Category Archives: Aki Nawaz

17-8. RampArt and Sly – secret omnipresence of resistance.


I insist I’m a legitimate scientist
paid by the government with your finances

- Cookbook DIY

Last night I caught the tube to Shadwell and walked to the corner of Rampart and Sly Streets (hmmm, significant street names – Ramparts was a 60s magazine of some importance, Sly – well, that’s clear enough – a the end of the street there’s a great sweet shop…). So, I arrived at the corner to find Aki Nawaz slumped in a broken office chair beside a dumpster and a pile of crushed cardboard boxes. ‘Welcome to my office’, he greets me. We sit and chat about the mad media responses to his new album “All is War”; we run through recent events in the horror that is Lebanon; approve the resistance of Hezbollah; and consider the possibility that bruiser John Reid is going gung-ho in his new home secretary job because, like an earlier blind incumbent, he is jockeying for position as a possible future leader of the Labour Party, so acting tough is what he thinks will get him noticed in the tabloids. We talk about how the tabloids make public opinion nowadays and its mainly a way of scaring people into silence, apathy and into nothing but the joys of shopping. Then a Green Party representative comes over and asks Aki what instrument he plays in the band (I only wish Aki had replied, ‘Hi, my name’s Pink’).

Home Secretary Reid, believe it or not, is a former CPGBer (old version) and perhaps best noticed for calling Jeremy Paxman a West London Wanker (henceforth W-L-W) – well, Reid has his chances I guess, so why not be gung-ho at a time when the Deputy PM John Presscaught is invisible and war criminal Bliar is off hiding out in some Caribbean terror training camp after paving the way for the IDF to make pavement out of Southern Beirut. A airport carry on luggage scare and the arrest of a bunch of teenagers is a great service to the no-hoper piggy pollies that need the cover (but gung ho is a funny expression; a mix of Bruce Lee and Ho Chi Minh springs to mind, so I best stop using it, because Reid has long ago left the Left behind, and I am told, anyway, that gung-ho was taken up by the US Marines but was originally the abbreviation for a Chinese Communist organisation, so using it to refer to the Labour Party is far too uncanny… I digress, see here and also contrast the film, and laugh out loud).

Anyway, politics by tabloid. Aki has himself been noticed in the tabloids quite a bit of late – The Sun called him a ‘suicide rapper’ and the Guardian had a go – as I have mentioned already. The event at Ramparts – a social centre in Shadwell – is to discuss the controversy, and to host the premiere screening of the video for ‘Cookbook DIY’ (lyrics here; download track here). The evening kicks off in somewhat desultory manner with a half hour video on the history of Fun-da-mental that presses various key buttons – ‘Tribal Revolution’, ‘Dog Tribe’, ‘GoDevil’ clips and plenty of send-up footage of a lame Australian TV interviewer who pretty much can’t cope with Aki asking if Australian Aboriginals had rights and land back yet – ‘what are you doing about it?’ ‘Nothing.’. Point.

Slowly the RampArts social centre fills up, and people take their seats to find a gift FDM cd – its not about the sales – and Ken Fero, co-director of Injustice – kicks off proceedings by introducing Aki, John Pandit and the guy from the GP, noting that two other guest speakers were still on their way. Aki starts speaking about how democracy is a weapon that kills, that there is a silencing that is as much blame, that the leader in Downing St needs to be put on a donkey and paraded through the city, and that he can’t understand why there is nobody doing anything. He is really angry. The youth in Britain are angry, There are people being killed in thousands and everyone seems to be going on and on as if there was nothing they could do. They tried to protest against the gulf war, but were ignored and since then, nothing. Why, he says, aren’t people out there burning down town halls and the like? (This last comment almost an aside, but it will become more and more the hot topic of the night). The Green Party representative speaks next, about free speech – frankly, the usual routines– thank-you Shahrar Ali, invited by the organisers Red Pepper. Then Natasha Atlas arrives – her music is also released under Aki’s Nation Records imprint – and she talks of her Syrian partner, the troubles musicians have getting visas in Europe, her anger and frustration at the war, and she apologises for being emotional. In fact it’s the most passionate thing I’ve heard her say ever, and not at all prima donne-esque. Great. Then the final late speaker walks in, Louise Christian, human rights lawyer(and she reminds us the event is organised by Rod Popper…). She speaks in favour of free speech and against the new additions to the terror laws, that will criminalise anyone who speaks in favour of – glorifies, encourages – acts of terror. The intent of criminality is to be assumed even if they did not inspire anyone to act, even if they were vague about whether they really intended people to go out and – Louise looks over to Aki – say people should go and blow up buildings. She says she does not think these laws will ever be tested, that they are like clause 28 – crime of encouraging homosexuality – or the incitement to racial hatred law – a kind of public relations gesture. She says we should not get paranoid, that at least in this country we can have debates like this – there has been no debate as yet, but restlessness in the audience suggests one might start soon – and debate is something we have to cherish, because – here’s the clincher – they don’t have it in Turkey, Burma or North Korea (double take – wha??? axis of evil redux).

