French Muslim identity debate played out in hip-hop: NPR


As part of our stories about Muslims in Western Europe, commentator Hisham Aidi, author of the book Rebellious music, talks about how music plays a role in the cultural differences between French Muslims.



BLOCK MELISSA, HTE:

Muslims make up about 7 percent of the population in France. The majority of them live in the greater Parisian suburbs. Many French Muslims find it difficult to define themselves – by nationality, by religion? They say the strict separation of church and state, known as secularism, doesn’t help. Commentator Hisham Aidi says you can hear this frustration in the music young French Muslims listen to. We asked him to share his thoughts for our series on Muslims in Western Europe.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG, “MALIS UNDERSTOOD”)

HISHAM AIDI: This is Mafia K’1 Fry, a hip-hop group from Vitry-sur-Seine, just south of Paris. And this song, “Misunderstood”, is about not belonging and not being accepted in France. I was born here and my name is still an immigrant, says a lyric. It is also a song about colonial history, ghettoization and the sinister housing projects where these artists live. French hip-hop artists have had a difficult relationship with law enforcement for a long time. Rappers have been prosecuted for insulting the police, accused of delaying integration and of using inflammatory language. French politicians cringe when hip-hop artists talk about ghettos. It’s a loaded term, they say – an American label and an American problem. (Spoken foreign language) raps on these ghettos and the undersides of the French dream.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG)

AIDI: But French Muslims are at odds over which music best reflects their experience. In fact, the debate over Muslim identity in France increasingly revolves around music, with different political camps arguing that one style is more conducive to integration than another. If hip-hop fans claim their music undermines their very concepts of secularism and inclusion, their critics argue that French Muslims must go beyond protest and angry lyrics about alienation will only do the trick. ” further isolate the community. They are calling for something less confrontational.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GNAWA)

AIDI: It was the University of Gnawa, and for some French Muslim activists, it is the kind of calming, non-threatening music that can facilitate the integration of young Muslims into the mainstream cultural stream. The rhythms of the Gnawa Brotherhood of Morocco and their Sufi chants, especially when merged with the sounds of the accordion and the piano, convey a gentle and pluralist Islam that can charm the French majority.

(SOUND EXTRACT FROM THE SONG OF THE GNAWA FRATERNITY OF MOROCCO)

AIDI: But critics ask, how will the trance scene (ph) and Gnawa chanting nightclubs (ph) respond to the intention of unemployment that French Muslims face? And then there is raï music, which became popular among young North Africans in the 1980s, the soundtrack of everyday life in Algeria.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG)

AIDI: In the 90s, a number of raï artists went into exile in Paris and they too began to sing about life in the French suburbs.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG, “GOING FAR AWAY”)

AIDI: This song, (foreign language spoken), “Going Far Away”, talks about belonging neither here nor there. Rai artists from North Africa once sang of a ship that would take them across the blue sea to France. Now that they have arrived, they are still waiting for their destination. In the current debate over French Muslim identity, this quarrel over music continues.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG, “GOING FAR AWAY”)

BLOCK: Hisham Aidi is the author of “Rebel Music”.

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