Interview : Al-Thawra

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   There's probably no other word, more known than the 'Al-Thawra' word, in the Arab World, though this Al-Thawra band, is a newly born flame that brings us, a music worth time and effort; A strange Fusion between many genres in a delightful disharmony, An interview with this band was a pleasure.
El Evil Emperor: Al-Thawra, a revolutionary Band indeed, How would you introduce yourselves to our readers, and your fans?

   Al-Thawra: The most important thing to know about us, is that we make music to erode the false dichotomy of east vs. west that's been set up by the mass media in the west. We’re neither here nor there, and we're putting our identity crisis out in the open for everyone to see.
We're here for the Arab kid growing up in Chicago, just as much as we're here for the punk kid slam dancing in a pit in Beirut.
I want people to feel like this are their band, and we appreciate and incorporate the opinions of the people who this music is for.
It's definitely not for us, I can't stand to hear myself on records!!! haha
haha… I'm not really sure where I'm going with this.

Al-Thawra is not only about a fusion of musical styles, blending eastern and western, but it's more importantly about the dialogue of ideas.

El Evil Emperor: What can you tell us about your origins and how does is it influence, or not, your work?

   Al-Thawra: Well, a lot of bands, especially in Metal, spend a lot of time creating pseudonyms, and stage personalities. But for us, the globalized corporate world is faceless enough as it is. As far as we're concerned, people telling their real stories are far more interesting, and so, we play with our identities. I'd rather hear about Sahar being an ex-Hijabi than her wearing corpse paint and screaming about Satan...although that would be pretty funny as well.

I think we play the same role for Arab punks in America, as Rai musicians do for kids living in the projects in France, or at least I hope we do someday.

El Evil Emperor: Although Sahar with Hijab and Corpse Paint at the same time would be a nice Idea.
Moving on to the next point, within which genre do you define / tag yourselves?

   Al-Thawra: I'm not really sure where we fit into the grand scheme of things. I mean, as far as genres are concerned, it's really about what other people define you as, and not so much as what you define yourself as.
It's kind of contradictory to the whole point of our band in some sort of way, I mean, you might have a band that you consider to be punk, but you sound like jazz, and so others will think of you as a jazz band.
Our fusion is so weird for so many western people... Especially with the Arab rhythms and scales, that they automatically slap an experimental label on us.
The best description we've heard came from the globe & mail newspaper in Canada, they said we sounded like a death metal band crashing through a Beirut speakeasy..... I think that's somehow appropriate.

El Evil Emperor: I'll rephrase my question:
Do you see yourselves as Taqwacores? Or more like your own Rai-Core, referring to Rai music, and was this tag defined by you Marwen? Due to your Algerian Origins probably?

   Al-Thawra: I'd say it's kind of Middle Eastern, experimental, doom/crust punk.
I made up the Raicore thing, because I couldn't think of what else to call it. But it has some relevance. Sahar, Micah, and I were all highly influenced by Rai musicians like Rachid Taha, … etc, and in a lot of ways, Rai is like the true punk music of the middle east, in the sense that it's rebellious, I mean, even Cheb Hasni was stabbed by fundamentalists for speaking out against them, but when Mike knight came along and showed me his book 'The Taqwacores', I felt like it kind of had some relevance to what we're doing as well. I can tell you that we didn't feel like the majority of punks and metalheads that came to shows as we were growing up,
You always felt different in some way, and so, we were surrounded by a lot of Latino Mexican punks that were speaking about their own identities on the Southside, here in Chicago. I think that we kind of took that idea and applied it to Arab kids.
This might have all turned out differently if we were in your situation. this music is definitely not something that would be written by someone in Cairo.

El Evil Emperor: Indeed. Since we mentioned Mike and his book, let's discuss Taqwacore: Allah, Amps and Anarchy, how far would you agree on this description for it?

   Al-Thawra: Those titles are so fucking stupid! I mean, all of us got tokenized in some way. It was like the authors wrote those articles before they even spoke to any of us.
They basically treated us like some kind of museum curiosity. It’s almost like they were confused to see Middle Eastern youths acting normal, at least as far as the rest of the Taqwacores are concerned as well. It’s like the journalists expected that we'd be like making Duaa and preparing ourselves for Jihad instead of writing music.
I don't know, I'm kind of conflicted about the whole thing.
And a lot of people don't understand the Taqwacore thing, they don't get that it's a middle finger in both directions.

El Evil Emperor: I see, well Newspapers and magazines can be real cunts sometimes. How influenced are you by Muhammad Knight's The Taqwacores?

