A scenes from the annual gnawa festival of Essaouira in Morocco. North African music is only one of the many rich strands that have informed black culture across the Atlantic. Abdelhak Senna / AFP Photo
A scenes from the annual gnawa festival of Essaouira in Morocco. North African music is only one of the many rich strands that have informed black culture across the Atlantic. Abdelhak Senna / AFP Pho

Charting the influence of Islam on black American music and culture



You may not think there's a direct link between Shakira and Malcolm X, but both have their place in this wide-ranging book, which looks at the historical connections between music from "the black ­Atlantic" (including the US, Jamaica and parts of South America) and Islam. Aidi is a lecturer in both Columbia University's international affairs and African affairs departments, and his deep research and command of broad swathes of history is impressive.

He traces a path from the first Spanish and Portuguese immigrants to America in the 1500s and the Islamic Moorish culture they brought with them all the way through to the “hip-hop ambassadors” that the US State ­Department currently sends to Middle Eastern countries in order to promote American diversity, free speech and creativity.

There's a chapter in Rebel Music: Race, Empire and the New Muslim Youth Culture on the centuries-old myth of the "enchanted Mooress", which is where Shakira, the Colombian pop star with a Lebanese father, comes in. She's described as the "global cultural icon of the 9/11 decade and the 'enchanted Mooress' par excellence". Other sections focus on Judeo-Islamic Andalusi music in Algeria; a strain of Pakistani punk called Taqwacore; and a Moroccan fusion of reggae and gnawa – a hypnotic African-Islamic strain of music that can put listeners in a spiritual trance.

As a novel form of vicarious globetrotting, reading about these musical mash-ups is a lot of fun, but Aidi strains to incorporate them into his overarching argument, which is that young Muslims in Europe and the US during the past decade have been drawing inspiration from black anticolonial struggles in order to “reinvigorate Islamic thought”. To understand this, he retraces the way that African-American leaders themselves have embraced Islam during the past two centuries as a way of redefining their own identity.

It’s a fascinating slice of cultural history, beginning with the late 19th- and early 20th-century sects Ahmadiyya and the Moorish Science Temple of America, which both linked Islam to African-­American self-improvement initiatives. Ahmadi Islam began in colonised India, but missionaries were sent to the US and a mission was founded in Harlem in 1920.

These movements were followed by the establishment of the ­Nation of Islam in 1930, which also preached a strong message of black self-empowerment and went on to help drive the civil rights movement. A chapter is devoted to its charismatic leader Malcolm X (who eventually converted to Sunni Islam before his assassination in 1965) and emphasises the enduring influence he continues to have on African-American youth culture and on Muslims around the world.

It's music that Aidi has chosen as a lens through which to explore this social history, and so we hear about these religious movements as background to a section on the mass conversion to Islam of American jazz musicians in the post-war era. The magazine Ebony is cited – in 1953 it printed a list of 200 Muslim jazz hotshots under the title "Ancient Religion Attracts Moderns".

Jazz is now a niche genre: it’s hip-hop that’s been synonymous with African-American youth culture for the past three decades, and it’s arguably the lingua franca for pop culture-obsessed youth of all races around the world. Aidi explores its connections with Islam at length – and there are more than you might think.

A list of African-American hip-hop superstars who have embraced the religion over the past few decades includes Ghostface Killah, Mos Def, Ice Cube, Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes. While Aidi doesn’t come up with a simple formula for what’s driving this kinship, he suggests that the continuing influence of black Muslim activists such as Malcolm X on the culture of the young and disenfranchised could be a factor.

These waves of black activist influence have also reached the outskirts of cities in France, Holland and Germany, Aidi writes. He tells a story about a French rap group called 3ème Œil (“Third Eye”) whom he met at a hip-hop festival in the Bronx. One member of the group, a Muslim called DJ Rebel, expresses his excitement at being at the birthplace of hip-hop and of meeting Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Kool Herc, who threw trailblazing block parties in the 1970s. Bambaataa has spoken in interviews about being inspired by both the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers. Rebel thanked them both, he says, “for what they have done for us blacks and Muslims in France”. He adds: “They gave us a language, a culture, a community.”

