Heavy Metal Islam
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Heavy Metal Islam is only one attempt--and an incomplete one at that--to start a global conversation about metal, rock, rap, punk and other forms of popular music across the Muslim world. During five years of traveling to over a dozen countries and meeting hundreds of musicians, activists, scholars and journalists I collected far more stories than could fit in two or three books, never mind just one. In this section I will share some of the stories that for reasons of space could not fit in the book, but which I think are very important for people to read.

More important, this is a section for readers of the book, and musicians and fans from the region, to share your stories. So if you have a story about your experience as a musician or fan in one of the music scenes from Morocco to Pakistan (or from somewhere outside the Muslim world but which you think is relevant to what's happening in the region, or if you've read the book and want to either amplify, extend, or disagree with anything I've written, please share it by
emailing it to me at: culturejamming.ml@gmail.com

******

Locating the Heart of Metal in Jordan, August 26, 2008.

This dispatch comes from the pioneering Jordanian metal band Bilocate, which for several years has been at the forefront of advancing the metal scene in the Middle East. The band is about to play their first festival in Jounieh, Lebanon, and I cought up with founder Ramzi Essayed before he left for Jordan, who sent me this description of the band, its music, and theevolving scene across the region.

Bilocate is a Jordanian metal band that was established back in 2003 after the 2 brothers Ramzi and Waseem with their lifetime friend Hani had found a preliminary line up completion through their home town colleague Baha' as he was the perfect solution for handling guitars having that they faced so much trouble finding such a musician, so the band started with Ramzi doing vocals and writing lyrics, Baha' taking care of guitar works, Hani playing Bass and Waseem handling keyboards and Drums simulation, and then the composing work started yielding just perfect results, the combination of thoughts among the 4 was outstanding, it was mid 2003 back then.

In the first quarter of 2004 the band had already composed 5 songs when they felt the need to have another guitarist onboard, again the band was so lucky to be introduced to Rami, he was so into the mood with the guys as if he was sent from the sky, and the work continued.

As time went by Bilocate got their first full length album "Dysphoria" ready in October 2005 and they celebrated the release on the local governmental radio in a 4 hours show getting interviewed in addition to having the whole album played on air, and they followed up Dysphoria with the release of their first music video for the hit track "2nd War In Heaven" which was produced be Rakan al-Khaldi "Immortal Video Productions". I guess now it makes sense to expect some live appearances, yes, Bilocate was so ready to hit the stage performing some local gigs promoting their album and it's worthy mentioning at this point the support they got from their friend Ibrahim al-Qaysi as he went live with them as a session drummer even when the band flew to Egypt to headline the Egypt Metal Festival back in September 2006, also participating in the release of the 2nd music video for the track Days of Joy that was directed by George Durzi "Jackknife Video Productions". Afterwards Bilocate decided to recruit a full time drummer, and the solution was Ahmad Kloub, in the beginning of 2007, it was pretty much a new beginning, a new era and yes, a new album! Sudden Death Syndrome, the 2nd full length album for Bilocate that got released in June 2008, Bilocate got really blessed to combine their composing works with the work of international names such as Jens Bogren, Nash Planojevic, Dennis Sibeijn, and Christophe Szpajdel, also getting a distribution deal for their album with Daxar multimedia in Dubai-UAE.

Dark Oriental Metal:

The new metal genre that Bilocate introduced in parallel with the release of their new album "Sudden Death Syndrome". Oriental music in general has a sad atmosphere most often, its the combination of notes that drives the feelings of a listener, but Bilocate found a way to create a version of this music that presents it in it's darker atmosphere by inserting certain notes to the collection that give a new feeling, for a regular listener it might sometimes feel to be out of tone but when you absorb it deeply enough you will get the idea that it has a defined feeling because life isn't about feeling happy or sad or aroused anymore, you've got to develop the feeling of "THE WRONG" without accompanying it with the result of this wrong, which usually drives sadness or depression, just think about the wrong and how it develops and why it develops, this is how you think dark, and this is reality by the way, another example is feeling to be in state of struggle but not from a perspective that you are so tired and depressed of this struggle, try to think of the reasons why do you as "human" have to struggle and the deeper it goes, at last we as oriental people found it comfortable to musically translate this way of thinking using the oriental music to some extent and so it yielded Dark Oriental Metal which is -by the explanation provided above- not ruled by any factor such as tempo, guitar riffing style, domination of a certain instrument, or the way of vocaling as you can find variety of values for those factors, it's just about the tone itself.

The Situation in Jordan Nowadays:

It seems that things are going more active recently after 2 years of being quiet, we are participating in Jorzine Music festival at the end of this month, hopefully the scene here will continue improving as we and some other bands are trying our best to make it as alive as possible.

