Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fetish Systems Book launching and Party on April 8 in Beirut

Fetish Systems, a book by Raafat Majzoub, will be launched at Zico House on April 8, 2011 at 8:00, followed by an eponymous party. 

Music by AA
Visuals by Haig Papazian and Raafat Majzoub - 

Book Signing [Free Access for the after party – Books will be sold for 12 USD]*
20:00 - 21:30

After Party: [20.000 LBP = 2 Drinks]
21:30 –

This is an event by PAPA+236m3
More Info on the Facebook Event Page: FETISH SYSTEMS
*Those who attend the book signing have free access to the after-party and one free drink.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Omar Offendum Records Hip Hop Version of "Qari'at Al-Fingan" قارئة الفنجان

Syrian-American rapper Omar Offendum has recorded his own Hip Hop version of the classic song "Qari'at Al-Fingan" [The Coffee Cup Fortune Teller] by Abdul Halim Hafez عبد الحليم حافظ.  The song was originally recorded by Hafez in the 60's to a famous poem by Nizar Qabbani by the same title in which a female fortune teller sits with a young man and reads his freshly consumed coffee cup--revealing the most intimate details about his life, past and present.

Omar Offensdum keeps/recites the lyrics in Arabic at the beginning of his version but soon moves into an amazingly lyrical English translation of the poem with a great beat.  The song can be found on Omar Offendum's brand new album "Syrianamericana."

Here is the original song as performed in concert by Abdel Halim Hafez on TV, followed by Omar Offedum's song "Fingan"

I am also including the verses to the Qabbani poem in Arabic and Omar Offendum's amazing lyrics so you can follow along (after the 2 video clips) as well as an exclusive interview with Omar Offendum which I have taken from Jackson Aller's blog Beats and Breath (January 2010).
The English translation of the poem below was taken from

قارئة الفنجان

لنزار قباني 

جلست .. والخوف بعينيها

تتأمل فنجاني المقلوب

قالت : يا ولدي لا تحزن

فالحب عليك هوا المكتوب

يا ولدي .. قد مات شهيداً

من مات على دين المحبوب

فنجانك .. دنيا مرعبه

وحياتك أسفار وحروب

ستحب كثيرا وكثيرا

وتموت كثيرا وكثيرا

وستعشق كل نساء الأرض

وترجع كالملك المغلوب

بحياتك .. يا ولدي .. امرأة

عيناها .. سبحان المعبود

فمها .. مرسوم كالعنقود

ضحكتها .. موسيقي وورود

لكن سماءك ممطرة




فحبيبه قلبك .. ياولدي

نائمة في قصر مرصود

والقصر كبير يا ولدي

وكلاب تحرسه وجنود

وأميرة قلبك نائمة

من يدخل حجرتها مفقود

من يدنو 

من سور حديقتها


من حاول فك ضفائرها !!

يا ولدي





ونجمت كثيراً

لكني .. لم اقرأ أبدا

فنجانا يشبه فنجانك

لم اعرف أبداً يا ولدي


تشبه أحزانك

مقدورك أن تمشي أبدا

في الحب .. على حد الخنجر

وتظل وحيداً كالأصداف

وتظل حزيناً كالصفصاف

مقدورك أن تمضي ابداً

في بحر الحب بغير قلوع

وتحب ملايين المرات

وترجع كالملك المخلوع

FINJAN | Lyrics:

Arabic verse (literal translation of Nizar's first couplets):

she sat with fear in both of her eyes
pondering the inverted coffee-cup
saying - my son...don't grieve
Love for you is written


she sat with fear in both her eyes
ponderin this turkish coffee cup inverted
carefully she worded
destiny & time
now dont you grieve my son
for love is written for you in the signs
martyrdom for he who dies religiously
but love is blind
your coffee-cup is terrifyin
a life of travellin & battlin
a lot of love...a lot of death
a load of pain unravels
as your chasin after every woman on the planet only
to return like a defeated king - lascivious & lonely

Chorus >>


if love is free ...
why'd a fortuneteller charge me a fee just to say that?


im free to love ...
but nobody's willing to reciprocate - i guess its payback ...

