Hip-Hop on the frontline
For Arab countries and the Middle East, the influence and performance of hip-hop lights a few fuses. First, the debate that hip-hop’s cultural swamping is a harmful western import to Arab music and society. When al-Jazeera reported earlier this year on the Egyptian rappers MTM winning the best modern Arab act in the first Arabian Music Awards, it questioned whether it was a harmful influence – suggesting anxieties about the potentially corrupting lyrics and its harming traditional Arab music. Second, the implication of what has always given hip-hop appeal. Its words.
The rap form allows a powerful voice for political invective, and is being used on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Clotaire K, a hip-hop artist of Lebanese descent, raps in Arabic, French and American English. The bass-heavy beats on his album, Lebanese, are undeniably hip-hop but the Tarab string music is assertively Arab. The rap, when you can catch it, is a benign criticism of injustice.
On the other side, there is the voice of rightwing Zionism in rap. Subliminal, otherwise known as Kobi Shimoni, makes no bones about his stance. His rallying cry to the crowd at a concert is to ask them to wave their Israeli army dog tags in the air. One of his albums, The Light and the Shadow, has a muddy fist – that looks like a bloody one – on the cover, clutching a medallion Star of David. It’s selling well in Israel, and on one internet chart ranks above the Eurovision winner Dana International.