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Routledge specializes in scholarly books on popular culture—which is to say they take on interesting subjects and find ways to make them boring. Browsing in bookstores, I’ve often gotten suckered in by various Routledge books on music, film, and television, only to confront blocks of jargony academic-speak that gave me another reason to be grateful that I didn’t go to grad school and pursue a cultural studies degree.
Music in the Post-9/11 World, though, is an intriguing exception, and not just because of its genius cover. In particular, I was fascinated by an essay by James R. Grippo titled “’I’ll Tell You Why We Hate You!’ Sha’ban Abd Al-Rahim and Middle Easter Reactions to 9/11.” Grippo, a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University ofCalifornia, Santa Barbara, offers a tidy history of sha’bi, a brand of Egyptian popular music (the word literally translates as “popular.”), followed by a discussion of Abd al-Rahim, who has “mobilized the music’s potential to tap into the ‘pulse of the Egyptian-Arab street’ by politicizing songs, often to the point of ridiculousness.” He’s not big on subtlety: His first hit song, released in 2000, is called “I Hate Israel.”Much of the essay covers his 2003 hit, “O Fellow Arab.” You can watch it here:
The essay provides a translation of the lyrics, though the imagery in the video is pretty straightforward, skewering President George W. Bush andIsrael then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Abd Al-Rahim sings, “With terrorism as an excuse, for years America and Israel have acted as bullies,” and calls on fellow Arabs to stand up against them. His success in Egypt isn’t just a function of echoing the Arab street, though there is that: “My songs are simple and that’s why people love me,” he told the Christian Science Monitor in 2002. But, Grippo argues, Abd Al-Rahim gets some of his appeal by being coy about just how serious he is—making himself the Ferecito of Egyptian pop. “Happily contradicting himself in his songs,” Grippo writes, “Abd al-Rahim cleverly plays the fool card when backed into corners by critical interviewers.”