To find out more about Bilocate, visit their myspace site: http://www.myspace.com/bilocate


The Birth of Moroccan Roll: Variations on a Theme, Casablanca, June, 2008

One of my favorite rock songs from the Muslim world is "El Caid Motorhead," from the Moroccan group Hoba Hoba Spirit's wonderful 2005 album Bled Schizo. The best part of this song, which is sung in Derija (Moroccan Arabic) over a post punk, Reggae-inflected groove, is the hook, which goes, "... This is Morockan Roll, My rock 'n roll" (you can see a video of the song on my youtube playlist in the "media" section of this site). That sentiment summed up for me everything that was exciting and innovative about the rock, metal and rap scenes in the Middle East and North Africa--how artists were taking the music, changing it, and claiming it as their own. But it wasn't until I ran into Hoba again when we both performed at the 2008 Boulevard festival in Casablanca in June that I understood wasn't all that original from a Moroccan perspective. Indeed, as I sat in the production office with festival lead organizer Hicham Bahou, he showed me the festival program, which featured a story about the 1970s progressive rock group Les Variations.

Hicham did a story on Les Variations to remind the tens of thousands of fans who were coming to the festival of just how deep were the roots of the music they were hearing. As he played me some archival videos of the band, I learned that Les Variations, whose members were Jews from the historic city of Fes (for over a millennium Fes was the most important seat of Islamic learning east of Cairo), had one of their first local hits with their 1974 album titled "Moroccan Roll." The group went on to be one of the seminal, if often overlooked, groups in the style of progressive rock, having several hits in France that influenced sounds across Europe. The music from the album anticipates the seemless blending together of rock and indigenous Moroccan instruments and styles that define the best Moroccan rock and heavy metal today, three decades later. In this way Les Variations are very similar to the "Rolling Stones of Turkey," Mogollar, whose lead singer explained to me when we met in Istanbul in 2007 at the Barisa Rock for Peace Festival, how they were blending rock and classical Turkish styles of music four decades ago, in the late 1960s. "You think you guys invented this?" he asked with a derisive laugh, pointing to the stage where we were both going to be playing later that evening, both amused and perhaps a bit annoyed at the hubris in thinking that our generation was at the vanguard of creating hybrid styles of hard rock. Of course, even before Les Variations, artists like Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin had been coming to Morocco in search of musical and spiritual inspiration. Two generations later, the country is still full of inspiration amid the continuing social, political and economic problems.

What you can learn from the Ugandan Rugby Team back stage at a Moroccan metal festival.

Casblanca, June, 2006

In the context of the marginalization of the majority of the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa from the core processes of global economic integration, the increasingly intense exposure to cultural globalization has become the main way in which people experience globalization in the Muslim world. The rapid spread of violent protests over the Danish cartoons that negatively depicted the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 demonstrates just how fast and powerfully cultural images travel in the age of the internet.But charting the contours of globalization in the Muslim world is an exceedingly difficult thing to do.

This reality hit home while I was back stage at the Boulevard des jeuns musiciens festival in Casablanca, bobbing my head to the music of the Moroccan-British group Lazywall as they plowed through a set that literally blew the evening's headliner, the Portuguese metal icons Moonspell, off the stage. Lazywall itself is a product of globalizaiton--the trio is composed of two Moroccan brothers and a Brit who took the Reading (UK) music scene by storm. Now based in Tangiers, the band is redefining hard indie rock and metal by weaving it together with traditional Moroccan and Middle Eastern sounds and styles.

As I and some musician friends enjoyed the show a group of about twenty men, all wearing blue ties and sports blazers bearing the logo of the Uganda Rugby Union, were suddenly ushered onto the grounds. The backstage area also served as the patio of an exclusive tennis club located directly behind the stadium, and they were there for a party in their honor after playing a friendly match against the Moroccan national team. While Moroccan security forces frantically chased down kids who had hopped over the fence-or in some cases, jumped down from a 20 foot roof of a building next to the stadium-the rugby players were escorted into the Tennis club for drinks and music.

Despite the best efforts of their hosts to show them a good time, the rugby players from Uganda were clearly not having a very good time at the party. As maybe a thousand scruffy looking kids ran around outside, screaming, stopping traffic, and otherwise enjoying the free concert (the music was still loud, even across the street from the stadium), the alcohol flowed, and a DJ blasted classic Rai tunes from Cheb Khaled and Rachid Taha, to which the Moroccans were dancing with increasingly drunken abandon.

But the Ugandansmostly sat there twizzling their mini straws and sipping their drinks, with very little interaction with their Moroccan fellow rugby players. And no wonder; they had to contend with 30,000 watts of Moroccan metal hitting them from 100 feet away, against which the DJ at the party tried to compete by blasting another 500 watts (at least) of classic Arab dance hits. For the Ugandans, both genres were little more than "white boy music"-as one of the team members, a young engineer, sneeringly put it to me-in which they had little interest. I asked him which music he and his team-mates listen to. "Beyoncé and Shakira," he responded with a look of Is there anyone else besides them we should be listening to? on his face.

This kind of depressed me, considering the incredible music produced much closer to his home, from Afro Beat and West African High Life to Ugandan Soukou, not to mention Moroccan genres like Gnawa from Marrakesh and, yes, metal and rap from Mekness and Casablanca. Or even James Browne, the Godfather of Soul, who so influenced African music in the 1970s. But he shook his head emphatically no, a bit put off by what (I guess) to him sounded like a patronizing lecture on musical authenticity delivered by yet another white boy. "We don't listen to that stuff anymore. The only good music is American R&B and hiphop. This Moroccan music is too... umh... 'cultural.'"

"You mean it's too local, not global enough?" I asked.

"Yeah."

Globalization rears its head in the strangest places and when you least expect it. In most record shops in London or New York, Cheb Khaled would be in the world music section. Certainly Rai music and its leading artists are among the most globalized forms of culture produced today. Just look at the success of Cheb Mami's duet with Sting on the world-wide hit, "Desert Rose," which earned both a Grammy, and an even more coveted spot as the music for a Jaguar commercial. But for the players on the Ugandan rugby team, globalization means America-a common sentiment among young people around the world, for good and ill, as we'll see.

Morocco and Algeria are just, well, too close to Uganda to be considered "global;" their rhythms are too African to have the allure of the new and the exotic represented by the United States. Of course, American R&B, as epitomized today by Beyoncé Knowles, is inconceivable without its African roots, however much they've been masked by centuries of slavery, migration, Americanization and commercialization. And Shakira isn't even American; she's a Colombian whose parents are Italian and Lebanese. Yet in Uganda both artists and their music are quintessentially American, perhaps by virtue of their success. In so being, the deep ties of their music to Africa are lost, even to Africans.Or so one would think.

An activist or scholar, like myself, can spend years researching the negative impact its had across the developing world, especially Africa, only to be reminded by a Ugandan engineer and weekend rugby player that globalization's "victims" are quite adept at deciding who and what is global, and at separating the wheat-sexy female R&B singers-from the chaff-bad IMF loans and corrupt trade agreements. Yet it seems that my Moroccan friends have a very different conception of globalization than the members of the Ugandan rugby team. For them, as we'll see, globalization is much more about what I call culture jamming: bringing together influences and styles from any number of cultures to create something new, a culture that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is certainly a good description of Moroccan culture writ large, and it also holds for the rock scene as well, which is equally rooted in the music of the country (itself an amalgam of styles and cultures from throughout Africa) and in a deep appreciation of western styles like rock, metal and hiphop.

My discussion with the Ugandan rugby player reinforced my belief that music remains perhaps the most underutilized cultural space to explore globalization, the violence and positive possibilities it has unleashed, and what new strategies can be imagined for building a healthier relationship between Islam and the West. But music is not just a good way to explore the lives of the minority of Muslims who enjoy rock, reggae, or hiphop. Their listening habits can also help us better understand the lives of their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, neighbors and co-workers, whose tastes in music is less adventuresome than their own.

Perhaps more important, they way music helps shape their lives, and particularly their positive activism on issues such as peace, democracy, and the rights of women and minorities, provide important clues as to why their peers, whose music tends towards the martial grooves of al-Qa'eda or Hezbollah martyrs' videos, choose violence and hatred over more positive alternatives in their struggles for what they perceive are their rights.


Questions, Catches and Corrections from readers:
August 2, 2008: Every once in a while I'll get an email from a reader pointing out either a mistake or mispelling in the text, or asking for clarification or further explanation about something in the book. Just yesterday, a colleague of mine from London, Keith Kahn-Harris, a scholar who's literally written the book on heav metal as far as i'm concerned: Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge, emailed me with a few corrections that are worth noting so that, as he points out, I don't get skewered by the notoriously unforgiving devotees of extreme metal. Keith's book is one of the main books that helped shape my thinking about the social role of metal, and is recommended to anyone who's looking to gain a deeper understanding of how it functions internally as well as in societies at larger. It was his interview with an Israeli metal artists, who explained, that you have to "play metal like a warrior" (p. 11 of the book) that helped me understand just how closely related are the aesthetic and emotional motivations of both extreme metal and the attitudes of soldiers in battle, many of whom these days have been known to play heavy metal before, during or after the fighting.
Most important, he caught a real doozy when on p. 185 Iron Maiden's mascot is listed as Freddy, instead of Eddie! That was a copy edit mistake that crept in somewhere in the final copy-editing when the editor misread my handwriting (I suppose I should have insisted only certified headbangers serve as copy editors of the book...), and which I thought had been taken care of, but alas slipped through the final proof-reading. All apologies to Eddie the Great and his mates! Keith also points out that there is no Morbid Angel song called "Alters of the Abyss," instead there is a song titled "Alters of madness". I was aware of this but my friend whom I describe listening to it on page 190 mentioned this title twice, and since I didn't have access to all of Morbid Angel's catalog I left it as he named it. Finally, on p. 202 the poster for Cowboys from Hell was supposed to indicate this as an album by Pantera, not as the name of the band, in case anyone got that impression. Thanks Keith for the heads up!

Click links below for more stories

An interview with Sara al-Baba, HMI "covergirl"