Whether this speaks to a larger trend to do with Muslims in Europe and the way that they are turning to hip-hop culture is debatable. It could be argued that the faith of artists like DJ Rebel is less important than the fact that they are members of racial minorities. Although he doesn’t address this particular point, Aidi does rightly point out that Muslims have been the targets of a specific type of ideological suspicion in the West in the years following 9/11, so a sense of brotherhood is more important than ever.

For the lay reader, these abstract lines of thought will be less interesting than the particular stories that Aidi tells, which are colourful, emotionally engaging and often told with a keen appreciation for irony. The author’s tone remains impartially academic throughout, but scepticism towards recent American foreign policy can be read between the lines.

He underlines the irony implicit in the way that the US has switched sides when choosing Islamic allies. During the Arab Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s, the US sided with conservative ­Islamist monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia, over the Arab-nationalist republics, led by Egypt. An American diplomat to Saudi Arabia at the time is quoted as saying that the US “had a benevolent attitude” to the strict Salafi Islam practised in Saudi Arabia at the time, which was seen as “devout, quaint, but not dangerous”.

By the time the “War on Terror” was under way, Islamism was no longer thought of as harmless, and the US began backing Sufism, a mystical form of Islam seen as “moderate” and tolerant, in countries from Indonesia to Ethiopia. This strategy was eventually shelved too, however, after the initiative came under fire for mixing theology with counter­terrorism and stirring up sectarian tensions.

In 2005, a more whimsical project was dreamt up by the US government for countering extremism abroad. The State Department began sending rappers, DJs, b-boys and beat-makers to countries in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe to perform and run workshops for locals. The aim, according to a mission statement, is to “use hip-hop as a tool for cultural diplomacy and conflict resolution”. It’s part of a tradition of ­peddling soft power that stretches all the way back to the 1950s, when jazz artists such as Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong were sent to Soviet countries to promote the American way of life.

The scheme seems positive enough, but Aidi suggests there is hypocrisy at play. He quotes a rapper from the group Native Deen who has been a hip-hop ambassador on one of these programmes and who remembers friends telling him: “Y’all are going to be puppets, going over there saying: ‘Everything’s OK. We’re bombing your country, but we have Muslims, too!’”

Another artist, Lowkey, points out that hip-hop at its best has “challenged power, it hasn’t served power”. He adds: “When the US government loves the same rappers you love, whose interests are those rappers serving?”

The cultural landscape Aidi writes about may be too complex to sum up with a neat “theory of everything”, but he does an admirable job of mapping it, piece by piece. The stories he tells show how African-American culture and Islam have intersected and supported each other, how they’ve been both reviled and co-opted by those in power and how they continue to be a vibrant source of creative resistance despite it all.

Jessica Holland is a regular contributor to The National.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

A QUIET PLACE

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

Country-size land deals

US interest in purchasing territory is not as outlandish as it sounds. Here's a look at some big land transactions between nations:

Louisiana Purchase

If Donald Trump is one who aims to broker "a deal of the century", then this was the "deal of the 19th Century". In 1803, the US nearly doubled in size when it bought 2,140,000 square kilometres from France for $15 million.

Florida Purchase Treaty

The US courted Spain for Florida for years. Spain eventually realised its burden in holding on to the territory and in 1819 effectively ceded it to America in a wider border treaty. 

Alaska purchase

America's spending spree continued in 1867 when it acquired 1,518,800 km2 of  Alaskan land from Russia for $7.2m. Critics panned the government for buying "useless land".

The Philippines

At the end of the Spanish-American War, a provision in the 1898 Treaty of Paris saw Spain surrender the Philippines for a payment of $20 million. 

US Virgin Islands

It's not like a US president has never reached a deal with Denmark before. In 1917 the US purchased the Danish West Indies for $25m and renamed them the US Virgin Islands.

Gwadar

The most recent sovereign land purchase was in 1958 when Pakistan bought the southwestern port of Gwadar from Oman for 5.5bn Pakistan rupees. 

How to help

Send “thenational” to the following numbers or call the hotline on: 0502955999
2289 – Dh10
2252 – Dh 50
6025 – Dh20
6027 – Dh 100
6026 – Dh 200

THE SPECS

Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbo

Transmission: seven-speed dual clutch automatic

Power: 169bhp

Torque: 250Nm

Price: Dh54,500

On sale: now

The specs

Engine: 6-cylinder, 4.8-litre
Transmission: 5-speed automatic and manual
Power: 280 brake horsepower
Torque: 451Nm
Price: from Dh153,00
On sale: now

Company profile

Date started: Founded in May 2017 and operational since April 2018

Founders: co-founder and chief executive, Doaa Aref; Dr Rasha Rady, co-founder and chief operating officer.

Based: Cairo, Egypt

Sector: Health-tech

Size: 22 employees

Funding: Seed funding 

Investors: Flat6labs, 500 Falcons, three angel investors

Friday’s fixture

6.15pm: Al Wahda v Hatta

6.15pm: Al Dhafra v Ajman

9pm: Al Wasl v Baniyas

9pm: Fujairah v Sharjah

.

The specs

Engine: 4-litre twin-turbo V8

Transmission: eight-speed PDK

Power: 630bhp

Torque: 820Nm

Price: Dh683,200

On sale: now

COMPANY PROFILE:

Name: Envision
Started: 2017
Founders: Karthik Mahadevan and Karthik Kannan
Based: The Netherlands
Sector: Technology/Assistive Technology
Initial investment: $1.5 million
Current number of staff: 20
Investment stage: Seed
Investors: 4impact, ABN Amro, Impact Ventures and group of angels

Major honours

ARSENAL

  • FA Cup - 2005

BARCELONA

  • La Liga - 2013
  • Copa del Rey - 2012
  • Fifa Club World Cup - 2011

CHELSEA

  • Premier League - 2015, 2017
  • FA Cup - 2018
  • League Cup - 2015

SPAIN

  • World Cup - 2010
  • European Championship - 2008, 2012
Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

The lowdown

Badla

Rating: 2.5/5

Produced by: Red Chillies, Azure Entertainment 

Director: Sujoy Ghosh

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Amrita Singh, Tony Luke

Company Profile

Company name: myZoi
Started: 2021
Founders: Syed Ali, Christian Buchholz, Shanawaz Rouf, Arsalan Siddiqui, Nabid Hassan
Based: UAE
Number of staff: 37
Investment: Initial undisclosed funding from SC Ventures; second round of funding totalling $14 million from a consortium of SBI, a Japanese VC firm, and SC Venture

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela
Edited by Sahm Venter
Published by Liveright

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

11 cabbie-recommended restaurants and dishes to try in Abu Dhabi

Iqbal Restaurant behind Wendy’s on Hamdan Street for the chicken karahi (Dh14)

Pathemari in Navy Gate for prawn biryani (from Dh12 to Dh35)

Abu Al Nasar near Abu Dhabi Mall, for biryani (from Dh12 to Dh20)

Bonna Annee at Navy Gate for Ethiopian food (the Bonna Annee special costs Dh42 and comes with a mix of six house stews – key wet, minchet abesh, kekel, meser be sega, tibs fir fir and shiro).

Al Habasha in Tanker Mai for Ethiopian food (tibs, a hearty stew with meat, is a popular dish; here it costs Dh36.75 for lamb and beef versions)

Himalayan Restaurant in Mussaffa for Nepalese (the momos and chowmein noodles are best-selling items, and go for between Dh14 and Dh20)

Makalu in Mussaffa for Nepalese (get the chicken curry or chicken fry for Dh11)

Al Shaheen Cafeteria near Guardian Towers for a quick morning bite, especially the egg sandwich in paratha (Dh3.50)

Pinky Food Restaurant in Tanker Mai for tilapia

Tasty Zone for Nepalese-style noodles (Dh15)

Ibrahimi for Pakistani food (a quarter chicken tikka with roti costs Dh16)

Ads on social media can 'normalise' drugs

A UK report on youth social media habits commissioned by advocacy group Volteface found a quarter of young people were exposed to illegal drug dealers on social media.

The poll of 2,006 people aged 16-24 assessed their exposure to drug dealers online in a nationally representative survey.

Of those admitting to seeing drugs for sale online, 56 per cent saw them advertised on Snapchat, 55 per cent on Instagram and 47 per cent on Facebook.

Cannabis was the drug most pushed by online dealers, with 63 per cent of survey respondents claiming to have seen adverts on social media for the drug, followed by cocaine (26 per cent) and MDMA/ecstasy, with 24 per cent of people.

UFC FIGHT NIGHT: SAUDI ARABIA RESULTS

Main card
Middleweight:

Robert Whittaker defeated Ikram Aliskerov via knockout (Round 1)
Heavyweight:
Alexander Volkov def Sergei Pavlovich via unanimous decision
Middleweight:
Kelvin Gastelum def Daniel Rodriguez via unanimous decision
Middleweight:
Shara Magomedov def Antonio Trocoli via knockout (Round 3)
Light heavyweight:
Volkan Oezdemir def Johnny Walker via knockout (Round 1)
Preliminary Card
Lightweight:

Nasrat Haqparast def Jared Gordon via split decision
Featherweight:
Felipe Lima def Muhammad Naimov via submission (Round 3)
Welterweight:
Rinat Fakhretdinov defeats Nicolas Dalby via split decision
Bantamweight:
Muin Gafurov def Kang Kyung-ho via unanimous decision
Light heavyweight:
Magomed Gadzhiyasulov def Brendson Ribeiro via majority decision
Bantamweight:
Chang Ho Lee def Xiao Long via split decision

The specs

Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo
Power: 190hp at 5,200rpm
Torque: 320Nm from 1,800-5,000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
Fuel consumption: 6.7L/100km
Price: From Dh111,195
On sale: Now

Aston martin DBX specs

Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8

Transmission: nine-speed automatic

Power: 542bhp

Torque: 700Nm

Top speed: 291kph

Price: Dh848,000

On sale: Q2, 2020
 

ICC Awards for 2021+

MEN

Cricketer of the Year+– Shaheen Afridi+(Pakistan)

T20 Cricketer of the Year+– Mohammad Rizwan+(Pakistan)

ODI Cricketer of the Year+– Babar Azam+(Pakistan)

Test Cricketer of the Year+– Joe Root+(England)

WOMEN

Cricketer of the Year+– Smriti Mandhana+(India)

ODI Cricketer of the Year+– Lizelle Lee+(South Africa)

T20 Cricketer of the Year+– Tammy Beaumont+(England)

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
The winners

Fiction

  • ‘Amreekiya’  by Lena Mahmoud
  •  ‘As Good As True’ by Cheryl Reid

The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award

  • ‘Syrian and Lebanese Patricios in Sao Paulo’ by Oswaldo Truzzi;  translated by Ramon J Stern
  • ‘The Sound of Listening’ by Philip Metres

The George Ellenbogen Poetry Award

  • ‘Footnotes in the Order  of Disappearance’ by Fady Joudah

Children/Young Adult

  •  ‘I’ve Loved You Since Forever’ by Hoda Kotb 
Leaderboard

64 - Gavin Green (MAL), Graeme McDowell (NIR)

65 - Henrik Stenson (SWE), Sebastian Soderberg (SWE), Adri Arnaus (ESP), Victor Perez (FRA), Jhonattan Vegas (VEN)

66 - Phil Mickelson (USA), Tom Lewis (ENG), Andy Sullivan (ENG), Ross Fisher (ENG), Aaron Rai (ENG), Ryan Fox (NZL)