Cmde John Pandit from ADF speaks next. Quietly pointing out the need to organise and to do so on new creative ways, to make a new set of alliances. To do the work required to build a movement that is not just protest marches that go from A to B (this will also become a refrain, the issue of how the Stop the War coalition does all it can to minimize confrontations and have us all hide out in Hyde Park provokes considerable agitation). And its important, he emphasizes, not to fall for the self-censorship that means that so many musicians who do have media visibility say nothing.

The first question is from the reporter from the Daily Star, Neil Chandler – he told me his column appears in the Sunday edition. I might even buy it as his question was ok, and in a short exchange with the reporter from the Morning Star (and representative of the STW coalition) Neil seemed by far the more credible. But it is the Daily Star, so no high hopes eh. In any case, in response to questions the point was made forcefully by Aki that the issue was British foreign policy. A simple persuasive argument he offers runs: we put up with years and years of racism and it did not mean any young people felt the need to strap on bomb belts and jackets and blow the trains; we endured years and years unemployment and it did not mean anyone went out to bomb buildings [well, Baader Meinhof excluded, but …]; but now the nightly news footage of innocents killed one after the other in their hundreds and no-one wants to discuss it, no-one listens, no debate, no significant movement to defend Muslims; no defence of mosques from attack; no way the STW coalition was going to deliver on its promise that ‘if Blair goes to war we will stop the whole country’, despite 2 million marching in February 2002…the problem is foreign policy. Change that and its over.

Some audience members were keen to point out that there were ongoing efforts to defeat Blair. Protests against airports and weapons manufacture, dealers, delivery, sabotage, various campaigns. There was some discussion of how music is important as a way of airing issues, that musicians are more than the soundtrack of a movement; that since the 60s Vietnam protests music could be something more than entertainment. But so often its not. I am of course reminded of Adorno saying that the debate was not yet over about art, and perhaps art still carried the ‘secret omnipresence of resistance’ in its hidden core. But this is not enough in a world of shopping. All this is admirable but it does not get to the question of just what kind of organisation is needed to defeat the imperialist foreign policy. The questions I ask have to do with this: the need for debate and action on all these points; on what sort of organisation is needed; on what sort of action is needed (someone heckles ‘but not blowing up buildings’); and on what sort of analysis is needed to support both organisation adequate to succeed, and the actions necessary. This does not get taken up; instead the chair notes there is always resistance, there will always be resistance. Another speaker asks a question about violence, naming Gandhi and the struggle against British colonialism. Aki makes the point that Gandhi was not alone, there was always a range of others involved, from Uddam Singh and Subhas Bose. Gandhi, it is insisted, wanted peace, not blowing up buildings – this is becoming the defining phrase, spiralling into architectural defence. Aki exasperated says ‘you lot care more about buildings than people’ – hands thrown up in the air. Everyone wants a say, a filmmaker is shouting from the back, the guy with the roving mike has gone outside to answer a phone call, with the mike still turned on. Chaos. So the movement shall be organised like this…

Dave Watts from FDM stands up. The discussion has dragged on and his frustration as clear as many. He starts by saying he understands why people want to be suicide bombers, he understands the frustration that would make someone want to go out and do it. You can imagine how this rubs up against the Gandhians. Dave says there has to be some understanding of where those who have tried to discuss have now ended up – ready to do violence and blow up buildings . But then he says he is a man of peace, a lover of peace, but he is angry and we have to fight for peace. The video clip we are about to see is called ‘Cookbook DIY’ and Dave explains its in three parts, that the person who in frustration because the is no other avenue for discussion, expression, action, has made a home bomb for 50 quid, is a small version of the guy who makes a dirty bomb, with materials bought on the black market, but neither are as obscene as the scientist who kisses his wife in the morning – Dave mimes a smooch, playing to the audience – who then goes off to work in a pentagon lab or some such to make a neutron bomb that kills all the people but leaves the buildings intact. Have a look at the video people … at which point, the screening:

