like to support the JGD-USA mission, consider this fine gift for your justice loving friends and family who also happen to rock."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hitched to War and Bigotry


There are two types of atheists in the world. One is the kind for whom atheism is a means to an end. They observe the injustice in the world as a basic affront to reason, and thus see within this context their refusal to believe in a traditional higher power. It’s an incredibly humanistic urge: that the attempts to turn poverty, war and inequality into some kind of universal truth should be destined for the dustbin of history.

For these people, atheism is merely one aspect of a desire for a profoundly better world where human potential is filled in the here and now, not in some far-off heaven. Think of the atheist espoused by John Lennon when he urged us to “imagine no religion,” and you start to get a sense for what I’m talking about.

Then there are those atheists who behave more like petulant children being ignored at an adult dinner party. “Look over here,” they scream. “I’m an atheist and that’s more important than anything else! I’m right and all of you are idiotic chumps for not realizing it!”

For these people, everyone who believes in God is simply brainwashed and worthy of sneering contempt--no matter if they are your run-of-the-mill Evangelical or a liberation theologian culling the radical Jesus in a the fight against poverty. It’s an elitist kind of posture; their atheism doesn’t advance anyone’s cause, nor is it designed to. It’s designed to make them feel special. Despite their rationalistic veneer, no amount of reason or logic can puncture their smugness.

Christopher Hitchens is a rare thing. During his lifetime he went from being the first kind of atheist to the second. And on the way down he hit a particularly nasty branch on the ugly tree; it’s this branch that turned him into a remarkably un-reconstructed, arrogant, chest-thumping neo-con.

His loss of any meaningful rooting in real and meaningful humanism is what allowed him to stump for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq with an almost gleeful bloodlust, and call for the imprisonment of anti-war Members of Parliament like George Galloway. It’s what allowed him to equivocate in the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate, running cover for the bigots (many of them devout Christians) and calling Islamophobia a “fake term.” Plenty of solid writers have had their legacies soiled by being lured into the embrace of the establishment; that never makes it easier to witness.

When I first became an activist, I read Hitchens’ “Minority Report” column in The Nation religiously, if you’ll pardon the unfortunate turn of phrase. Call it a collision between my deep love of a well-written word and my burgeoning radicalism that naturally attracted me to his articles. Even by this moment, Hitch had poked more than a few holes in his leftist creds (supporting war in the Balkans, backing impeachment proceedings against Clinton on ostensibly left-wing grounds).

But there were plenty of other laudable moments. Before the first Gulf War, Hitchens had embarrassed a virulently pro-invasion Charlton Heston by asking him to name all of the countries bordering Iraq going clockwise; Heston couldn’t. When asked on television during the 2000 elections how we should regard the race between Bush and Gore, he replied “the same way they regard you: with contempt.” It’s hard as a writer to not want to be that good.

All of that came to an end of course after 9/11, when Hitch fully embraced the role of neo-conservative ideologue. Most of his former readers were chagrined by his turn to the right and vicious war-cries against “Islamofascism,” but it also made it easier to digest his departure from The Nation.

As my own path as a writer-activist gravitated me into music journalism, I paid less and less attention to Hitchens. For one thing, his racist, pro-war rants became simply part of the chorus, albeit better written than the likes of what Cheney, Rumsfeld and certainly Bush could muster. For another, he wasn’t in my “field.” Hell, I didn’t even know if Hitch listened to music.

There was, however, one exception, and it came in the months after the invasion of Iraq--the country Hitchens had once defended against the US’ imperial designs. Countless pundits joined in the witch-hunt that erupted after the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines said she the group “do not want this war, this violence,” and that they were “ashamed” George Bush was from their native Texas. Radio stations banned them, their CDs were steamrolled in public, Lipton dropped them as a sponsor.

Hitchens felt compelled to join in with this abuse. At a debate on the war in June 2003 he was asked asked about the Dixie Chicks and burst into an angry tirade: “Each day they dig up dead bodies in personal death camps run by a Caligula dictator, and I’m being asked to worry about these fucking fat slags--do me a favor!” Later that day, at another panel, he renewed his vindictive, calling the group “sluts.”

In this one sequence of sentences, Hitchens had finally broken with the eloquence and subtlety that had once made him respected among most rabble-rousers. This was a man who had spent the past two years fishing for every single argument he could pull out of his bag to support the US’ war on the Muslim world--including the charge that they “objectify women.” And yet, here he was displaying the same vitriol his supposed enemies were accused of. It was clumsy, it was cheap, and it was also very, very sexist.

It’s all this that makes me very glad that he never had a chance to comment on the detention of Indonesian punks in the name of “Shariah law.” Of course, nobody can know what a dead man is thinking, but the neo-con version of Hitch never missed an opportunity to pompously draw attention to “Islamic depravity.”

