One of my favorite bits of Sun Ra lore is this story from the bandleader’s 1971 trip to Egypt. John F. Szwed’s biography Space Is The Place recounts how customs officials, perplexed by Sun Ra’s passport (“To be named after the sun god twice was really a bit too much”), held most of the Arkestra’s instruments and luggage after letting the band into the country.
But jazz drummer Salah Ragab, “the head of military music in the Egyptian army,” came to the rescue, lending the Arkestra his gear and assisting them at some personal risk. Their shows in Egypt generated material for a trilogy of live albums, since collected on the CD releases Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation Visitation and Horizon, and a dozen years later, during a subsequent visit, Ra collaborated with Ragab on an album with the truth-in-advertising title The Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt.
At some indeterminate time, Ra, who could see the pyramids from his hotel outside Cairo, had decided that during the trip he would invoke his divine namesake in one of antiquity’s most sacred places. In an undated interview with Atlanta’s WREK, Ra gives his version of the Egyptian space theurgy:
...while I was there, I went in the [Great] Pyramid, up in the King’s Chamber, and I said, “Now, this pyramid was made for the name Ra. And it hadn’t been said in here in thousands of years, so let’s say it nine times and see what’ll happen.” So we said “Ra” nine times and all the lights went out in the pyramid. So I had a psychic experience there.
Ra says the guide then led the party in darkness along a dangerous path with a twelve-story drop and through the narrow entrance to the Queen’s Chamber, where the lights miraculously came on again.
With the evenhandedness that is one of his biography’s strengths, Szwed at once casts doubt on Ra’s version of events and adds a strange detail that seems to confirm his supernatural powers:
They climbed the staircase, crawled through the low entrances, and slipped through the narrow corridors in order to reach the King’s Chamber, and as they did the lights suddenly went out. Sun Ra later said that he had chanted the name of Ra nine times when it happened, although [eyewitness Hartmut] Geerken remembered only Sun Ra saying, “Why do we need light, Sun Ra, the sun is here.” Whatever, they managed to walk back out through the darkness. (When Sun Ra recounted this story to writer Robert Palmer in 1978 at the Beacon Theater in New York, the lights went out in the theater, leaving a dead spot in the middle of the tape recording as evidence.)
After the jump, candid footage of the Sun Ra and his Arkestra visiting the pyramids…
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Tamara Abdul Hadi‘s photography of the Bab il Nasr cemetery in Cairo, Egypt is seeing the (relative) habitability of what is literally a slum in a graveyard. The impromptu urban housing of the very poor tends to evoke images of crowded favelas, Calcutta in 1969 or even a US tent city, but many photos of Bab il Nasr look remarkably clean, quaint, and established. Living conditions actually vary widely—plumbing and electricity exist in some homes, but these basic amenities are hardly ubiquitous.
Still, many residents have made remarkable comfort and safety from very little, likely owing to the both the duration of settlement and the fact that inhabitants are members of the larger community. From Hadi’s website:
The cemetery of Bab il Nasr in Cairo has been home to hundreds of families living among their deceased ancestors for the past 60 years. This sprawling cemetery is located in central Cairo, near the Imam Hussein Mosque. ‘This is a cemetery of the living’, says Mohammed Abdel Lateef. He lives with 9 other family members in their family’s section of the graveyard. Mohammed, in his thirties, and his siblings, Hussien, Ahmed and Ahlam, were born here.
‘This has been my home since 1966’ says Haj Abdel Lateef, Mohammed’s father, and the family’s patriarch. He and his wife Atiyat have raised 5 children here. They went to school’s nearby, work in the area, and now have children of their own.
It’s strange to see what appears to be a thriving multi-generational community in a graveyard, but the Lateef’s situation is hardly unheard of in Cairo. Between Bab el Nasr and four other cemeteries, over 500,000 Egyptians make up “The City of the Dead” slum.
A couple of years ago I read Norman Mailer’s baffling, immense Ancient Evenings. The novel, which is set in Ancient Egypt and went on to inspire William S. Burroughs’ final novel The Western Lands, is about a thousand pages long, and by the time I finished it I think I chucked it out of the window of a speeding train (accidentally killing a large cow). But it did sometimes succeed in transporting the reader not only to the time of Ancient Egypt, but also into the mind of the place, giving you the intermittent suspicion that, perhaps this riddling civilization knew a thing or two about the afterlife—and that the “cunning of their tombs” (as Mailer memorably puts it) was fumbled knowledge rather than pseudo-science…
Such superstitious manias gradually pass into the unconscious, waiting for a delicious story like this one to stir them up again. Yes, according to the Daily Mail, in Manchester Museum a 4000-year-old, ten-inch-tall statuette, an offering to Osiris long ago purloined from a mummy’s tomb, has been observed, and has now been filmed, slowly turning 180 degrees to face an Egyptian prayer for “bread, beer, oxen and fowl” recently erected behind it.
