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Invitation to London docklands to meet three Arab rappers

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Come and hear about hip hop - whose goal is to bring people together outside of violence in the Arab uprisings

Bassam Gergi
28 February 2012

The Arab Awakening section of openDemocracy has partnered with the University of East London to host an event series on the Tahrir Square Meme. As part of our 'You tell us' project, our first event brings three voices to London to offer a different perspective on the impact of the Arab Spring, this Wednesday night at 6:30pm - in Rap and the Arab Spring.

Ibn Thabit, who is travelling from Libya and who has been attacking Gaddafi with his music since 2008, writes on his website that he is “just an ordinary Libyan.” But his pseudonym reminds us both of the deep piety and respect for the wordsmith's craft of Hassan Ibn Thabit - the favourite poet of the Prophet Muhammad. Anonymity was a necessity for Ibn Thabit since if his identity had been known while Gaddafi was still in power he could have been arrested and tortured. Ibn Thabit does not rap to make money, even though he sees nothing wrong with that. It is his choice because his goal from the start has simply been to use his music to speak the thoughts of Libyan youth and to bring about change in Libya. Holding true to his purpose, after Gaddafi fell from power, Ibn Thabit abruptly retired from rap. Now, he says, he wants to help build a new Libya in a different way.

El Deeb, also known as the “figurehead of Tahrir” will be travelling to London from Egypt. According to interviews, Deeb began his rapping and rhyming career in a rather unconventional place: French class. “I was 14 [years old], in class and our professor told us to write a rap poem in French. Instead of submitting it on paper, I recorded it and looped in beats. I played it in class and everyone loved it.” Now he is working to channel the political and cultural power of the hip-hop generation into a range of mainstream socio-political activities. While he does not consider himself to be a part of any political party or social movement his work has long focused on the social inequalities and the corruption witnessed during the Mubarak regime.

The Narcicyst, originally from Basra in Iraq now lives in Canada where he has been at the forefront of introducing the west to Arab rap. Like the revolutionaries in the Middle East he believes that the goal of hip hop is “to bring people together outside of violence.” In many ways, he is leading a revolution in how the west interacts and understands the role of Arabs, their road to freedom and the deeper issues of concern - including race, colonialism, ghettos, religion, the history of art and personal identity.  His goal and the goal of other Arab rappers he says is “To be heard. And I think in the next 10 years or so, this will be a regular part of everyday culture, and people will accept us within the larger community of humanity, if you will.”

As one of the leading analysts of Arab rap recently emailed me:

That's one killer lineup… I really think you might have the PERFECT combination in your trio. They're all totally immersed in the history and culture and both Western and Arabic hip hop and they are all terrific analysts of Arabic hip hop and Middle Eastern politics. 

On Wednesday night we will have a chance to discuss this eruption of hip hop -  the ways rap inspired the revolutions and how the Arab Spring has changed the face of Arab rap. With no real Arab hip hop industry to speak of, what was the history of their success? And how has Arab rap transcended its regional boundaries and made its impact global?

If you have your own questions you would like to put to Ibn Thabit, El Deeb and the Narcicyst - please join us at the University of East London, Docklands Campus at 6:30pm, tomorrow Wednesday, February 29. The full details can be found here. For any further information, email me at [email protected]

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