Hitchens had moved away from his own Trotskyist beginnings by the time punk began to take root around ‘76 or so, and it’s a good bet he never knew anything about it. But as the bottom-feeding Robert Spencer has already shown with his own writings, one doesn’t have to know a damn thing about punk rock to use it for your own nefarious purposes. Spencer, Pamela Geller and other professional Islamophobes have unsurprisingly written fawning obits for Hitch since his demise; after all, his use of the bully pulpit to thump hard against Islam opened the door for knuckle-draggers of their ilk.

All of this makes his story run deeper than simply going from the left to the right or anti-war to pro-war. It’s the story of a man who became everything he once ostensibly hated. Hitchens always tried to couch his turncoat-isms in some sense of continuity, hoping to pull one over on his readers. What he never got was that the rest of the world is a lot smarter than he thought. When he let his vitriol fly during his last decade, his unapologetic elitism was on undeniable display. And it’s something of a tragedy that this might be what he’s ultimately most remembered for.

First published at SOCIARTS.

Friday, December 16, 2011

BDS Update: Rock Against Apartheid


One might be forgiven for being a little perplexed by someone like Joe Lynn Turner jumping onto the international call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel. The list of artists he's recorded with is long and impressive (over 60 albums), but it doesn't exactly scream "political." Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen... you get the point. I mean come on, look at that picture!

If someone like Turner is cancelling his shows in Tel Aviv, then it once again speaks to how deep this campaign is reaching. Tonight would have been the date of Turner's gig at the Reading Club. And yet, according to the Refrain Playing Israel website, Turner cancelled last-minute. Turner has yet to release a public statement, but given the last-minute nature of his pull-out, Reading Club will be losing a lot of money, and that does indeed send a message.

Far harder to accomplish will be the campaign to get the Red Hot Chili Peppers to cancel their show in September. Next year will most surely be a full one for proponents of BDS!

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No, I don't have anything to say about the death of Christopher Hitchens.

Update: I've changed my mind. Yes, I do have something to say about him. The media chorus is nauseating, and deserves to be punctured. Look for an article next week.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Islamophobia Ain't Punk... Or Hip-Hop

It very well may be that Russell Simmons has his own agenda buying up ad space to promote his own RushCard on TLC's "All American Muslim" TV show. MLive.com's Aaron Foley makes a very good point about the risks of "pre-paid debit cards," which stand to make a lot of money for companies that issue them (a la Russell Simmons) but incur heavy fees for individuals using them. It shouldn't be forgotten that Simmons is, after all, a hip-hop capitalist before being a hip-hop activist.

That being said, one can't deny that there is definitely an anti-racist component here; Simmons does indeed have a history of standing up against anti-Muslim bigotry the way few other moguls in any genre have been able to muster. And so, when Simmons announced that he's be stepping in to fill the void left by Lowe's home improvement after they pulled their ads from the TV show featuring five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, it's hard to resist admitting that it looks good on hip-hop.

More important is how Simmons' actions may possibly open the door for more concrete acts of solidarity with the Islamic community in the US. Videos like the one from the Narycist and Shadia Mansour below (which express a proud identity and willingness to fight for it better than Simmons ever could). Absolutely, anyone seeking to fight religious bigotry in the US should boycott Lowe's, but with news of the "Shariah police" raid on a recent punk gig in Indonesia, the Islamophobia in the music world may be about to take a big step up. It's important that any fan of real rebel music--punk, rap, whatever--be ready to beat it back.



There will be an article taking on the recent events in Indonesia, hopefully published by the holiday break. Keep checking in here at RF.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bono: Silencing the Truth


Looks like the rabbit-hole of Bono's manipulation never ends. A recent email sent out by Dave Marsh and the folks at Rock & Rap Confidential reports that an Irish writer, Sean O'Nuallain, has been essentially "banned" from Wikipedia for attempting to add in truthful facts on U2's info page.

In particular was pointing out that U2's rise to fame was greatly aided by their management's willingness to silence other Irish acts. Their front label, Mother Records, has for several years (despite supposedly having shut down in 2000) signed countless Irish independent artists and then simply warehoused them, refusing to distribute these acts and tying them into contracts they can't get out of. It's a time-tested tactic in the music industry: silence artists that threaten your biggest money-makers.

An email sent out just today from RRC puts the silencing of O'Nuallain in context. Elevation Partners, a venture capital firm principally owned by Bono, has already donated close to a million dollars to Wikipedia. Of course, the singer has always been intensely dodgy about being confronted on the content of his Kipling-esque ONE campaign. Now it seems he can't even be bothered to answer questions of how exactly he got to where he is in the first place. It would appear, if these reports are true, that he got there the exact same way the rest of the one percent did: lie, cheat, steal.