The statuette’s slow about-turn has been captured on film by a time-lapse camera, and curator Campbell Price, 29, says he believes there may be a spiritual explanation. ‘I noticed one day that it had turned around,’ he said. ‘I thought it was strange because it is in a case and I am the only one who has a key. I put it back, but then the next day it had moved again.’ The 10-inch tall relic, which dates back to 1800 BC, has been at the museum for 80 years but curators say it has recently starting rotating 180 degrees during the day. ‘In Ancient Egypt they believed that if the mummy is destroyed then the statuette can act as an alternative vessel for the spirit. Maybe that is what is causing the movement.’
Disregarding any possible scientific explanations (c’mon—who needs em???), wouldn’t this kinda make Ancient Egyptian sense in so far as the spirit is traditionally thought to make use of such prayers for sustenance? In other words, might this inconvenienced (and starving) spirit be be angling his first good meal for a very long time?
Aliaa El Mahdy, an Egyptian university student, is changing the way men view women by setting up a Facebook page, where Egyptian men can post photographs of themselves wearing veils. The page called Resounding Cries, was launched on November 1st and has had dozens of men sending in their snaps - though not everyone is happy with what El Mahdy is doing, as she explained to France 24:
For me, the veil is not a personal choice in Egypt, but the result of social and religious pressure. The girls I know who wear the veil do so because of their families or to avoid being hassled in the street. I don’t see why we should always dictate what women must wear and never what men must wear. Asking guys to put on the veil, if only for the time it takes to take the photo, is a way of saying to them ‘See how this feels!”
The other reason I launched this page is because society still considers women as sex objects. [83% of Egyptian women claim to have been victims of sexual harassment. Some women feel that the veil is a necessary form of protection against assault] . Many people, even on television, denounce the harassment of women in Egypt, but in my opinion this is not enough.
Obviously, I have been attacked and insulted because of this Facebook page. Some Internet users have responded to me by citing verses of the Koran. I realise that this is shocking for a conservative society like ours, but I am not going to change my ideas because of that.
Though there has been some controversy over Aliaa El Mahdy’s idea, there has been some support for holding a peaceful demonstration in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, which would be a very positive thing to see happen.
If the world comes to an end, model Naomi Campbell and her nearest and dearest will have no trouble surviving in this 25 roomed eco-home. Designed by and a birthday gift from one of our favorite new architects Luis de Garrido, the glass domed house is completely energy and water self-sufficient and features an amazing indoor landscaped terrace. Everything about this house is a dream: its comfortable microclimate, its constant flow of air, light and heat when necessary, its superior landscaping, and of course the fact that it was built on the Isla Playa de Cleopatra in Turkey (notice the Egyptian theme.)
So far people have been referring to this house as “Horus House” but surely “House of Horus” is more appropriate?
Shiulie Ghosh and Sami Zeidan present the first program on Al-Jazeera English, which premiered in November 2006
The Arab revolts of the past couple of months have of course been incubating for many years and crystallizing for many recent months. It’s become a media meme that they’ve resulted from social networks like Twitter and Facebook. But these have been more organizing tools than anything else.
We still don’t know the depth of the role played by 15-year-old Qatr-based Arabic TV news network Al-Jazeera as the region’s only non-state-controlled media platform. It’s definitely turned out to be the most reliable on-the-ground reporting platform during the revolts. With rising American cable customer demand for the network’s English-language channel emboldening the company to make its case to Comcast and our Secretary of State praising it as “real news,” it seems that AJ’s time has truly come.
Last week, journalist and author Robert Wright invited British-Egyptian Mideast media scholar Adel Iskandar onto his highly recommended Bloggingheads.tv vlog platform to talk about where Al-Jazeera’s been, what its significance is, and where it seems to be going.
Gotta revolution if you want it. Click here and watch the future unfold in real time on your computer. The concept that we’re all in this together has never been truer or more immediate. Governments, Egypt’s and our own, are playing catch up. Information is power and it makes us all equal.
Cairo artist and electronic musician Ahmed Basiony died at age 32 on January 28, the fourth day of major anti-government demonstrations in his home city.
Basiony’s rather remarkable music is being played continuously on 100radiostation, an arm of Egyptian experimentalist Mahmoud Refat’s now-offline 100copies organization, which organizes the annual 100live electronic music festival in Cairo.
