CW: mentions of suicide
Another Shahbaz, this time a veneration for the famous and beloved Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalander.
Fascinated (as an outsider), proud (as an insider) of how this/my culture can infuse prayer, dance and music into ritual. I use this visual in Mark of my Departure to bring up a sense of collective ecstatic spirituality and straightforward party vibes.
The visual alone is full of such absurdity and humour; I love the ageing baba having money thrown at him, the dancing kids doing some ubiquitous skanking < maybe the key here is how intergenerational the celebration is?
The people they party to venerate the saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalander.
So much of my own practice is informed by techniques used and made popular by hip hop > sampling, chopping, rapping > somehow this video feels like it has every aspect of a classic early 2000s hip hop video and therein lies the appeal of the visual > it’s a kind of indirect nostalgia > I can access this image of my collective ancestral culture through my individual nostalgia for early 2000s hip hop < displacement is strange
South Asian culture (and cultural artifacts) have a relationship with hip hop that is everywhere to see but not many places to fully understand. My own work tries to explore that relationship. Famous hip-hop producers have lent on South Asian culture to give their music some flair, some essentialised but deliciously addictive vocal chops and catchy melodies < that’s only one aspect of this cultural exchange >
Here is the briefest non-chronological history of South Asian samples in mainstream hip-hop production from the early 2000s. that I can remember
Timbaland samples a Colombian song and calls it Indian with saris and babas in the video.
Dr. Dre samples the legendary playback singer Lata Mangeshkar for one of the bangers of the decade.
Just Blaze serves up a certified club classic with Erik Sermon and Redman with the help of Asha Bhosle and Mohammed Rafi.
I’m writing as I research and have just come across the work of Professor Elliot Powell. Phew. Elliot Powell is doing the work!
“His first book Sounds from the Other Side: Afro-South Asian Collaborations in Black Popular Music (University of Minnesota Press, 2020), brings together critical race, feminist, and queer theories to consider the political implications of African American and South Asian collaborative music-making practices in US-based Black Popular Music since the 1960s. In particular, the project investigates these cross-cultural exchanges in relation to larger global and domestic sociohistorical junctures that linked African American and South Asian diasporic communities, and argues that these Afro-South Asian cultural productions constitute dynamic, complex, and at times contradictory sites of comparative racialization, transformative gender and queer politics, and anti-imperial political alliances.”
“I Don’t Really Know What She’s Sayin’: (Anti)Orientalism and Hop Hop’s Sampling of South Asian Music”
SIDEBAR BECOMES MAIN WORK…
Here’s a story from Powell’s work
Powell charts the link between the lamenting lines of Asha Bhosle (sampled by Just Blaze) and the flippant response from rapper Erik Sermon. The sampling of South Asian music seems to fall into what Powell describes as an early 2000s Indo-chic. The ‘Indian’ aesthetic is utilitzed widely and carelessly to point to a sense of the exotic or oriental. This seems nowhere more evident than in the translation of the sample for the club-ready party hit ‘React’.
“The verse, sung by Asha Bhosle, can be loosely translated as, “If someone has a fondness for suicide, what can one do?,” to which Sermon responds, “Whateva’ she said, then I’m that.”” < Elliot Powell
While Powell suggests that the White orientalist gaze has to be decoupled from the African-American orientalist gaze he still substantiates these critiques. Powell recognises some of the problems.
Of course it has problems.
Using the female-presenting body and voice as an essentialising tool while also minimizing/invisibilizing the labour of the South Asian body < exoticising, homogenising etc etc > Marking South Asian culture as an empty form > a type of commodity that has to have its meaning by-passed because of its illegibility “whateva she said, then I’m that, if this here rocks to y’all then react!”
Powell does not deny these critiques but does complicate them.
He does so by recounting the fact that a year before the release of React, Erick Sermon himself had an alleged suicide attempt.
Powell notes how difficult it was for him to admit it and how he had dissociated from the events that left him in the hospital recovering from various wounds.
One year later, Erick Sermon and Redman are hanging out at the studio and Redman plays a CD of Just Blaze beats. Erick Sermon feels that he doesn’t have a big single on his upcoming album.
There was no conversation between producer and emcee, Erick Sermon just heard the beat and decided that it was the one.
He was immediately struck by it and the next time producer Just Blaze heard the song, it was already a smash hit on the radio.
Powell invokes queer theory and cites this as an example of ‘queer temporalities’, conversations caught between time, unwittingly had, unknowingly needed.
“In the field of rap, I’m superb, I’m fly
I should be in the sky with birds”
Erick Sermon, React
MAIN THREAD RETRIEVED!
Long time-ways from the 12th century sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalander.
But perhaps not > Lal was also known to be ‘fly, in the sky with birds’.
Here is a closing anthem from Qawwali singer Faiz Ali Faiz in homage to the legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who is being readied for further research. The image below shows a flying Laal Shahbaz Qalander who is often likened to a red falcon.
The story of 12th century saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is on pause but set to continue > it’s an incredible story of syncretic religious traditions, long-lasting spiritual practices and it is our link to Amir Khusro < famous South Asian poet and inventor of the tabla > it is our link also to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and straight through to the heart of the South Asia diaspora.
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