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My article summing up this year's most important songs was republished today at SocialistWorker.org. If you haven't checked it out yet, please do. And feel free to get swept up in the holiday spirit by donating to Rebel Frequencies too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This World Ends Now...


There is something very timely about listening to Lupe Fiasco’s new mixtape at this point in time. Part of it is obviously deliberate, dripping from the tape’s words and beats. Part of it is also, for lack of a better term, coincidental, the kind of happy half-accident that’s bound to arise when a grassroots movement captures the attention of people around the globe.

A few days before Lupe made Friend of the People: I Fight Evil. available--online, for free, over the Thanksgiving break--I had cracked open Jared Ball’s recent book I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto. Ball, a professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore and frequent contributor to the Black Agenda Report, puts forth a main point in the book that surely isn’t lost on hip-hop’s most faithful: that the mixtape, “rap music’s original mass medium” as he calls it, is one of the few avenues where radical, bottom-up ideas can be expressed without the meddling censorship of the music industry.

Says Ball:

"Unlike other popular forms of mass media today, the mixtape remains among the most viable spaces for the practice of emancipatory journalism and inclusion of dissident music or cultural expression. With few exceptions, the intentionally designed structure of commercial radio [as well as the record business -AB] exempts that space for any such content."

There are plenty of artists who know this first-hand, countless MCs who despite talent out their ears have been deemed too “controversial” by the biz. And as Lupe can attest, even those lucky few with a contract have no guaranteed freedom of speech. A version of Friend of the People was meant to hit the ‘Net last Christmas. But, presumably because of the two-year wrangling between Lupe and Atlantic Records over the content of his album Lasers, the mixtape was delayed indefinitely.

Even after Atlantic finally agreed, under threat of protests outside their headquarters, to release the album, its content was quite obviously compromised by record label meddling. Lupe himself admitted that this harrowing process, not rare in the music industry, took such a large toll that he was for a time thrust into full-blown depression.

The Lupe we hear on Friend of the People, however, is much different than that of Lasers. Right out of the gate we’re exposed to a melange of quotes from Howard Zinn, Amy Goodman, and news soundbites of the crackdown at Occupy UC Davis. These are near-textbook examples of Ball’s emancipatory mixtape journalism--unabashedly radical and seamlessly interwoven with the content of the music.

The whole feel of Friend is one that runs the gamut between impending meltdown and plain-spoken, steadfast humanity. Sampled beats--the rusted-factory electronica of Justice, the longing shoegaze of M83, even John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”--are notably un-fucked-with, adding an extra air of underground, spur-of-the-moment guerrilla musicality.

And in case there’s any confusion about Lupe shaking off his own restrictions, he directs a few barbs against his own label on the opening track that no doubt make folks like Professor Ball smile and nod:

"You can stick that 360 between your ass-cheeks
Artists let’s mobilize and unionize like the athletes
Radio is making our craft weak
Forced to repeat the same dumb shit that work
Only as hot as your last beat
And rappers, they relating to that last piece"


The “360” is in reference to the “360 Deal,” an increasingly utilized contract giving labels not only a slice of album sales, but merchandise, ticket sales and just about anything else an artist does. It’s a contract format “innovated” in recent years by--you guessed it--Atlantic Records, who are no doubt a bit uncomfortable with one of their biggest acts dropping the U-word.

So what’s happened to transform Lupe from an embattled, seemingly isolated MC into one willing to so fiercely “bite the hand that feeds him”? In a word, Occupy. Lupe was one of the first to publicly support this new movement, donating tents, writing poetry in support of it, showing up to demonstrate shoulder-to-shoulder with occupiers in Los Angeles, Chicago and a handful of other cities.

His performance on the BET Hip-Hop Awards, decked out in an “#Occupy” t-shirt with a Palestinian flag draped on his microphone, has already become one of the most iconic moments in music of the past year. It has also come to represent a shift in the way ordinary people are approaching politics, economics, and even culture. Word is that the broadcast of the performance even played an indirect role in inspiring young activists to become involved in Occupy the Hood.

Friend of the People’s content doesn’t limit itself only to the straight political, though that’s undeniably there. Rather, the politics are only one part of a much wider missive incorporating Lupe’s pains, fears, hopes, his most vivid memories, and madcap musings on a whole variety of topics. From spinning his favorite scenes in the movie Friday into a somehow melancholy ending note (“Double Burger With Cheese”) to ruminations on the hardships of being a self-aware working musician (“Lightwork”).