Now in your future is a girl whose eyes alone can make you praise the lord lips shaped like grapes - beautiful - her laugh is musical
and still the sky above's a gloomy grey that rains & pours
road blocked...dead locked...immutable...a sight unusual
the woman of your dreams sleepin in a palace tower
guarded by both dogs & soldiers - likes of which will make you cower and the princess of your heart
in a slumber from the start
suitors lost - climbin fences to uproot her...
who'd've thought?

now i've read many palms & horoscopes before but I have never seen
a coffee-cup resemblin your coffee-cup...i've never seen
sorrows like the sorrows emanating from this demitasse
your destiny's to walk on dagger tips of love so many times...
the solitude of seashells & the weepin willowy wails...
leave you stuck in currents of an oceanic love for females...
the details you'll love & lose a million times only
to return like a dethrone'd king - lascivious & lonely

Chorus >>


if love is free ...
why'd a fortuneteller charge me a fee just to say that?


im free to love ...
but nobody's willing to reciprocate - i guess its payback ...

(3rd verse is my own writings, not translation)

i read between the lines like fortune-tellers with a coffee cup
and i aint talkin bout them frapuccinos with that frothy stuff
our peoples are of equal standing in the eyes of GOD we trust
but we're the ones who shoulder blame when errorism's army busts
im sick of askin why - wanna kick up ash n fly
when a man is rich whether in gold or knowledge he should try
to treat the poverty of other brothers with consideration
knowin that the highest form of flattery is imitation
its another iteration - of the same bitter-taste with the same limitations faint recollections of her face interlaced in
the bars of a jail where there aint visitation
man i hate bein patient
rather be the doctor
diagnose a higher dose of mea culpa - not ya
general hospital scrub in soap or opera
a local wasta connect-the-dot
qaari'at il-finjan

Chorus >>


if love is free ...
why'd a fortuneteller charge me a fee just to say that?


im free to love ...
but nobody's willing to reciprocate - i guess its payback ...

Arabic verse (literal translation of Nizar's last couplets):

your fate is to remain forever
in the ocean of love with no rescue
and to love a million times
and return like the dethroned/deposed king


Many thanks to Omar Offendum for writing/supplying these amazing lyrics in English.


The Fortune Teller by Nizar Qabbani
Original Source of this Translation:
She sat with fear in both her eyes
Pondering the Turkish coffee, inverted carefully
She worded “Do not grieve my son
You are destined to fall in love”
My son, Who sacrifices himself for his beloved,
Is a martyr

I have long practiced fortune-telling
But never have I read a cup similar to yours
I have long practiced fortune-telling
But never have I seen sorrows similar to yours
You are predestined to sail forever
Sail-less, on the sea of love
Your life is forever destined
To be a book of tears
And be imprisoned
Between water and fire

But despite all its pains,
Despite the sadness
That is with us day and night
Despite the wind
The rainy weather
And the cyclone
It is love, my son
That will be forever the best of fates.

There is a woman in your life, my son
Her eyes are so beautiful
Glory to God
Her mouth and her laughter
Are full of roses and melodies
And her gypsy and crazy love of life
Travels the world
The woman you love
May be your whole world
But your sky will be rain-filled
Your road blocked, blocked, my son
Your beloved, my son, is sleeping
In a guarded palace
He who approaches her garden wall
Who enters her room
And who proposes to her
Or tries to unite her plaits
Will cause her to be lost, my son…lost.

You will seek her everywhere, my son
You will ask the waves of the sea about her
You will ask the shores of the seas
You will travel the oceans
And your tears will flow like a river
And at the close of your life
You will find that since your beloved
Has no land, no home, no address
You have been pursuing only a trace of smoke
How difficult it is, my son
To love a woman
Who has neither land, nor home

Expanding the Dialog: Omar Offendum’s debut album ‘SyrianamericanA’

Syrian-American rap super hero? Homeboy from a street called Straight? Omar Offendum sat down with me recently to hash out what his new album gonna be like. Much love to this brother for what is an expanded rap attack at a time when we need a properly politicized voice straddling these two worlds of oriental and occidental. (Note: versions of this article appeared for both NOW Lebanon and UMen Magazine)

Music Video Stills from Omar Offendum’s song “Destiny” – shot by Laith Majali ©

BEIRUT – At a club date in Beirut early January 2008, when Omar Chakaki, aka Omar Offendum of the hip-hop crew The N.O.M.A.D.S, was walking out of a Monot street basement covered in sweat from a 3 hour rap extravaganza, a kid who was walking out with him at the time turned to his friends and within earshot of Offendum said, “His rhymes was tight,” to which he meant that Offendum’s delivery was crisp and put together.

And it’s true. Offendum is an Arab rapper who always seems put together. Clean shaven, perhaps a wee soul patch on his chin. Always a nice rim (baseball hat) on his head when performing – sometimes blue and green Zoo York plaids, sometimes a black cap with an LA on the front (for the LA Dodgers), but always a hat with a crisp front brim that is never folded at the sides. He looks put together because he is.

Based in Los Angeles, Offendum works as an architect, and there’s no doubt he leads a double life – professional by day, Arab rap super hero by night. But he has made peace with that duality, and along with other rappers in the Arab Diaspora like Iraqi-born MC The Narcicyst, Lebanese-Syrian MC Eslam Jawaad, and Palestinian-American MC, Ragtop of the group The Philistines, he is part of an Arab Rap Pack that is gaining a solid fan base – in America, the UK and now in the Arab world.

© Laith Majali

“You know 60 percent of the population in the Middle East is under the age of 30. And hip-hop is quickly taking shape and taking root here. Especially in cities like Beirut and Damascus,” Offendum told UMen.

Over the last two years, Offendum has toured the Middle East regularly. Beirut, Damascus, Amman, Dubai. And while he’s a Syrian-American with deep ties to his family’s home in Damascus, he admits he has a gravitational pull for his “favourite urban center” in the Arab world – Beirut City, Lebanon.

This March is the scheduled release of his first full-length solo album – SyrianamericnA –an anxiously anticipated project for Arab hip-hop heads and for conscious rap fans who have been blessed to hear his revolutionary metaphors.

With inspiration from poet Nizar Qabbani, Offendum’s new album explores issues of love, war and identity, and includes long verses in Arabic that he says are meant to “open up his Arab audience base.”

BEATS AND BREATH caught up with Offendum during his January tour of the hip-hop lecture series called, “Brooklyn Streets to Beirut Beats,” that features a three-man lyrical wonder-crew, The Human Writes Project, with Ragtop, and the Mexican-American HBO Def Jam poet, Mark Gonzalez.

BEATS AND BREATH (B&B): Tell us about – SyrianamericanA. The title conjures up notions of Pax Syriana. Does the name come from your dual nationality as an MC – what does it mean?

OMAR: Yes. There’s no doubt that I straddle two worlds in my life. I’m Syrian-American and when I’m in the States, I’m defending Syrian points of view, Arab points of view, Middle-Eastern points of view to people that don’t necessarily feel the same way as I do.

When I’m here, in the Arab world, I’m defending American points of view to people that don’t normally think or know things about America in the ways that I do.

So SyrianamericanA, it’s part Syriana, which is a very loosely defined term – a think-tank term that people kind of use in the West to describe the divvying up of nations; the divide and conquer strategy in the Middle-East to divide up the oil and resource interests here.

And then there’s Americana. It’s diners. It’s milk shakes. It’s all that you know…white culture. But it’s this blend of all of these different things that make the American experience too. It’s the music. It’s black culture, its Native-American, Mexican, white, and Asian cultures…all that mixed in.

In the end, what it all means to me is that SyrianamericanA is, ‘A nation-state of mind. Where everything is connected.’ Which is a tag line of the George Clooney movie Syriana, and ‘Everyone is welcome.’ Which is just ultimately how Arab hospitality makes you feel!

© Laith Majali

B&B: Turning to the songs on your album – even with so many great themed hip-hop albums preceding you – no one has really told the narrative of being Arab-American? Go through some of the songs for us.

OMAR: It’s true that there have been so many concept albums in hip-hop history, and that it’s happening less and less. So I knew this had to be a concept album.

About the songs. One of the first things I decided to do when I started this album is to look back at what my influences were. I decided to go back and look at Nizar Qabbani’s poetry. Not really thinking that I would straight translate the stuff. But I got some beats from Habillis and Sandhill from the Iraqi-Canadian crew Euphrates in Montreal. And these beats really inspired me. There was more Arabic sampling. I mean, Habillis was making really complete songs. This brother really, really makes music and he samples the most incredible parts of songs and puts them together – and so you have to come correct with your lyrics when you record!

To make it more a part of the hip-hop experience I thought to do a translation of Nizar Qabbani’s The Damascene Poem. And Habillis actually he put in as one of the samples some great singing from Armando Manzanero. He’s an old-school Mexican crooner – an indigenous singer. Beautiful song about a blind man that doesn’t get to experience things like the birds and the trees, and that is how he feels for his lover, who he doesn’t get to see. So I took that and flipped it to be an explanation about my experience with Damascus. Because I really didn’t get to live there and see it. But that’s my home in my head. That’s my mom. That’s the stories I grew up with.

And that poem…well I admit that we have a family connection to Nizar Qabbani family. My mom’s great friends with his sister and his brother. And Nizar’s brother has taken a sort of grandfatherly role with me and he lives in Washington DC.

When Nizzar passed in 1998, I actually read the Damascene poem at a memorial service for him at Georgetown University while I was in high school. So that poem took me way back. Nizar’s brother ended up getting me a signed book of poetry from Nizar a little before he passed and he gave them to me like – and in the inscription – Nizar wrote, ‘For your love of poetry and your talents…’ So that kind of stuck in my head for all these years to kind of do this.

© Laith Majali

B&B: So would you say that you’ve become more of a complete MC and that your songs are more a reflection of maturity on this album?

OMAR: Absolutely, and I really tried to make more complete songs on this album. There’s the story of Majnoun Leila – it’s an old Arabic love story. Star-crossed lover kind of thing. Some say it was the inspiration to Romeo and Juliet. I thought, again, it was a universal story that had to be done with a hip-hop sensibility.

I also translated Qareat Al Fingan – The Coffeecup Fortuneteller – which was a poem sung by Abdel Halim Hafez. It was another beautiful story. It’s about love – when a woman fortuneteller tells the poet that he’s going to love a lot of women in his life, but ultimately will remain lonely. So this song in the album is with this in mind.

Another story on my album is called The Street called Straight – it’s about different people I met in my life and during my time in Damascus. They say that Damascus is the longest continuously inhabited city on Earth. And the street called Straight in Damascus might very well be the longest continuously used street. They talk about it in the Bible. It’s where Saint Paul got his sight back.

So I made up this little tale about these three individuals I met on the street. I try to relate it back to the folks about the street in a hip-hop sense. Because hip-hop is urban – city – in the streets. So I’m just talking about the oldest one, a street called Straight.

‘Met a spiritual teacher, predecessor to the pusher man.’ The medicine man is the predecessor to the pusher man. The last fellow I meet in this song is a carpenter – ‘predecessor to the architect.’ Biblical references. They all tell me in the end to ‘follow the middle path on a street called straight.’ And following the middle path is a philosophy inherent in a lot of different world religions and life teachings. So I played with that idea.

B&B: Do you think SyrianamericanA is an album that most identifies you with the rising Arabic hip-hop movement?

OMAR: Most definitely. For the first time since I started recording, I have songs with full Arabic verses on this album. I did that in an attempt to get more into the Arab Diaspora. Getting more people from here relating to things. But at the same time – not only because those same songs have English verses on them. So for the English speaker, I can hopefully demystify the Arab language and not make it seem like their movie stereotypes of a language where people are just yelling at each other on news clips but it’s this beautiful thing.

B&B: How do you want to release the album?

OMAR: That’s all stuff that is in discussion. I fiddled with the idea of just doing a music download. And you know, do it digitally at first. Because that’s the way everybody is doing it these days. You’re gonna sell some CDs, sure. Ultimately I just want my shit to get out there, and I have no problem in the end with people just ripping a copy of the album of some site – it’s cool ‘cause that’s hip-hop to me. Like doing it bootleg out the back of your car trunk, and establishing yourself guerrilla-like first.

I have a 9 to 5 job in an architecture firm. So I can eat, and I’m not stressin’ like that.

B&B: But let’s be clear, that you can be picky about how you grow as an artist because you can support yourself outside of the industry?

OMAR: Alhumdulillah. I’m fortunate to be able to do this. But I’d love to be able to someday make a living just doing hip-hop. It’s gonna take time. Ten years and it’s gonna take more time. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.


© Laith Majali

Below is the description on Laith Majali’s blog which I think is rather dope and shows the genesis of some shit that’s gonna rock the house when it’s released! Big ups to Laith! Here’s the write up:

While I was in L.A this summer, I wanted to test out the High Definition video capabilities of the Canon 5D mark II, so I offered to shoot and direct a music video for Omar Offendum’s “Destiny” off his upcoming album “SyrianamericanA.” What started out as a test is now developing to an international shoot with locations in Los Angeles (already shot) and Beirut (to be shot in October.)

