January 12, 2007

Talk explores hip-hop in the Holy Land

The Middle Eastern Studies Students’ Association hosted University graduate student Rami Nashashibi in a talk on the emergence of hip-hop as a vehicle for political expression in the Palestinian territories. The talk, moderated by Professor Martin Stokes, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the U of C, was held Wednesday in Pick 016.

The presentation highlighted Nashashibi’s research in the Palestinian territories and in the South Side of Chicago. Nashashibi studied the influence of African-American hip-hop on Arab–Israeli musicians.

Central to Nashashibi’s work is the concept of “ghetto cosmopolitanism,” the process by which segregated communities circumvent marginalization by forging nontraditional global networks. The concept attempts to explain the recent emergence of several Arab-Israeli hip-hop groups and their rise to global popularity.

Arab hip-hop combines American hip-hop elements with traditional Arabic beats. However, Nashashibi explained, Palestinian hip-hop is not a mimicry of existing American models. It involves modifying and rejecting aspects of American hip-hop to form a uniquely regional sound that “resonates with local sensibilities,” Nashashibi said.

The lecture included sound clips from various Palestinian hip-hop groups, including the globally renowned Dam, whose lyrics combine Arabic with English and Hebrew.

Nashashabi also included excerpts from interviews with various Arab hip-hop artists. The dialogues reveal deep Palestinian respect and appreciation for the African- American origins of hip-hop and for the intensely political nature of the movement. Nashashibi’s interviewees emphasized the similarities between the hip-hop of American urban ghettos and the musical movement in Palestine. “It’s all about the same message: poverty, occupation, living in ghettos,” Nashashibi said.

Nashashibi ended with a discussion of the political and social implications of a cosmopolitan global ghetto, claiming that the phenomenon offers the possibility of cosmopolitan virtue in the world’s most politically isolated and turbulent regions.