Here he is performing at the 100live festival in 2010:
Basiony leaves behind a wife and son. Let’s hope this revolution is worth all the lives and creative talent lost. Peace, justice, power and freedom to the people of Egypt.
Carr and some others have just assembled a Cairo offshoot from the Occupied London site, reporting on the ground, and along with Democracy Now, it’s proven a great item to add to your Egyptian Revolution RSS. They’ve already postedtwice on today’s ruthless and unsurprising pro-Mubarak raid on Tahrir Square.
“No to Mubarak, no to Nazif, no to Sorour”
(Refers to Ahmed Nazif, Prime Minister for past 7 years until yesterday, and Ahmad Fathi Sorour, speaker of the People’s Assembly since 1991 and first in the official line of succession as President after Mubarak)
“Down with the regime” with inverted “Eagle of Saladin” coat of arms from the Egyptian flag.
Stencil of Mubarak; underneath, the Arabic word “Irhal”, meaning “Leave”.
As bewildered analysts on the sidelines wring their hands over “what’s next in Egypt,”Al Jazeera continues to very simply shame the American news media with regards reporting on the region’s issues.
Jane Dutton, the host of the network’s “Inside Story” show, does what we used to call actual insightful reporting by bringing into AJ’s Cairo studio Egyptian activists Gigi Ibrahim, Amr Wakd and Wael Khalil and, remotely, Tunisian graduate student activist Fidi Al Hammami. And while these kids may represent a somewhat elite and educated part of the thousands on the streets, Al Jazeera goes a long way here beyond the usual news formula of interviewing either excited guys in the middle of a protest yelling at the camera or annoyingly hedging news “contributors.”
At around the 18-minute mark, Khalil makes the crucial remark that puts the American punditry’s narcissistic agonizing into perspective: “We don’t need the US.” In short, Uncle Sam, the EU and the international community are rather irrelevant to this struggle. The paradigm’s changed, and the old powers need to get over themselves.
Mutamassik (meaning “stronghold” and “tenacity” in Arabic) is the nom de tune of Giulia Lolli, a half-Italian/half-Egyptian composer and DJ with a background that’s reflected in her splintered internationalist musical style. Born in Italy and raised in the American Rustbelt, Lolli went to New York City in time to swoop quickly in and out of the illbient scene of the mid-‘90s before heading out to Cairo, and finally landing up in what she terms a “CAVEmen-style” existence with her husband, Brooklyn guitarist Morgan Craft, and child in Tuscany.
Lolli has described her music as “Sa’aidi Hardcore & Baladi Breakbeats: Egyptian & Afro-Asiatic Roots mixed with the head-nod of hip-hop & the bass and syncopation of hardstep.” (The term “Sa’aidi” can refer to people of Upper [central-eastern] Egypt, and can also be interpreted as “ascending”; “Baladi” refers to traditional, oft-rural Arabic folk music.)
With that said, That Which Death… sees Lolli lay down a ritualized heavily percussive base over which she smears rumbling bass tones, cranky cello, evocative samples and scratches, various electronic instrumentation, and her own subliminal vocals to create an otherworldy brand of liberationist marching music.
Egypt can turn off the Internet but it can’t stop satellite TV, Twitter or ham radio operators.
Al Jazeera is reporting that state security is trying to enter the building where their Cairo bureau is located. NPR’s Andy Carvin tweeted, “Al Jazeera streaming live video from their office window; police are banging on the door trying to get them to stop.” Followed by a quote from Al Jazeera, “We’ve been streaming live for 5 hrs and the police are clearly not happy about it.” The Raw Story reports that the station may be shut down, but the live feed from Al Jazeera English is still streaming, with reporters breaking the news from Egyptian state media that Mubarak has ordered police reinforcement for the curfew set from 6 p.m. local time, now in place, through to 7 a.m. on Saturday. “It’s not having any effect.”
Here’s raw video that was posted on Youtube five hours ago. It gives you a sense of just how massive the protests in Cairo are. It was shot by Mohamed Ibrahim Elmasry, “a professor emeritus of computer science at a Canadian university who is in Cairo.”
Riot police are firing off tear gas canisters but it’s not stopping the protesters. The will of the people is awe inspiring.
I grew up in Tunisia. For me, like I’m sure each country is for every kid, it was the center of the universe. I truly believed that everything revolved around Tunisia. People from all over the world literally did pilgrimage to it, whether for religious reasons (during Lag Ba’omer, a Jewish holiday that takes place after the celebration of Passover, Jews from all over the world come in masses to Ghriba synagogue, home of the world’s oldest Sefer Torah), or more commonly for touristic reasons during the summer when Tunisia becomes a Mecca for beach-goers and sun-lovers.