I was really impressed with the quality of the files i was getting from the camera, so here are a couple of still frames pulled from the HD video, it’s great to know that wherever I am in the world i can shoot high quality video.

The video will be released through Immortal Entertainment, a multi-faceted entertainment company I recently fromed in Amman. (More about the company in a seperate post.)

A bit about Omar as put by our brother from another mother Narcy:

“Omar Offendum is a Syrian-American MC/Architect hailing from the Sham, Los Angeles and/or DC. He is currently working on his first solo LP called ‘Syriana-Americana’ and is a founding member of the N.O.M.A.D.S. (Notoriously Offensive Male Arabs Discussing Shit) with fellow marksmen, Mr. Tibbs. Ladies know him as “Syrias Finest” but us homies just call him “Ladies Love Cool O”

For original blog entry/interview by Jackson Allers, see his blog Beats and Breath.

Spontaneous Dance at Rafic Hariri Airport in Beirut, Lebanon (March 2011)

On March 4th, 2011, Beirut's Rafic Hariri airport came to life with employees and passengers of all ages spontaneously dancing to a mix of Lebanese folk & modern dance music!

Gotta love the Lebanese spirit!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mashrou' Leila Perform in Dubai

Mashrou' Leila just performed in Dubai and, according to sources who attended, the concert was nothing short of fabulous.

Thursday, March 3 at 7:30pm - March 4 at 10:30pm
JBR the walk / Burj Khalifah Park

More Info
Mashrou' Leila Live in Dubai at the du world music festival

for full schedule:

Performed for 2 consecutive nights:
on March 3rd - the JBR[the walk] at 7:30 pm
on March 4th - Burj Khalifah Park at 10 pm

for more information:

Raqib Al Nassery: A Rapper with a Sufi-background and a political message

The official music video of the Egyptian Revolution; "7kayet el seyassa", staring Raqib Al Nassery in cooperation with Tanbouly Studios Entertainment Productions.
(thanks to J. F.)

Clip directed by Ahmed Al Tanbouly
Music by Game Hoover
Guest appearance: Kordy Sand Nikka, 3iouty, Abdallah Camara

Free Podcast: DJ Ramzi Premieres "Hi Keefak Ça Va" on KZSU 90.1 FM

DJ Ramzi Premieres "Hi Keefak Ça Va" on KZSU 90.1 FM
(Free Podcast Available)

PODCAST: The broadcast DEBUT of my own radio show "Hi Keefak Ça Va?" is finally available (in 3 Parts)! Please support me and show your love for Arabic music--old and new--by listening, tweeting, forwarding, sharing, and/or downloading at:

Description: This tri-lingual greeting is the way most people say hello in Lebanon where Arabic, French and English are spoken daily. This show will thus showcase new music,mostly underground/alternative, in all 3 languages. The program premiered on March 1, 2011 and is hosted by Dr. Ramzi Salti of the African and Middle Eastern (AME) Languages and Literatures Program at Stanford University.

To listen/download, go to this link then click on the arrows on the bottom right of that page (right-click to save)



1. Ramy Ayach and Abeer Nehme/ Belaaks/Belaaks/Oreole Records
2. Natacha Atlas/ Ne Me Quitte Pas/Ayeshten/ Mantra/ Beggers Banquet
3. Charbel Rouhana/ Hi, Keefak, Ça Va?/ Hi, Keefak, Ça Va?/ Forward Music
4. Gorillaz/ Orig (excerpt)/ Clint Eastwood/ Virgin Records (Rap)
5. Mashrou' Leila/ Ghadan Yawmon Afdal/ Single/ Mashrou' Leila
6. Christophe/ Les Mots Bleus/ 20 Grands Succes/ Polygram
7. Amina/ Les Mots Bleus/ Annabi/ Universal Imports
8. Fayrouz/ Habbaytak bil sayf/ Very Best of Fairuz/ EMI
9. Jean-Francois Michel/ Coupable/ Jean Francois Michel/ JFM
10.Dalida/ Helwa ya baladi/ Paroles d'ailleurs/ Orlando
11. Zade/ Helweh ya baladi/ One Night in Jordan/ ONJ

