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Sabtu, 21 Jun 2008

International: Muslim music for modern times

A spiritual hip-hop rejects misogyny and violence, but also traditionalism, writes Saeed Saeed.
DEXTEROUS RAPPING, DJ cuts, beat boxing and thumping instrumental tracks - these are not the elements normally associated with Islamic music. But for the Brothahood, Australia's renowned Muslim hip-hop group, their gritty sonic landscapes represent a growing global music movement.
Muslim hip-hop - notably from America's Native Deen and Britain's Mecca2Medina - is giving voice to a new generation of Muslim youth turned off by gangster rap's celebration of misogyny and the conservativeness of traditional Islamic devotional songs called "nasheed". Like all good hip-hop, its "halal" version is topical and confronting.This is to the dismay of Muslim scholars and hardliners who brand the style of groups such as the Brothahood a pop-ification of Islam's nasheed tradition; a genre in which spiritual songs are sung in Arabic a cappella or accompanied by a solitary frame drum.
Melbourne's the Brothahood is weary of the ideological gripes surrounding their craft. But for 24-year-old MC, Jehad Debab, the claim the Brothahood - whose members come from Lebanese, Egyptian, Turkish and Burmese backgrounds - is another symbol of Western corruption is disingenuous. Indeed, he proudly agrees he is a product of the West. "I was born and raised here in Australia," he says. "I don't listen to Arabic songs and I don't speak the language that much. I grew up as a Muslim listening to hip-hop."
However, this is where Jehad's spiritual beliefs come to the fore. "The problem I had was that I couldn't relate to a lot of the hip-hop out today with all this rapping of violence, girls and drugs. So I started writing about who I was and what I feel as a Muslim and Australian."The results are socially conscious tracks such as The Silent Truth, in which Jehad Debab and fellow Brothahood members Moustapha Debab (Jehad's brother), Ahmed Ahmed, Hesham Habibullah and Timur Bardan describe everyday life in Australia post-September 11 and Cronulla: From beer I refrain / Prayers I maintain/ Can't get on a plane without copping all the blame/ People can't ya see that we are all the same? / Children of Adam but playing the blame game. Jehad believes the Brothahood's ultra-Western medium of hip-hop could act as the catalyst to overcome misunderstanding and ignorance surrounding Islam. "We basically try to break down stereotypes and barriers that we face as Muslims in Australia.

"There is a huge gap between Muslims and everyone else. Muslims stick to each other and non-Muslims are scared of us because of what they see and read in the media.
"We hope that our music bridges the gap so that non-Muslims aren't so scared of us and can see us as regular people." South African artist Zain Bhikha has taken a very different approach to the Brothahood's post-modern take on nasheeds.
The pioneering Bhikha, 32, is one of the first notable nasheed artists to sing in English. His staunchly traditional songs all consist of vocals and minimal percussion. Such restrictions could produce derivative results but Bhikha is a master of the form. His soul-stirring hymns are built upon dynamic vocal arrangements and carried by his signature crystalline vocals. His deep meditations on peace, innocence and enlightenment have crossed the religious divide into the mainstream with recent performances in London's Royal Albert Hall and collaborations with Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.
Bhikha says the secret to performing nasheeds does not lie in vocal virtuosity. As in all spiritual pursuits, it's the intention that counts. "I've been lucky enough to keep my day job so that I could perform purely for the love of it. That has made it easy for it to come from the heart," he says.
"Many performances of youngsters in the industry today sing with beauty, but lack inspiration. It is hard to inspire others if you yourself are not by the words you are singing."
Sounds of Light is at the Vodafone Arena tonight. Proceeds of the concert go to Human Appeal International. Ticketek 132849.

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