As I got older I realized it wasn’t really the center of the universe. I discovered we were categorized as a Third World country, and since both my parents are revolutionary syndicated journalists (my father was jailed during the 1978 manifestations), I learned pretty quickly that we were living in a dictatorship, that the media is censored and freedom of speech is virtually non-existent. Sure we ranked highly among African and Arab countries, and women enjoyed a freedom unheard of in the neighboring countries, and for decades that was the thread of dignity we, people of Tunisia, hung onto. But that wasn’t enough, not if we wanted our kids to be proud of being Tunisians.
It took long enough, but Tunisians rid themselves of their fears—fears of the government, but most importantly fears of leaving their comfort-zone and the apparent safety and security our country was famous for. And they marched into the streets simultaneously, first to express their anger and discontent, then to ask for reforms and, well…jobs! Then, finally, to demand and ultimately impose a radical change—a historic one, too. For the first time in history, an Arab people has ousted its president and dictator without foreign help or the use of force.
And on that Friday, the 14th of January, the eyes of the whole world were on Tunisia. On that historic day, Tunisia was and forever will remain an idol and an inspiration for the tired and the poor, the weak and the oppressed, anyone who has ever dreamt about liberty while living under dictatorship. On that historic day, Tunisia WAS the center of the universe. I couldn’t help remembering all those revolutionary rap songs I wrote, all those cliched phrases that even I was starting to get tired of: “Power to the people,” “We can change our destiny,” etc.—and smile. Finally it was relevant, finally it made sense.
The battle is far from won, but we know the challenges awaiting us, and we will work them out as a united free people in a democratic way. Because now that we tried the taste of freedom, we are never giving it up again.
Thank you people of Tunisia for making her once again the center of the universe.
Here’s the video for Firas’s recently released tune, “Tunisian Revolution,” with a translation from the Arabic below:
[The chorus is sampled from “Homma Min Wehna Min” (“Who are They and Who are We”), a song by revolutionary Egyptian composer Sheikh Imam.]
If the people one day decided to live*
then it’s as if they decided to walk on water.
Hands are cuffed, my “masters”’s needle has sewn our lips
nothing left but the weaponized pencil
and my fist.
The night they arrested my heartbeat…**
Long live my country
he who betrayed it will live in it
and he who isn’t among its wealthiest won’t.
The people have been subdued, robbed,
heroes been put down, burnt down,
riches have been accumulated and disappeared.
Underneath us the fire is burning,
and above us the wealthy are living,
and we’re stuck in the middle.
If the people one day decided to live,
start digging graves and preparing burial shrouds.
Blood is screaming inside our veins,
we die and they live, dear country.
If the people one day decided to live,
then destiny has to obey
and the shackles have to be broken
and the dark night has to end.
- CHORUS -
Who are they?
U won’t see them but u will feel their shackles
Who are they?
The ones that deafened hearing people
and muted the talkative until we became like statues,
steered like a herd.
Who are they?
They’re the ones who dried the ink out of our pens,
Who are they?
They’re the ones that made the flag cry.
Who are they
and who are we?
Where are they?
In fortified castles.
Where are we?
In destroyed shacks.
Their sons enjoy our misfortune,
our sons get beaten in universities,
Their sons get the highest positions,
our sons hang from coffee shop to coffee shop, from bar to bar
are unemployed, with diplomas…
*A take on Tunisian national anthem by Abul-Qasem Alchebbi:
“If the people one day decided to live
then destiny has to obey
and the shackles has to be broken
and the dark night has to end”
**Refers to the famous 1984 Egyptian TV film The Night They Arrested Fatma, a drama about a young woman who became radicalized during the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.
After the jump: the video (with English subtitles) that helped get Tunisian rapper The General arrested…
According to just-released findings, the pyramids of Egypt were not built by slaves, but by free workers. Which begs the question, how the !^@!* did they motivate people to carry those blocks of their own free will? Promises of eternal life? Drugs and debauchery on weekends? Gift certificates? Fuuuu….
CAIRO (Reuters) - New tombs found in Giza support the view that the Great Pyramids were built by free workers and not slaves, as widely believed, Egypt’s chief archaeologist said on Sunday.
Films and media have long depicted slaves toiling away in the desert to build the mammoth pyramids only to meet a miserable death at the end of their efforts.
“These tombs were built beside the king’s pyramid, which indicates that these people were not by any means slaves,” Zahi Hawass, the chief archaeologist heading the Egyptian excavation team, said in a statement.
“If they were slaves, they would not have been able to build their tombs beside their king’s.”
He said the collection of workers’ tombs, some of which were found in the 1990s, were among the most significant finds in the 20th and 21st centuries. They belonged to workers who built the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre.