Gangsters

Contemporary forms of youth culture illustrate the strength of racial and ethnic grievances, more than religious ones. During the 1980s, new forms of youth culture spread among Europe's ethnic communities, including Muslims but also African and Asian ethnic groups from other traditions. As with Muslims, disaffection was particularly strong among the second generation, who had been born in European nations but who felt alienated from the host societies. These cultures were not necessarily political, still less oppositional, but they increasingly served to differentiate the young both from the mainstream society and their elders. In music, styles and subcultures merged with one another to create innovative fusions. Among the most influential was the Algerian-based Rai culture, which attracted a mass youth following in France and which popularized the image of the hittiste, the unemployed street youth. In England, Indian and Pakistani teenagers horrified their elders by their enthusiasm for Punjabi-based Bhangra music, which became the mainstream pop culture of Asian youth in the 1980s. (Though the music itself was quite inoffensive, it encouraged social and gender mixing.) One of Germany's best-known artists today is the Turkish-descended Muhab-bet, who comes from the rough Cologne neighborhood of Bocklemünd but whose image is clean-cut, socially and politically moderate. His music integrates Turkish and Balkan themes into a rhythm and blues framework to create a style called R'n'B-esk.54

Also influential, though less appealing to conservatives, was American-derived rap and its attendant hip-hop culture, which now has acquired deep roots in France and Germany. American rap was reinforced by African and Caribbean influences and attracted a generation of stars, usually African born, like France's MC Solaar or Menelik, or Britain's FunADaAMental. Germany produced Turkish stars like Eko Fresh and Kool Savas. These artists varied enormously in their degree of politicization, and some, like MC Solaar, fit into the category of best-selling pop.55

Some others, though, explored radical themes, and in a few cases, Islam became a motif, or rather, a symbol of protest. In his 1996 song "Je Suis l'Arabe," French artist Yazid sang:

I'm the Arab, stopping oppression is my mission. The country of secularism doesn't tolerate Islam Unemployment ravages, they talk of immigration And when the banlieue burns, they talk of integration.56

Muslim themes also surfaced in the 1990s in the work of IAM, Imperial Asiatic Men, one of the best known groups, whose adoption of Egyptian names like Akhenaton lays claim to an African-Mediterranean heritage. Their songs often use phrases like Allahu Akbar and Muslim terms like ulema, though the Islam referred to is mystical rather than political. In contrast, in songs like "Mera Mazab," the British-Pakistani FunADaAMental offered abundant references to Islamic warriors, injustice in Palestine, Nubians with jihad on their mind. Lead singer Propa-Gandhi sings,

I was born a Muslim, and I'm still livin' as a Muslim My spirituality determines reality You're running after false gods Forgettin' the true one . . .

There is no other way brother, Allah uh akbar . . .

The song's lyrics incorporate the Arabic text of a whole Quranic sura, number 112, al-Ikhlaas. Using scriptural verses in such a profane context alienated older Muslim community leaders as much as did the religious radicalism and contributed to the ongoing generational struggle in Britain's Pakistani community.57

Even so, such militant religious sentiments stand out because of their relative rarity, in a culture that complained primarily of social and racial injustice. Overwhelmingly, most of Europe's contemporary hip-hop music addresses issues of alienation, deprivation, and frustration. And although people of Arab and north African origin make up a large proportion of the audience for such music, little of the content is overtly Muslim.

At the most extreme was an authentic strand of gangster rap that fantasized openly about violence against symbols of authority. Ironically, the boom in this music was the direct result of a decision by the French government, which in 1994 ordered radio stations to maintain a 40 percent quota of French-language music. This drove record companies to scour the country for local acts, and they found them—though these artists were not what the authorities wanted to hear. Among the starkest, and most obscene was the very popular group NTM, which stands for Nique Ta Mere, roughly "Fuck Your Momma." The group sang, "Screw the police, I sodomize and piss on the law! Our enemies are the men in blue." In 1995, the song "Qu'est-ce qu'on attend" included this warning:

For years everything should have already exploded . . . But you know it's all going to end up badly The war of the worlds, you wanted it, here it is . . . From now on the street will not forgive

We've nothing to lose for we've never had anything to begin with (Nous n'avons rien à perdre car nous n'avons jamais rien eu)58

NTM's artistic efforts led to prosecutions for obscenity and incitements to violence, a tactic also used against other groups like La Rumeur. In 2004, the rap group Sniper won a law case in which they were accused of inciting hatred and violence. In their song "La France," they sang

La France est une garce, on s'est fait trahir . . .

On se fou de la république et de la liberté d'expression

Faudrait changer les lois et pouvoir voir

Bientôt à l'Élysée des arabes et des noirs au pouvoir

Roughly: "France is a bitch and we've been betrayed. . . . Screw France, we don't care about the Republic and freedom of speech. We should change the laws so we can see Arabs and Blacks in power in the Elysée Palace. Things have to explode."59

Other French gangster rappers included 113, who warned "There better not be a police blunder, or the town will go up / The city's a time-bomb / From the police chief to the guy on the street—they're all hated." On Mr. R's album "PolitiKment IncorreKt," his song FranSSe denounced official repression by comparing France to the German SS. He sang, "France is a bitch. . . . Don't forget to fuck her to exhaustion. You have to treat her like a whore, man! . . . My niggers and my Arabs, our playground is the street with the most guns!" In words that sounded prophetic after the rioting of 2005, Alpha 5.20 boasted "Clichy-sous-Bois, it's gangsta gangsta / and Aulnay-sous-Bois, it's gangsta gangsta."60

0 0

Post a comment