In other words, contrasting with the quasi-sanitized content of Lasers, Friend comes off as Lupe conversing directly with his fans without the label’s interference. Warts and all. There is, obviously, something inherently more democratic about that — not to mention more exciting. Heard in the right context, Friend is an all-too-short glimpse on what music might look like without the one percent.

And so it’s appropriate that he end Friend of the People with what might be the mixtape’s most brilliant moment: “The End of the World.” Such a title might lead us to think we’re being left on a downer. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more intensely uplifting and hopeful note than this track:

"The people, united, will never be defeated
And on the People’s Mic will this forever be repeated
Whose streets? Our streets! It’ll never be deleted
No matter how many cops that you send to try and beat it
This is revolution in the making
A rag-tag movement set to take over the nation"


In other words, it’s not the end of the world so much as it is the end of an order. An order propped up by greed, violence, racism and oppression. Whose vast majority are kept in poverty while a lucky few live in luxury, and whose soldiers are sent to die for nothing more than oil. Whose artists are lasso-ed into writing songs that sell before writing songs that count. If this is the world whose end is imminent, and if, as the chant goes, a better world is possible, we can all agree with Lupe that it’s about damned time.

First published at Dissident Voice.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Michele Bachmann and NBC: Roots of All Evil


One doesn't have to defend or approve of the not-so-thin sexism in a song title like Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" to know it's just a straight-up good song. Recognizing the song's shortcomings also doesn't prevent this writer from laughing it up at the knowledge that the Roots used it as the walk-on music for Michele Bachmann during her appearance on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon."

Since Bachmann obliviously walked on to Fallon's show as a guest last month, the Roots have since been forced to make a public apology to her, and now have to have all their songs cleared by NBC honchos before taping. Fallon has also issued an apology along with NBC executives. Bachmann has predictably expressed her dissatisfaction with the apologies, calling the whole incident "inappropriate, outrageous and disrespectful."

Ultimately, this whole situation is upside down. NBC obviously don't see anything "disrespectful" in giving a platform to a politician whose entire agenda is based on, well, lies. Why was there no apology issued to the network's LGBTQ viewers for having on someone who thinks gays should be "cured"? Why was there no mea culpa for the network's viewers of color distancing the show from Bachmann's endorsement of a document saying Black families were better off under slavery?

These are all, apparently, beyond the pale for television execs. The more appropriate response, in their eyes, is to simply tighten the censorship rope around the necks of TV's best late night house band.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Sound of a Shutdown!

Monday is an important day for both the Occupy and labor movements. Don't take my word for it; listen to what Mr. Boots Riley has to say about it. All out!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Nine Most Important Songs of 2011


Top Ten lists are of course, all the rage in our culture. This list is in no particular order of importance, but more to the point: why is it apparently incomplete? Why is this only nine, instead of the more familiar, and admittedly more round, number ten? The answer is simple: budget cuts.

Enough said, right? This was a year when the politicians, technocrats and modern barons of industry--that infamous “one percent”--were absolutely cramming austerity and poverty down our throats. Now, three years after the dawn of the Great Recession, it was hardly news to anyone that there’s something much deeper wrong with the system. As always, though, the solutions of society’s rulers has been to take it out on us rather than take responsibility for the mess they made.

This pain, however, was only one half of the story. The other half is much more inspiring: Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain, New York City, Oakland. These were just a handful of the locations around the world where real resistance took off in a way that hasn’t been seen in close to forty years. And so, naturally, the way this was played out in music was equally stunning. These struggles made themselves undeniably felt; from the near-center of the mainstream to the underground scenes in all corners of the globe. It’s no exaggeration to say that, while real rebel music has never completely faded into the background, 2011 saw it storm to the center of the stage with all the unpredictably chaotic glory we would expect of it.

El General, “Rais Lebled”

Mohammed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old man who immolated himself in protest against repression and poverty, is without a doubt the most important human symbol of the Tunisian revolution that overthrew the long-hated dictatorship of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. After him, however, comes Hamada Ben Amor, better known to the world as El General.

When word spread that Ben Amor had been locked up for recording a protest track, that track went viral overnight. “Rais Lebled,” also known as “Mr. President, Your People Are Dying,” was scathing toward Ben Ali. You didn’t have to understand the song’s Arabic lyrics to hear how angry Ben Amor was, or how inspired he had been to see his fellow Tunisians take to the street after twenty-three years of Ben Ali’s rule.

“Get to the streets, take a look,” he implored in his song, “People are turning mad, police are monsters / Speaking only with their batons, ‘Tac! Tac! Tac!’ they don’t care / As long as no one is there to say no / Our constitutional laws are nothing but a decoration.” Ben Ali’s thugs surely anticipated that Ben Amor would be another “disappearance” of the regime. They didn’t expect a world-wide solidarity drive that demanded he be released. He was, and the rest, including Ben Ali, is history. The former dictator is now in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ben Amor, meanwhile, has in the past year gone from a little-known MC in Sfax to one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”

Three years ago, Gaga was being presented to us (by both mainstream punditry and the record industry itself) as just another flash in the pan pop star whose admittedly shocking and unorthodox style was little more than gimmick. “Born This Way,” contradictions and all, showed that to not be the case, and there are a few things about the song that made it resonate.

First is the obvious shout-out to Gaga’s queer fan-base--not to be taken lightly nowadays, when non-straight folks are still treated like second-class citizens in the US. Second is what that conscious breaking of the mold represents broadly in the music industry. This is assuredly a ready-made club track, and Gaga without a doubt a pop artist. The way she has approached both--with real chops and a now-iconic subversiveness--is what stands out. This is a female artist well-aware of the ways in which others like her have been transformed into eye-candy for straight men and has, torpedoes be damned, set out to find creative ways to skewer that nasty sexism from the inside.

It’s this that has put the machinations of the industry in a sticky situation. For years, executives have been insisting that pop music can’t fly its freak-flag and move units at the same time. Gaga not only proved how out-of-touch this notion is, but proved that real, off-the-norm artists can actually have real staying power in the music world despite all the meddling of these same execs. It might be just a beginning, but a beginning is enough to build on.

Arabian Knightz, “Rebel”

If the music of El General provided the hip-hop soundtrack for the Tunisian revolt, then Arabian Knightz are his Egyptian counterparts. For years, Arabian Knightz--credited as one of the first hip-hop groups in Egypt--struggled against censorship and outright intimidation from Hosni Mubarak’s regime. According to Sphinx, one of AK’s three MCs, Mubarak’s cabal were openly repressive toward all art: “There are a lot of poets in Egypt that really dig against the government. There are some of them that are still in jail until recently because of their poetry! So it was all forms of art; artists who would paint pictures about Egyptian politics, cartoonists that would go to jail, bloggers that would go to jail, everything!”

That began to change after the Egyptian masses took the streets demanding Mubarak’s ouster. It changed for artists in general, and it changed for Arabian Knightz in particular. First came their Internet release of “Not Your Prisoner,” a four-year-old song that the group had never been able to officially release until that moment. After that track took off in popularity, AK quickly laid down “Rebel,” piecing together samples of Lauryn Hill with their own Arabic and English rhymes demanding an end to corruption and poverty, and calling for real people power and Arab unity on the streets.

Within minutes of releasing the song online, Mubarak’s regime shut down Egypt’s Internet for a week. But it was too late; the die had clearly been cast. Mubarak stepped down not long after--the second North African dictator toppled by revolution in a month--and Arabian Knightz had become, along with El General, the new world-renowned faces of a young, vibrant and militant Arab hip-hop.

The Nightwatchman, “Union Town”

Around the time that Mubarak was losing his final, tenuous grips on power, Tom Morello was at home half a world away watching the events on television. When the footage switched to a hundred thousand union workers and their supporters marching on the Madison, Wisconsin State Capitol to protest the governor’s draconian anti-worker legislation, he looked at his pregnant wife and said “Honey, our boys are gonna grow up to be union men.” According to Morello his wife simply sighed and replied “The Nightwatchman is needed. You should go.”

And go he did. Morello, in his Nightwatchman alter-ego, was one of literally dozens of artists who flew in from around the US to play for the workers and activists occupying the Capitol to defeat Scott Walker’s bill stripping state unions of their rights. And hundreds of other sent messages of support. In the aftermath what he jokingly called his “Frostbite and Freedom Tour,” he sat down to write this song: “Union Town.” In some ways, it’s what we’ve come to expect from the Nightwatchman--steadfast, relatively bare-bones rebel folk. But his calls of “we’ll give ‘em hell every time” is also nicely complimented by some of his signature, face-melting Rage-esque guitar solos.

One of the reasons Morello said he began writing as the Nightwatchman was that today’s protests seemed dominated by “these kind of old ‘Kumbaya’ jams. We need songs for right now!” It seems safe to say that these “right now” songs have been so few and far between is because America has for so long been dogged by such low and sporadic class struggle. The fight in Wisconsin--though ultimately unsuccessful--and songs like “Union Town” represented a moment when all of that changed.

Lethal Bizzle, “Pow 2011”

Lethal Bizzle has a real knack for being on the cutting edge of British rebel rap. This was a song released originally last December as an intended anthem for the student protests against the Conservative government’s education cuts. With its near-hypnotic chop-screw beat--signature of UK grime--and aggressive lyrics, it’s little wonder the track was taken up so enthusiastically by the young, left-behind masses willing to do battle with the cops.

The same can be said for the song’s resurgence during the urban uprisings that swept England like wildfire this past summer. Here’s a song that sounds not only like urban decay, but like the thousands of young kids picking up the crumbling shards of their housing estate and chucking them right at David Cameron’s forehead. Of course, in the aftermath of the riots, Bizzle was one of the most unapologetic, vocal and principled rappers defending his art-form against the culture-warriors looking to spin the blame back on hip-hop.

In many ways, “Pow 2011” revealed a whole host of those amazing coincidences that abound when music collides with real, on the streets rebellion. Of course, Bizzle had no clue that his song would be embraced during the “dubstep rebellions” of late 2010, let alone that it would have a notable resurgence this past summer. It did, however. And that’s certainly to his credit.

Amy Winehouse and Tony Bennett, “Body and Soul”

Everyone who appreciated Amy Winehouse’s soulfully tortured voice had been hoping for some time that she would eventually conquer her demons. Admittedly, it hadn’t looked good for some time, but the sporadic rumors of a new album were enough to keep hopes alive. On July 23rd, however, those hopes were given the final dash.

“Body and Soul” was the last song that Winehouse ever recorded--a duet with Tony Bennett. Released by her family on what would have been her 28th birthday--September 14th--it was our first glimpse at the final batch of songs that more recently hit the shelves. Lioness: Hidden Treasures, gives the listener a sense of Winehouse’s intense and broad love of literally almost every genre: from pop-rock to soul to Jamaican ska. Bennett’s own experiences of recording this song in particular certainly reflect the dark place she had now irrevocably entered. Says Bennett: “she knew that she was in a lot of trouble; that she wasn’t going to live.” And it’s hard to hear her croon “it looks like the ending” without noting that simultaneous love for music and pain of life sung back to you.

It’s certainly a jazz standard, and comes across as such. Given, it doesn’t exactly come across with Winehouse’s signature bad-girl soulfulness. Listening to her part of the song, however, sung in her one-of-a-kind smokiness, it’s hard to not hear the poignancy of having lost a young voice whose final curtain call came way too soon this year.

Jasiri X, “I Am Troy Davis (T.R.O.Y.)”

Nobody on America’s brutal and shameful Death Rows has garnered so much support since Stan Tookie Williams. The reasons are obvious: no evidence, most witnesses recanted their testimony, the victim was a white cop killed by a Black man in the South. In the last weeks of his life, Troy Davis became an international symbol of not just the blatant racism and injustice he personally endured, but for countless prisoners locked up across the United States who are viewed as little more than pawns for politicians scoring law-and-order points.

Given that Davis’ case had gained international attention, it made sense that artists and musicians from Japan to France to Los Angeles came forward demanding he not be executed. Jasiri X was nowhere near the most well-known of these artists, but his song--recorded and released once again via the ‘Net--nonetheless garnered him wide attention. The past few years have seen Jasiri make an irreproachable credibility among the militant hip-hop community; he’s released joints protesting the police deaths of Sean Bell and Oscar Grant, and was among the many artists who traveled to Wisconsin to deliver solidarity to the struggle there.

“I Am Troy Davis” reminds us yet again why Jasiri has earned that cred. He has a clear knack for working on a moment’s notice when the struggle demands it. Within days of Davis’ death warrant being handed down, this song was written, recorded, and set to the video posted online. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that Jasiri can strike that perfect balance between smooth flow and confident rhymes rooted in an organic political urgency. Of course, Troy is no longer with us. Neither is his amazing crusading sister, Martina Correia. As long as there are MCs like Jasiri X around, though, it seems certain that the struggle both of them built will, as always, continue.

Lupe Fiasco, “Words I Never Said”

Here is a song that was already controversial when it was originally released in March. Lupe Fiasco had already been somewhat under the gun in his struggles with Atlantic Records to even release Lasers in the first place. When it was reported that the lead single “Words I Never Said” would include the line “Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist / Gaza Strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit,” most mainstream outlets instantly made themselves look stupid (and more than a bit racist) by wondering why a rapper was criticizing Obama.

Then came the performance at the BET Hip-Hop Awards. It was a few weeks after the Occupy movement had taken hold in almost every major American city, and Lupe was performing the song with an “#Occupy” t-shirt, a Palestinian flag on his mic, and Erykah Badu singing in a burqa. Since then, Lupe has become something like the de facto musical mascot of Occupy, and this song intimately interwoven with its admittedly short history.

Lupe’s lyrics play at a similar point to that of his performance. In it he takes on the reality of ghetto life, the housing crisis, the “bullshit” war on terror and, of course, the sell-outs of Obama. Wrapped in all of this is the simple statement that has certainly been taken to heart by countless young people in the past several months: “If you don’t become an actor, you’ll never be a factor.” And in fact, all of these elements taken as a whole reveal a striking parallel to what the Occupy movement itself is confronting. You can say that the song is “unfocused,” or “unclear in its message,” but that pig-headed excuse misses the larger point: it’s the whole damned system. Tear it down.

Miley Cyrus, “Liberty Walk”

One thing should be made clear at the outset: there is, at least as of now, no reason to believe that Miley Cyrus--one of the biggest money-makers of the pop mainstream--is undergoing some massive artistic or political transformation. But during times of ascendant social movements, even the most sheltered, common-denominator artists can’t help but be affected. In the ‘60s, one example was Marianne Faithful, who went from sanitized girl-next-door to being arrested with Mick Jagger on drug charges and speaking out against the Vietnam War.

That’s the significance of “Liberty Walk,” Cyrus’ attempt at reaching out to the global Occupy movement. Artistically there is nothing of note here--the lyrics are shallow, the music seems to revel in its own mediocrity. And it’s been so processed as to render Cyrus’ already unremarkable singing voice without even the slightest tinge of soul. In other words, it sounds exactly how the one percent want our music to sound. When that same one percent feels no choice but to allow one of their most guaranteed commodities (and that is surely the way they view Cyrus) to support a movement that threatens their very existence, something is clearly in the air.

And really, you have to be under a rock to not get a whiff of it. Revolution, riot, resistance popping off in city after city, country after country. It has, undeniably, its own feel, its own iconic images, and yes, its own soundtrack. No longer is it quite so easy for the suits and execs to so easily turn their nose up at what happens in the world at large. No longer can they so quickly dismiss the fact that ordinary people are sick of the music business as usual.

Certainly, the kind of rebellion we’ve seen pour onto the world’s streets this past year has made actual living resistance (and not its fake, marketed variety) cool. Whether it can be ultimately commodified, its rough edges filed off and shrink-wrapped for safe consumption really does come down to our own actions and organization in the coming year.

First published at SOCIARTS.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You'll Never Silence the Voice of the Voiceless


Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence was dropped today. Anyone who has spent any time trying to get campaigning around this most high-profile of cases is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief right now. Of course, it's never been about one lone former Black Panther--no matter how crucial his own political journalism has been. It's about the fact that if America can frame-up and execute that Panther as payback for standing up and speaking out against the racism of a city's police force, then they can do it to anyone bold enough to do the same. Now, with this announcement, it appears that perhaps the state feels less sure of itself than it did before, if only a little bit. In a time when victories are still measured in inches, a little bit can go a long way.

None of this means the struggle is over. When Philly's District Attorney Seth Williams announced today that the city will no longer attempt to have Mumia ruthlessly killed, Williams also put forth that he fully intends to keep this award-winning journalist caged for the rest of his life: "While Abu-Jamal will no longer be facing the death penalty, he will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, and that is where he belongs."

Challenge accepted, Mr. Williams. In the meantime, as a celebration, feast the ear-drums on this. As Zack says, "my Panther, my brother, we are at war until you're free."



My article on how the Occupy movement is potentially changing the face of our music was republished at SocialistWorker.org today. If you haven't read it, then by all means please do. And don't forget to subscribe!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

BDS Update: Israel and Springsteen Have Nothing In Common


The campaign against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has been in overdrive for quite some time--really ever since last summer when the attack on the Mavi Marmara prompted several high-profile artists to pull out of committed gigs. Though the scale and sheer number of acts nowadays hasn't quite recaptured that of 2010, the cancellations of Natacha Atlas, Tuba Skinny, and others has nonetheless kept Israeli concert promoters very nervous.

This letter, however, from David Brinn at the ISRAEL21c blog and republished at the Jerusalem Post, truly smacks of desperation. In it, Brinn directly addresses Bruce Springsteen, urging him to play in Israel. Springsteen has never played there before, and with the announcement of his upcoming European tour, Brinn seems to think that the time is ripe for the Boss to make his Middle East debut. Along the way, he also manages to make the case as political as possible, smearing and jabbing at the global BDS movement:

"[L]et’s not forget the headaches that await you with the 'boycott Israel' campaign folks who will be jamming your website and management with pleas, threats and calls to avoid playing in 'apartheid' Israel."

Of course, Brinn forgets to mention that nobody officially connected with any legitimate BDS group has ever delivered what one could credibly call a "threat" to their campaign targets. That, however, is really the least of Brinn's offenses against the facts. He continues:

"Your music and career have always been about grand gestures and small moments: the triumph of human spirit and battling against adversity, the celebration of life and freedom amid the realization of what the costs of such triumphs are.

"Those are the same qualities that Israel embodies--nobody knows about struggling with adversity and overcoming insurmountable obstacles better than we do, just as nobody has captured the concept of bittersweet joy as often as we have."


In other words, Israel, who have the fourth-largest military on the planet, the only country in the Middle East verified to have an operational nuclear arsenal, and backed to the hilt by the US, Britain, France, Germany and most of the Western powers, is somehow the underdog. Wow. As if to completely hammer home how clumsily this author has to grapple to make the point fit, he actually says at one point that Israel is "the Bruce Springsteen of the Middle East."

Irony of ironies is that Brinn acknowledges in his letter that Springsteen knows very well how to protect his songs from being appropriated by nefarious interests--in particular when Bruce spoke up against Reagan's usage of "Born In the USA" during his election campaign. Why exactly this writer thinks this would be any different, especially in a time when Israeli concert promoters are open about the propaganda role they play, isn't clear.

Perhaps the most telling part of Brinn's letter is a passage that's not even there anymore. According to Philip Weiss of the blog MondoWeiss, one commenter at ISRAEL21c pointed out an "unfortunate typo," which switched the word "adversity" for "diversity." The mistake made one sentence appear to say that Israel has "battled against diversity."

That about sums it up. Israel, as a state backed by Western empire, built on the ethnic cleansing of upwards of a million Palestinians, hasn't struggled "against adversity." It has, however, struggled against democracy--particularly democracy in Palestine. As everyone knows, one of the crucial characteristics in any democracy is diversity. Brinn's own Freudian slip speaks more volumes than his entire attempt at rebranding an apartheid state possibly can.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Best Book(s) of the Year


The folks at Green Left Weekly in Australia asked me for my favorite book on music of 2011. As you can see below, I had some real trouble choosing. There will of course be much more "best of '11" coming in the next two weeks. So be sure to keep checking in. In the meantime, if you're looking for some holiday gifts for that real rebel music fan in your life, may I recommend both of these books?

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Woody Guthrie, American Radical by Will Kaufman
University of Illinois Press, 2011

I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto by Jared Ball
AK Press, 2011

It's a tie! This year saw not one but two books that each recapture long-buried aspects of real rebel music. With revolutions popping off in the Arab world, with the Occupy movement gripping American streets and the words "general strike" no longer an abstraction, they couldn't arrive at a more crucial point.

Woody Guthrie, American Radical reclaims America's best-known folk-singer for what he was - not some naive country bumpkin, but a real, dyed-in-the-wool socialist who sought to integrate his genuine belief in a workers' world into his songs. Lots of liberal, social-patriotic myths have been spun around Guthrie; professor Will Kaufman's book sets the record straight.

In the age of the internet, the hip-hop mixtape has been reclaimed as it once was: an opportunity to speak rhymes of truth to power outside the avenues of the music biz. To spin culture back in a direction of justice and racial equity. Jared Ball's thorough, passionate book reminds us what it is that made mixtapes so vital to cultural rebellion in the first place.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The End Of a (Very Loud) Year

Rebel Frequencies will be going on a much-needed vacation on December 22nd and will be returning in the New Year. There's much more to say about the music of 2011, and it will be given a thorough run-down here in the coming final two weeks of the publishing year.

This past year is going to be remembered at a year of revolt, and when such a term could viably re-enter the cultural lexicon. And like all great revolts, we've had our soundtracks--from Arab rappers to folk-singers in Madison to the hundreds of overlooked troubadours of the Occupy movement.

It will all of course be discussed here in the next two weeks--particularly in the 2011 "post-mortem" article and a piece that will particularly enumerate the year's most important songs. Next year will see a lot more to come here at RF too, from the publication of the interview with Arabian Knightz' Sphinx to a review of White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race. So after the dawn of 2012 don't forget to tune back in. Before the 22nd, though, make sure to keep checking back in.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rock For the Arrestees


The Arts & Rec committee of Occupy Chicago has officially endorsed this event, which is taking place tomorrow night. All folks in the Chicago area who want to come get down to some excellent music and donate some money to a justified cause absolutely should! There are, of course, plenty of these events coming in the long-term, but the brothers and sisters arrested on those Saturdays when we tried to take Grant Park need our help. So please make it out of you can.

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The Gala presents: Occupy Multi-Kulti!

Friday, December 2nd
Multi-Kulti, 1000 N. Milwaukee
Doors @ 6pm
21+

The constitution guarantees the right to Freedom of Assembly. In the city of Chicago alone, hundreds of people have been arrested for exercising that right. This show is a fundraiser for legal fees incurred by activists with Occupy Chicago.

Poets performing include Kevin Coval, Jamillah Woods and Al DeGenova. Music will included performances from Organic Flow, Jungle of Cities, Cole DeGenova & the Peoples Republic and Sidewalk Chalk.