And that is exactly what Cookbook DIY does. Just as it says on the tin. Do not mistake this for advocacy – its an analysis. This ‘suicide rap’ exposes the suicide scientist making the neutron bomb, the daisy-cutter, the cluster bombs and all those other armaments that the Lords of War – Blair, Reid, etc etc – threaten us with, under their terror laws, their terror regimes, the bombing runs and their surveillance systems. Their free speech that is no speech, their diplomacy and their democracy. Under the veneer of democracy, the bloodied hands of the piggy pollies; under the musical refrains, the resistance; under the cover of the Daily and the Morning Stars, another secret possibility. The global resistance, Zindabad!

Cookbook DIY lyrics:

I’m packed up ingredients stacked up my Laptop
Downloaded the military cookbook PDF
Elements everyday chemicals at my reach
Household bleach to extract the potassium
Chlorate Boiling on a hotplate with hate
recipe for disaster plastic bomb blaster
I mix up 5 parts wax to Vaseline
slowly … dissolve in gasoline
add to potassium in a large metal bowl
knead like dough so they bleed real slow
Gasoline evaporates… cool dry place
I’m strapped up cross my chest bomb belt attached
deeply satisfied with the plan I hatched
electrodes connected to a gas cooker lighter
switch in my hand the situation demands
self sacrifice hitting back at vice with a £50 price

I’m 31.. numb …but the hurt is gone
Gonna build a dirty bomb
us this privilege and education
My PHD will free me
Paid of the Ruskies for weapons grade Uranium
Taught myself skills from Pakistan Iran
upgraded its stage two of the plan
Rage… a thermo nuclear density gauge
stolen by the Chechens from a Base in Georgia
I get some cobalt 60 from a food irradiator
so easy to send the infidels to their creator
its takes a dirty mind to build a dirty bomb
The simplicity is numbing genius is dumbing
down the situation to a manageable level
to make the world impossible to live for these devils
a suitcase of semtex a mobile phone trigger
Blow them all to hell for a million dollar figure

I insist I’m a legitimate scientist
paid by the government with your finances
I got a private room in the Whitehouse suite
So I can develop according to presidential Brief
The megaton don Gulf war veteran
The foremost proponent of the neutron bomb
at the centre atomic surrounded on all sides
wrapped in layers of lithium deutaride
the bomb detonates causing lithium to fission into helium
tritium neutrons into Fission
The blast causes shockwaves that melt body fat
uniquely though it leaves the buildings intact
I made the 25 megaton daisy cutter
a great blast radius with very little clutter
There’s less radiation so you get a cleaner bomb
its your money people it cost a billion

- Nawaz/Watts.

Also – from “All is War” – check out ‘Bark Like a Dog’ – a Pistol-whip of a track that deserves to roar up the charts…

Guardian becomes News of the World II – return of the Nawaz


So, though we heard it first in the guest lecture Aki gave in class at Goldsmiths in Spring term, finally The Guardian found a stupid headline to put above the press release Nation put out to promote the new Fun^da^mental album. Accusing Aki of terror, support for Osama, un-British sentiments and punk sensibilities… you got to read the story for a laugh (click the link at the end).

Aki of course is a past master of provocation (aka Proper-Gandhi gives it away). Yet this strategy, straight out of the Andrew Loog Oldham school of promotional work where ‘no publicity is bad publicity’, is still a risky move. Not least because the Guardian can turn itself into some sort of News of the World style tabloid for a day (the headline itself – G-had and suicide bombers: the rapper who likens Bin Laden to Che Guevara – is particularly stupid but references all the storm in a tea cup fears that surround us today, and manages to tap Che on the shoulder as well. Aki as a rapper rather underplays his diverse activities as impresario of the global juke box over the past 20 years. The photo they chose is also particularly grand. In the print version of this Ladbroke Grove ensemble (the Guardian Unlimited one is slightly cropped) there is an English flag to the right of the picture. The bus in the background on the left is behind a young lad with a backpack – ooooh! significance, July 7 London bomb anniversary next week – and Aki himself is trying to look angry, but you can tell inside he is smirking at the absurdity of this scene.

