Mus­lim youth world­wide em­pow­ered by mu­sic

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Na­dia Kid­wai

IN this work of non-fic­tion, Moroc­can-Amer­i­can lec­turer Hisham Aidi aims to high­light how mu­sic can gal­va­nize so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism among Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties across the world, with ex­am­ples rang­ing from as far back as Mus­lim Spain to the present day. In do­ing so, Aidi pre­sents a study so deep and broad in con­tent that it be­comes pos­si­ble for the reader to be­come both im­pressed and overwhelmed at the same time. The fo­cus of Rebel Mu­sic, as out­lined in Aidi’s pro­logue, is the par­al­lel he iden­ti­fies be­tween the ex­pe­ri­ences of marginal­ized Mus­lim youth in Europe’s sub­urbs of to­day with that of African-Amer­i­cans in the in­ner-city ghet­tos of the 1960s. Aidi ar­gues that a post-9/11 rise in Is­lam­o­pho­bia and racial pro­fil­ing, as well as the eco­nomic down­turn in Europe and ever-in­creas­ing cul­tural “Amer­i­can­iza­tion,” means Euro­pean Mus­lims more of­ten look to­wards “African-Amer­i­can Is­lam” (pop­u­larly ex­pressed through hip-hop mu­sic) as a model to which they can re­late. It helps them to be­come spir­i­tu­ally, po­lit­i­cally, so­cially and (iron­i­cally) cul­tur­ally em­pow­ered. From there, read­ers are taken on a heady whis­tle-stop, globe-trot­ting tour of Brazil, Cuba, the United States, Europe, North and West Africa and the Mid­dle East, ex­plor­ing how Is­lam came to take root in each pop­u­la­tion and how mu­sic was used as a way for Mus­lims of that re­gion to ce­ment their iden­tity in each cul­tural con­text. In one ex­am­ple, Aidi speaks of Brazil’s rapidly grow­ing Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, with the ma­jor­ity of con­ver­sions hap­pen­ing within the Afro-Brazil­ian com­mu­ni­ties in Brazil’s im­pov­er­ished fave­las (ur­ban slums) — co­in­ci­den­tally, the birth­place of Brazil­ian hip-hop. Even in Brazil’s fa­mous Car­ni­val, there are now Moor­ish or Mus­lim­in­spiredin floats. As one Brazil­ian whom Aidi in­ter­views com­ments, “The very thing that will cause Mus­lims to protest in Europe... cause(s) no ou­trage in BrazilB and that’s be­cause Mus­lims are very com­fort­able here.” While his the­sis is com­pelling and the sheer mag­ni­tude of his scope im­pres­sive, there’s a dan­ger that his pri­mary mes­sage is lost in the vast global por­trait he paints. Aidi ad­mits that some chap­ters were writ­ten as sep­a­rate pa­pers; that dis­con­nect is no­tice­able, with some chap­ters re­peat­ing ear­lier ones, and oth­ers ap­pear­ing to be­long to a dif­fer­ent book al­to­gether. The fas­ci­nat­ing We Ain’t White chap­ter, for ex­am­ple, talks about the im­por­tance of gain­ing mi­nor­ity sta­tus in the U.S., but, un­like the other chap­ters, has no con­nec­tion to mu­sic. Aidi would have done well to fo­cus his ar­gu­ment more, cov­er­ing less ma­te­rial but sharp­en­ing his mes­sage over­all. In gen­eral, Aidi is suc­cess­ful in hav­ing penned a text that’s ap­peal­ing and en­gag­ing for a mass au­di­ence, be­yond the niche mar­ket of schol­ars who spe­cial­ize in this sub­ject area. His per­sonal in­ter­views, com­bined with his knowl­edge and sheer pas­sion for mu­sic, di­rects his work well, though read­ers would do well to keep their iPhones handy and YouTube the many mu­si­cal artists Aidi speaks of so highly. And that, in essence, is what makes this a re­mark­able piece of work. It’s an op­por­tu­nity for aver­age read­ers in­ter­ested in the fluid re­la­tion­ship be­tween mu­sic and cul­ture to en­hance their ap­pre­ci­a­tion and un­der­stand­ing for di­verse Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties and his­to­ries — be­yond what is usu­ally cel­e­brated and taught. In the process, Aidi demon­strates how a com­mu­nity that is so of­ten marginal­ized as the “other” and as hav­ing an anti-cul­tural nar­ra­tive is, in fact, deeply wo­ven into the rhyth­mic his­tory of the world’s one truly uni­ver­sal lan­guage: mu­sic. And that can only be a good thing. Welsh Win­nipeg­ger Na­dia Kid­wai is the pro­gram man­ager for the Cana­dian Mus­lim Lead­er­ship


Rebel Mu­sic: Race, Em­pire and the New Mus­lim Youth Cul­ture

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