67 - Dustin Johnson (USA), Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez (ESP), Lucas Herbert (AUS), Francesco Laporta (ITA), Joost Luiten (NED), Soren Kjeldsen (DEN), Marcus Kinhult (SWE)

68 - Alexander Bjork (SWE), Matthieu Pavon (FRA), Adrian Meronk (POL), David Howell (ENG), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (RSA), Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR), Sean Crocker (USA), Scott Hend (AUS), Justin Harding (RSA), Jazz Janewattananond (THA), Shubhankar Sharma (IND), Renato Paratore (ITA)

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

LOVE AGAIN

Director: Jim Strouse

Stars: Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sam Heughan, Celine Dion

Rating: 2/5

The specs

Engine: 6.2-litre V8

Transmission: ten-speed

Power: 420bhp

Torque: 624Nm

Price: Dh325,125

On sale: Now

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

The Roundup : No Way Out

Director: Lee Sang-yong
Stars: Don Lee, Lee Jun-hyuk, Munetaka Aoki
Rating: 3/5

Dubai works towards better air quality by 2021

Dubai is on a mission to record good air quality for 90 per cent of the year – up from 86 per cent annually today – by 2021.

The municipality plans to have seven mobile air-monitoring stations by 2020 to capture more accurate data in hourly and daily trends of pollution.

These will be on the Palm Jumeirah, Al Qusais, Muhaisnah, Rashidiyah, Al Wasl, Al Quoz and Dubai Investment Park.

“It will allow real-time responding for emergency cases,” said Khaldoon Al Daraji, first environment safety officer at the municipality.

“We’re in a good position except for the cases that are out of our hands, such as sandstorms.

“Sandstorms are our main concern because the UAE is just a receiver.

“The hotspots are Iran, Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq, but we’re working hard with the region to reduce the cycle of sandstorm generation.”

Mr Al Daraji said monitoring as it stood covered 47 per cent of Dubai.

There are 12 fixed stations in the emirate, but Dubai also receives information from monitors belonging to other entities.

“There are 25 stations in total,” Mr Al Daraji said.

“We added new technology and equipment used for the first time for the detection of heavy metals.

“A hundred parameters can be detected but we want to expand it to make sure that the data captured can allow a baseline study in some areas to ensure they are well positioned.”

How Filipinos in the UAE invest

A recent survey of 10,000 Filipino expatriates in the UAE found that 82 per cent have plans to invest, primarily in property. This is significantly higher than the 2014 poll showing only two out of 10 Filipinos planned to invest.

Fifty-five percent said they plan to invest in property, according to the poll conducted by the New Perspective Media Group, organiser of the Philippine Property and Investment Exhibition. Acquiring a franchised business or starting up a small business was preferred by 25 per cent and 15 per cent said they will invest in mutual funds. The rest said they are keen to invest in insurance (3 per cent) and gold (2 per cent).

Of the 5,500 respondents who preferred property as their primary investment, 54 per cent said they plan to make the purchase within the next year. Manila was the top location, preferred by 53 per cent.

Three tips from La Perle's performers

1 The kind of water athletes drink is important. Gwilym Hooson, a 28-year-old British performer who is currently recovering from knee surgery, found that out when the company was still in Studio City, training for 12 hours a day. “The physio team was like: ‘Why is everyone getting cramps?’ And then they realised we had to add salt and sugar to the water,” he says.

2 A little chocolate is a good thing. “It’s emergency energy,” says Craig Paul Smith, La Perle’s head coach and former Cirque du Soleil performer, gesturing to an almost-empty open box of mini chocolate bars on his desk backstage.

3 Take chances, says Young, who has worked all over the world, including most recently at Dragone’s show in China. “Every time we go out of our comfort zone, we learn a lot about ourselves,” she says.

The biog

Name: Salvador Toriano Jr

Age: 59

From: Laguna, The Philippines

Favourite dish: Seabass or Fish and Chips

Hobbies: When he’s not in the restaurant, he still likes to cook, along with walking and meeting up with friends.


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