Malik Al ash-Shaykh


ABU DHABI — For many of us, hip hop has always been more than just another music genre, a passing trend or temporary lifestyle. It's a cultural movement with deep roots that highlight socio-economic disadvantages, an accreditation to the advancement of civil rights progress, and, in sociological terms, an ongoing challenge to the status quo.

In order to fully appreciate and understand this ever-growing sensation, one has to know and analyze the contemporary in historical context. Hip hop is a movement that includes various elements: rapping, poetry, graffiti, DJing, several forms of dancing and, perhaps most importantly, knowledge. Historically, it was a voice for the voiceless and an art form for oppressed and disenfranchised people wanting to evoke change in their communities and the world around them.

It started with major influences in the South Bronx, New York City, during the early 1970s. In the late 1980s, its popularity spread beyond the African-American community. And by the 1990s, hip-hop grew into an international phenomenon, bringing people from diverse backgrounds onto one common platform.

Fair weather fans

Hip hop has no color, race, religion or gender. It's an inclusive form of art, expressed either lyrically or physically, open to anyone and everyone who is willing to respect the cultural importance associated with it. But in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where I currently live, I see a problem with that.

Most people who listen to hip hop, be it classic, old-school or mainstream, don't know anything about its history and what it stands for. And from my own personal observations, it seems that a lot of people are "ashamed" to admit their admiration for hip hop culture. They openly disassociate themselves from it. I have seen individuals who ordinarily listen to mainstream hip hop on the radio or in their car make fun of and look down on it when in larger crowds.

Emirati DJ Bliss — Photo: Facebook page

Unfortunately, the thought that this versatile music genre only represents crime, vulgar language, homophobia and sexism still exists. This has a lot to do with the way young people are brought up in this part of the world.

Without wanting to profile or generalize, I would say that most people who listen to hip hop in this country/region had relatively comfortable upbringings. Most are educated in private schools, spend a lot of time in malls, and take summer vacations in upper-class areas of Geneva, Paris, London, Milan or New York.

Here is where the distinction between "appreciation" and "appropriation" comes in. In countries such as Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Palestine and Tunisia, the hip hop movement is enormous compared to what exists in the Arab nations in the Gulf. Poverty, inequality, discrimination, and widespread corruption breathes on a large scale across North Africa. This is well-known and well-documented. Artists, as a result, find a voice in hip hop and consumers can genuinely relate to those musicians. And although some of these socioeconomic issues might also exist in the Gulf region, they only represent and affect an absolute minority of residents.

The broad conclusion, therefore, is that because people are well-off, and in most cases rather wealthy in the Gulf countries, there is no need for hip hop culture to become mainstream. This is what leads me to believe that hip hop, as it exists here in the UAE, will never be as big as it is in North Africa, despite the talent that evidently exists in this flourishing land.

Appropriation or appreciation?

In a recent interview with music medium Backspin TV, the Berlin-based German rapper Fler questioned the authenticity of most current artists in the scene. "Fake vs. Real" was the theme of the discussion. Fler, who started off as a graffiti artist and became a successful pioneer in the German hip hop scene, argued that an artist's music should be a product of his/her social circumstances. He stated that while being "fake" may pay off on a commercial level, it is problematic on a cultural level because it ridicules the entire scene.

In Germany, Fler pointed out, most mainstream hip hop artists had comfortable backgrounds. They are university educated and have never suffered from poverty, racial profiling and discrimination. Publicly, however, they come out claiming to be the voice of those that are affected by such issues. As a result, real artists who highlight real issues, faced by real people, are labeled as "clowns' while "outsiders' profit by selling a fake image to the mostly white teenage consumers.

Cover of a Fler album — Source: Aggro Berlin

In a discussion that sparked a nationwide online-debate, most people agreed with Fler. That doesn't mean that hip hop is for the socially disadvantaged only. It simply means that people shouldn't represent themselves as people they're not. They should stick to what they know — to what they've experienced — rather than invent an image for commercial purposes.

Unfortunately, this also results in the creation of privileged young people from upper-class households who start to dress, dance and talk like they are from the Bronx. This kind of behavior can be seen as appropriation rather than appreciation. At present, I can see similar patterns in the UAE. While there is a minority of artists and consumers alike who really stay true to their roots and understand the cultural importance of hip hop, mostly, images and brands are created just to make money.

Positive signs

Having said all of that, there has been some improvements in the past few years. Two events that are making progress in the right direction and certainly caught my attention were the Dubai-based Sole DXB and Slam Fam.

Sole DXB started back in 2010 as a platform for news about footwear, fashion and alternative culture in the Middle East. It also hosts an annual lifestyle fair with hip hop as its main component. Now in its fifth year running, with names such as Moto, Pepsi and Cadillac as official sponsors, it is becoming increasingly important and relevant to the hip hop scene across the region. This year, British grime artist and 2016 Mercury Music Prize Winner Skepta headlined the event and Adidas brought a special guest along, Stormzy.

Slam Fam is slightly different. It's a community-driven project uniting people who have a common love for dance. Their passion for choreography is evident and their aim is to grow the hip hop scene in the Middle East. On its Facebook page, the group says its goal is to organize several annual contests to gather international dancers, graffiti artists, DJs, musicians and freestylers.

A group of us recently covered "Sole DXB" and asked attendees what they think about hip hop in the UAE. Of the more than 50 individuals we spoke with during the two-day event, half said they felt strongly associated with the hip hop movement and culture itself. The other half said they don't know much about hip hop and just enjoy certain components of it.

Clearly, given the equal split in opinion and answers, it's a wider discussion that needs to be held, not only in the UAE but internationally … "for the greater good of hip hop."

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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