All that said, its a dangerous strategy as well because the authorities that have the power to do such things just may well get the wrong end of the night stick and actually think this father of four is some sort of threat to the Nation. Well, perhaps he is, and its a good thing too – we all need to threaten a rethink of the dubious policies of Blair and the clones, of the terror war they are waging worldwide, of the domestic demonization of muslims, of the crushing of civil society (what civil society – that its too civil is the problem) and of the stifling numbing dumb dumb dumb of the press. And lets take a lesson from Nepal, which this week repealed some of its ‘anti-terror’ laws in the interests of civic freedoms. Zindabad!

This is just part of a music show – the new replacement for TOTPs perhaps – and we can all see its only a minor power play in an obscure corner of the culture industry, but still Aki Nawaz is just the sort of threat we need much more of, in the sense that we have to debate, discuss, challenge and change – and absolutely none of this requires any heavy handed police interventions, or worse.

[And to the guy on the train who found my comments on this news story interrupted his dumbass reading of Hollinghurst and accused me of being a 'lecturer from Manchester Met' (huh - why would that make me 'a Guardian-reading liberal'). So sorry, but - you mugwump - before trying a bit of push and shove, have a think - you are lucky I did not reckon it worth the a bruise on my forehead to help you sleep. with the fishes..]

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1807542,00.html

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Clandestino


I remember the Clandestino Festival in Gotenberg – and speaking there on music and politics with Lez Henry and Aki Nawaz in 2004. Dave Watts and Coltaire K too. After a mad weekend, sunday afternoon found us on the yet more mad wooden roller coaster with the singers from the Mighty Zulu Nation (pictured here with Dave of F^D^M in full flight at the concert the night of our talks – ie, the main event). The MZN (and SKW) pretended to be nervous about the ride, and Sam from State of Bengal and I were being macho and urging we go – tables (not tablas, but stomachs almost) were turned by the end of the noisy rickety ‘roler-coaster’ of a ride, but our comrades from the south wanted to go again. Not enough time for that as we needed to get back to Clandestino. (Wooden Roller coasters are spectacular – think flat pack ikea but 100s of metres high). The Festival is annual, its in June, its worth going to, and this year the Micropixie space cadet project is booked. In Gotenberg in summer there’s hardly more than two hours of dark at night, the city is fantastic, the festival is radical, political and rare glorious thing in the world of music festivalism, not at all governed by ‘industry’ standards. Open ears and minds. Calandestino!

Aki Nawaz will speak at Goldsmiths on friday 3rd March – at 11am in room 137a.

Imogen – there is much stuff to hear – glad you opened your eyes last evening, if only for a bit. Now try it a bit more. See you in Exeter next week.
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On Sampling – Against Paul Simon.



On Sampling – Against Paul Simon.

(From an essay ‘The dialectics of European Hip Hop: putting the fun back into Fun^da^mentalism’, published in the most recent edition of the journal South Asian Popular Culture 2005).