12. Yazan al-Rousan and Autostrad/ 'ayyat Fi 'l-Matar/Autostrad/Planet Records
13. Fairuz/ Nassam Alyana El hawa/ Safarbarlik/ Bint Al Haaris/EMI
14. Said Mrad/ Nassam Alayana El hawa/1001 Nights/ Music Moods
15. DJ Nader/ Nassam Aleyna El Hawa/ Hizzy for the Hips/ Level Up Records
16. Mashrou' Leila/ Fasateen/ Mashrou' Leila/ B-Root Productions
17. Bushra El-Turk/ Ta'atalat lughat al kalami [Words Fail]/ Single/ Unreleased
18. Tania Saleh/ L'jilou l'jadidou/ Tania Saleh/ EMI
19. El General/ Raes el Blad/ Single/ Unreleased
20. Ali The Son Of Abdul/ Magic Man/ Year Of The Satellite/ Bollywood Depiction
21. Amr Diab / Masr Alert/ Single/ Rotana

22. Mounir El Shami/ Bghiik wallah/ Single/ Self-release
23. Rousan, Yazan/ Ihna Nhabasna/ Jeeran Music Volume 1/ Jeeran Music
24. Zeid Hamdan & the Wings/ General Suleiman/ Zeid & the Wings/ Lebanese Underground
25. Khaled/ Aicha / Sahra/ Island Records (World)
26. Outlandish/ Aicha/ Bread & Barrels Of Water/ Rca Victor/Bmg
27. Dudley, Anne and Coleman, Jaz/ Minarets and Memories/ Songs From the Victorious City/ Tvt Records
28. Patricia Kaas/ Quand j'ai peur de tout/ Rien ne s'arrete/ Columbia
29. Wust El Balad/ Qull Lil- Maliha (Tell The Maiden)/ Wust El Balad/ Melody Music
30. Rachid taha/ Rock El Casbah/ Rock El Casbah: The Best Of/ Wrasse Records
31. Pomegranates/ Venus / One Of Us/ Planetary Group
32. Amr Diab/ Masr Alet (Edit Version)/ Single/ Rotana
33. Charbel Rouhana/ Hi, Keefak, Ça Va?/ Hi, Keefak, Ça Va?/ Forward Music

Alternative Links:

For Part ONE, click here.

For Part TWO, click here.

For Part THREE, click here.

Main Page:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Positive Portrayal of Lesbian on Lebanese TV Series

Lesbian character portrayed positively on Lebanese TV drama. Thank you MTV Lebanon and director Mrs. Claudia Marchelian for advocating "respect". Watch this touching scene (Arabic).

The series is called "Generations" اجيال and in this scene the lesbian character declares her love for her straight female friend while grappling with issues of love and sexual identity.

المسلسل اللبناني اجيال الحلقه 19 الجزء الرابع بطولة يوسف الخال ورد الخال ندين نجيم وسام حنا باميلا الكيك

Friday, March 4, 2011

Western Opera and Middle Eastern Music Fusion in Unique Performance

As part of the festival Across the Street, Around the World, Opera Holland Park and Chelsea Music Academy joined forces for a unique performance that fused musicians and singers from Western opera with Middle Eastern music.

DJ Ramzi Hosts 'At the Cafe Bohemian' (Podcast Available)

My Podcast from "At the Cafe Bohemian" radio show is now available for free downloading at this link. Show includes my commenatry (in English) and amazing music by مشروع ليلى Mashrou' Leila, Fairuz, May Nasr, Dalida, Natacha Atlas,Yazan AL Rousan & Autostrad, Stereo-tip and many more.

Go to the page above then scroll down to the arrow at the bottom right and click on it to listen. Even better, RIGHT-CLICK on the arrow to "Save As.." the large MP3 file on your computer. Enjoy the show!


Changing Egypt’s Identity One Picture at a Time! (Great Moments in Public Signage 2)

Original Post at:

Changing Egypt’s Identity One Picture at a Time! (Great Moments in Public Signage 2)
MARCH 2, 2011

by ethanpullman

Recently, an image circulated on social networks and the internet at large that spread like wild fire – “has gone viral,” as one Facebook user comments.

Shown left (above), the image documents the recent Egyptian protests. At first glance, it seems to simply make a political commentary. The sentence “Walk like an Egyptian,” centered below an image of demonstrators, calls for solidarity with Egyptians. A closer analysis, however, reveals how truly revolutionary (pun intended) its message is.

“Walk like an Egyptian” became iconic with the release of the 1986 hit by the Bangles (although one can argue that the depiction of the walk in American pop culture dates back to 1947, with the release of a Bugs Bunny cartoon titled “A Hare Grows in Manhattan,” where the wacky wabbit demonstrates to his audience how Egyptians walk). The walk mirrored early wall paintings in Egyptian pyramids. The sentence, thus far, indexes an exotic notion of Egyptians, an orientalist view, as Edward Said claimed in his book Orientalism. American pop culture, Said would argue, constructed an identity for Egyptians, representing them as “the other.”

But what is unique about the way meaning attached to this sentence is that Western pop culture constructed a semiotic meaning rather than a semantic one. Meaning in this phrase is semiotic rather than semantic because the sentence communicates a metaphor that has a unique association to one culture. In other words, the only way “Walk like an Egyptian” would achieve its intended meaning is through familiarity with American pop culture because it is there where meaning has been assigned.

Consider, for example, the sentence “Walk like an American.” There’s no preconceived notion of how Americans might walk and therefore there’s no symbolic association to its meaning. The sentence’s meaning, in this example, is limited to its semantic value. Conversely, the word “man” in “Walk like a man / Talk like a man” – lyrics from 1979 hit by the Wanderers – are not unique to a culture and thus index an identity that is shared more widely. Meaning here would not be ambiguous if the phrase was translated to another language such as Arabic, for instance, because Arab cultures index a male’s walk in a manner similar to other cultures. However, if the poster used the Arabic translation إمشي زي المصري (imshi zayi el-masri) of “Walk like an Egyptian,” the meaning of the sentence would remain ambiguous to Arab audiences because Arab cultures do not share the same preconceived context implied by the West.

This would probably be true in other languages where semiotic meaning has not been assigned culturally.

So until now, “Walk like an Egyptian” signified “otherness.” This time, however, the sentence is once again invoked but is assigned a new cultural symbol – the notion of solidarity. Solidarity is a basic human tendency – a need to integrate and belong. Alterity as a characteristic representing Egyptian is now replaced by membership: they are no longer the “other,” but instead a member of the larger familiar social group of humans (as apposed to the unfamiliar and exotic civilization). Walking like an Egyptian now means walking with the powerful, rather than the “other.”

What makes this revolutionary, and somewhat ironic, is this shift in meaning could only be reconstructed using the language of the dominant “orientalist” culture that originated it. Let’s face it, a photo of demonstrators alone, or with any other sentence such as “Walk proud!” or “Viva la revolution!” would not have had as positive of a contribution to Egyptian identity as this poster has. At best, these sentences would have simply blended Egypt and its people into the common backdrop we refer to as the Middle East (with its turmoil, war, demonstrations, etc.). Consciously or not, the creators of this poster used image and language brilliantly and managed to create a new identity for Egypt and Egyptians.

If you want to know more:
The discovery of King Tutankhamen in 1922 received world-wide press and was the West’s first exposure to ancient wall paintings where the two-dimensional representation of Egyptians’ walk entered Western pop culture. However, Warner Brothers’ animated depiction of it in 1947 was most likely the earliest precursor to assigning a unique cultural identity to the sentence “Walk like an Egyptian,” which has spread since and gained momentum with the Bangles’ hit.
Orientalism, and the title of Said’s book, is a term used for the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern culture in the West by Western writers, designers, and artists. Edward Said was one of the most influential cultural critics and was credited for coining the term. His ideas impacted research on identity, gender, indexicality, representation, and many related areas of cultural and social research. For more on the works of Edward Said, see Yasmin Ramadan’s “A Biographical Guide to Edward Said.” For more on orientalism, see his article in A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader.
David Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners summarizes concepts such as indexicality and semiotics, and he explains how they relate to identity and provides further readings.
The visual design of the image is probably a reference to Successories posters, a staple of American workplace decoration and a frequent target of Internet satire.

Ethan Pullman is a PhD student in Rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University.

l e i t m o t i f ( s ): february was nice to me.

l e i t m o t i f ( s ): february was nice to me.

Book Review of Fetish Systems by Raafat Majzoub

This book is not only daring and courageous; it is also beautifully written, powerful, and difficult to categorize within established literary genres.  It is also impossible to forget.

The work seems to function as an autobiographical account that reminds the reader of a love letter, written without regard to time, space, chronology or traditional (expected?) plot development.  The result could have easily been chaotic and alienating (and it is, but in an empowering way), yet Majzoub's style of writing keeps the reader interested, curious, often uneasy, but always fully involved in the 'narrative.'  We often feel courted by the lyrical quality of the work and the questions that arise--centering on narrating the self, on questioning the alleged impotence that seems to define the work as a whole--ultimately leads the reader to turn inward in an attempt to recuperate the validity of one's own "fetish system."

I absolutely recommend this book and its author, Raafat Majzoub, seems destined for greatness.  The only cautionary remark I would make is to toss your inhibitions and pre-expectations aside and to approach this book, perhaps like its jilted lover, in a manner that will enable you to go on a journey that begins nowhere, and ends nowhere.  This voyage to and from nowhere is worthwhile, to say the least, and the work as a whole--written by one of Lebanon's most promising young authors--will leave you deliberately uneasy, cleansed, transfixed and transformed.

Ramzi Salti, Ph.D.
Stanford University

Playlist for "Hi keefak ça va" Radio Show Debut on March 1, 2011 by DJ Ramzi


Hi, Keefak, Ça va?

DJ: Ramzi S.

Tue, 1 Mar 2011 / 2000-2300

Ramy Ayach and Abeer NehmeBelaaksBelaaks
Oreole Records

Atlas, NatachaNe Me Quitte PasAyeshteni
Mantra/Beggers Banquet
Rouhana, CharbelHi, Keefak, Ça Va?Hi, Keefak, Ça Va?
Forward Music

GorillazOrigClint Eastwood
Virgin Records (Rap)
Mashrou' LeilaGhadan Yawmon AfdalSingle
Mashrou' Leila

ChristopheLes Mots Bleus20 Grands Succes
AminaLes Mots BleusAnnabi
Universal Imports

FayrouzHabbaytak bil sayfVery Best of Fairuz
Jean-Francois MichelCoupableJean Francois Michel

DalidaHelwa ya baladiParoles d'ailleurs
ZadeHelweh ya baladiOne Night in Jordan
Rousan, Yazan And Autostrad'ayyat Fi 'l-Matar (Sing In The Rain)Autostrad
Planet Records

FayrouzNassam Alyana El hawaSafarbarlik/Bint Al Haaris
Said MradNassam Alayana El hawa1001 Nights
Music Moods
DJ NaderNassam Aleyna El HawaHizzy for teh Hips
Level Up Records

Mashrou' LeilaFasateenMashrou' Leila
B-Root Productions

Bushra El-TurkTa'atalat lughat al kalami [Words Fail]Single

Tania SalehL'jilou l'jadidouTania Saleh
El GeneralRaes el BladSingle
Ali The Son Of AbdulMagic ManYear Of The Satellite
Bollywood Depiction
Amr DiabMasr AlertSingle

Mounir El ShamiBghiik wallahSingle
Rousan, YazanIhna NhabasnaJeeran Music Volume 1
Jeeran Music
Zeid Hamdan & the WingsGeneral SuleimanZeid & the Wings
Lebanese Underground

Island Records (World)
OutlandishAichaBread & Barrels Of Water
Rca Victor/Bmg

Dudley, Anne and Coleman, JazMinarets and MemoriesSongs From the Victorious City
Tvt Records
Patricia KaasQuand j'ai peur de toutRien ne s'arrete
Wust El BaladQull Lil- Maliha (Tell The Maiden)Wust El Balad
Melody Music

Taha, RachidRock El CasbahRock El Casbah: The Best Of
Wrasse Records
PomegranatesVenusOne Of Us
Planetary Group
Amr DiabMasr Alet (Edit Version)Single
Rouhana, CharbelHi, Keefak, Ça Va?Hi, Keefak, Ça Va?
Forward Music

10th Anniversary of Dr. Ramzi Salti's Arabology Program Features All Episodes on Soundcloud + YouTube (Click here)

All 13 seasons of Dr. Ramzi Salti's  Arabology  podcasts  are now available on Soundcloud, for a total of 101 episodes. Additionally, al...