(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 The early moves that manufactured a new enemy have now been replaced by the crusading ‘war on terror’, which targets Asians of all stripes within and beyond national borders and the rule of law, and irrespective of any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). 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.
 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.