The demonization of Islam – which was established in the wake of Soviet Communism’s collapse. The early moves that manufactured a new enemy have now been replaced by the crusading ‘war on terror’, which targets Asians of all stripes within and beyond national borders and the rule of law, and irrespective of any consideration of allegiance to peace, civic life, evidence, coherence. With this context in mind, we might consider earlier skirmishes of the music market as little more than incidental. But politicized motivation was never more explicit than in the response of Paul Simon to Fun^da^mental’s ‘crossover’ efforts on the album ‘Erotic Terrorism’ (Nation 1999). The reconstructed world music impresario’s follow-up album after ‘Graceland’ (Warner Brothers 1987) was called ‘The Rhythm of the Saints’ (Warner Brothers 1990). It used recordings of a town square performance by the Brazilian percussion ensemble Olodum, which were taken back to New York where Simon ‘improvised music and words over them and added other layers of music’ (interview with Bob Edwards, quoted in Taylor 1997:64). Taylor adds that it is Simon who profits – his position in a powerful economic center – the United States, a major corporation – means that he cannot escape is centrality, despite his assertion that he works “outside the mainstream”’ (Taylor 1997:203). It is then curious to compare the moment of appropriation – another key misleading term – with a parallel incident. When Fun^da^mental recorded a version of Mr Simon’s song ‘The Sounds of Silence’ for inclusion on ‘Erotic Terrorism’, their request to clear copyright for the sample was refused. Asked for permission once again, Simon was offered the publishing rights for the new version, with an additional backing vocal, but Mr World Music again said ‘no’, citing legal precepts and refusing further discussion (author interview with Aki Nawaz). Noting the power of some musician-entrepreneurs to own and control, and the cap in hand reliance on name stars and gatekeepers for those who might want to breach the conventions of music industry protocol, the track was renamed ‘Deathening Silence’, sample removed. The retelling of these conjoined tales about Mr Simon is not to make an equation between the selfish, or rather self-interested, conceits of copyright legalese and the more serious debacles of racism, anti-Islamic profiling and the anti-people pogroms of the state machine. But who would be surprised if someone did equate such ‘cultural’ power with the way the war on terror legislates special rules that permit detention without charge or trial in the USA, the UK, Australia, Malaysia, etc? Even though such a connection was anticipated in Fun^da^mental’s ironic album title reference: ‘Erotic Terrorism’. Thinking of the Detention Camps in Afghanistan and Iraq, certainly there is some credence to Fun^da^mental’s pre-September 11, 2001, prophecy that ‘America Will Go to Hell’ – in their anti-war anthem EP release from the same period as ‘Deathening Silence’ (America Will Go To Hell Nation 1999). The use of hip-hop to express a critique of American (and United Nations, NATO or British Military) imperialist activities makes Paul Simon’s legal enforcement of silence something less than neutral and this conjunction surely indicates also a more nuanced relationship between politics and content than the unidirectionalist historians of hip-hop might warrant. The ‘deathening silence’ here is not only a comment on record industry ownership of lyric and melody, but also references the ways commercial imperatives sanction quietude about the politics of so-called anti-terrorism and the inadequacy of romantic and liberal anti-racism. No mere hybridity, Fun^da^mental’s call is to fight against the seductive terrorisms of complicity and conformity, the manipulation of market and law, the destruction of culture and civilization in pursuit of oil.

What kind of change in the apparatus of the culture industry would be required to orient attention away from the industrial military entertainment complex? What would displace the ways people in the music press and mainstream academic community consistently deploy categories that are far removed from the actualities articulated in the Fun^da^mental discussion? These critics appear deaf to ideas. I think it is clear that many misconceptions come from well-intentioned deployment of arguments around terms like ‘visibility’, ‘appropriation’ ‘complicity’ and ‘commerce’. That it is no surprise that intentions and their effects are readily undone is almost a platitude. The solution is not to insist on the correctness of an alternate interpretation (see Kalra et al., 1998, Sharma et al., 2000) and it is equally not the case that insistence on fidelity to the source material will redeem all (but a listen to the albums and a check of the websites is worthwhile – combating sanctioned ignorance advanced through media bias is an obligation we must all take up[1]). These are probably the predictable moves that others have already made, but if raising questions about complacency in commentary adds impetus to the work of showing where a critique of unexamined complicity and marketing zeal restrict possibilities, then the opening is important.

[1] The term ‘sanctioned ignorance’ is from the always-insightful Gayatri Spivak (1999) Critique of Postcolonial Reason Harvard. The ref to Kalra 1998 is a special issue on ‘music and politics’ of the journal Postcolonial Studies. Sharma 2000 is to a special issue on ‘music and politics’ of the journal Theory Culture and Society vol 17, no 3. For other refs just email me.

Critique of Exotica

Critique of Exotica: Music, Politics and the Culture Industry

London: Pluto Press, 2000

In this innovative book, John Hutnyk questions the meaning of cultural hybridity. Using the growing popularity of Asian culture in the West as a case study, he looks at just who benefits from this intermingling of culture. /What does it mean when Madonna dons a bindi or Kula Shaker incorporate sitar music in their music? When Cherie Blair wears a sari to a public dinner? When the national dish in the UK is chicken tikka masala? Is this a celebration of multiculturalism or cultural appropriation?/Focusing on music, race and politics, Hutnyk offers a cogently theorised critique of the culture industry. He looks at artists such as Asian Dub Foundation, FunDaMental and Apache Indian to see how their music is both produced and received. He analyses ‘world’ music festivals, racist policing and the power of corporate pop stars to market exotica across the globe. Throughout, Hutnyk provides a searing critique of a world that sells exotica as race relations and visibility as redress

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