   Al-Thawra: Well, at the beginning, I started this project. Around the time that Mario and I started jamming together, mike knight got in contact with me. Actually, this may have been a little before that...
I don't remember right now. But anyways, mike sent the book to me in the mail.
I guess shahj, or one of those guys, the Kominas band, found our page, and they showed it to mike, we started talking about doing a tour together, Mario couldn't go, so I went by myself, I taught the songs to the Kominas, and we played on the road a bit, we played most of the shows on the tour.

El Evil Emperor: What do you expect for the Taqwacore movement? Grow, evolve?

   Al-Thawra: Hopefully, I think that now that kids in Malaysia have heard of it, I think it has the possibility of being huge, there are thousands of punks in Malaysia and Indonesia and since it's a Muslim country, i think that a lot of the kids there get it. They’ve always been Taqwacore, mike basically gave it a name, and enable all these people doing the same thing to get together, that's who those kids are, though, in Malaysia/Indonesia.

It's like mike said, "What do you called Chinese food in china? It’s just food." so if we ever go there, we'd just be punk bands.

El Evil Emperor: Let's discuss your music. How do you make yours? The Experimental way or you do compose?

   Al-Thawra: It happens a lot of different ways. Sometimes, we'll pick a rhythm and a maqam / scale, and just jam until we find a part that we really like, and then we'll go from there.
Other times, we'll make loops out of old Arabic tapes slowed down, or other interesting sounds, and then we'll just write a song on top of it.

El Evil Emperor:  The lyrics? What are the main themes, and which messages do you want to convoy through your songs?

   Al-Thawra: It's mostly political in content, but they're told in a more personal way, like poetry. so, we're not trying to get anyone to think like us, but instead, we're telling them to speak for themselves, because, ultimately, the reason why so many people feel disaffected by today's society, is because they feel like robots, they don't relate to anything they're doing in their life.

El Evil Emperor: Most, if not all of your songs contain parts of Speeches in Arabic dialects, what do you want this to reflect?

   Al-Thawra: Well, we're sampling a lot of the speeches, because they're just outrageous things that people say, at other times, it's been samples of Iraqis talking about how they feel about the war, like in El Miedo, on our full-length "Who Benefits from War?", it's some lady being interviewed about if she was scared about the invasion before it happened, she says, "Am I afraid? What fear? I'm afraid of their greed for our wealth" and it's got some samples of Khaliji, pearl divers' tribal music, most Arabic music the world knows is just that over-produced pop music, not the real stuff, like Arabic folk music.

El Evil Emperor: I see, moving on about your Band: Did you have any lineup changes along the way?

Al-Thawra: No. not really, we're going to try to add someone who will be in charge of samples, keyboard… etc

El Evil Emperor: Let's talk about next releases; tell us about your new material.

   Al-Thawra: Well, since we're still working on it, we're not sure how it's going to sound yet. I mean, we're working on the premise that the whole CD will basically be one piece of music, more or less, like some kind of fucked up, middle eastern, concerto with a lot of different movements.
The new music is a bit more dynamic than our old stuff, it's of course got the super heavy parts, but we've also got parts that are more minimal and concentrate more on deff, derbeke, shababeh, nayy, … etc.  It's more poetic in a way, I mean, our first album was more based on a drone concept. when we were writing that, we were listening to a lot of Sufi music, and so, we took the idea of a musical trance and did it with distortion through repetition that's why there's so many layers, so, when you zone out listening to the music, you always hear new stuff.
But this new record is going to be different. it's more like one piece of music, but with a lot of tempo changes, we got the concept for an entire album being one piece of music, because of the fact that we've been working a lot with experimental artists, that collaboration record we did with winters in Osaka, "wasteland," really opened our minds to thinking about music in different ways.
By the way, we want to come to Tunisia, we probably wouldn't be able to come until like next year though... and we might come with some Arab hip-hop artists...

El Evil Emperor: Shaytan Productions, and Shaman Records for the moment? But are you considering the option of a Label?

Al-Thawra: Well, we don't really even have a label. we signed to Shaytan for two records, and we just do some releases with shaman records, because it's our friend Karlos' label, We don't have an exclusive release contract with anyone, really.
We still operate as a punk band, so Shaytan Productions is kind of a new step for us, we've never had to sign contracts, we never got paid a percentage of sales, etc; it's great though, Metal guys take their shit seriously.

El Evil Emperor: If you were to convoy a Message to both parties of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, what would you say? And which do you see the most pragmatic solution to the War?
Al-Thawra: A lot of people are fixated on our discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I mean, talking about the Arab world without discussing the issue, though, is unavoidable. It is a big open sore that never seems to heal. So, it's somewhat reasonable that people ask.
It is also very difficult to talk about the issue without getting slandered, labeled, and pigeon-holed by someone, no matter what side you're on. So, in our case, it is hard to say that we are pro-Palestinian, without having someone make us look like we're some kind of Wahhabi pieces-of-shit. There's so much dogmatic propaganda on each side.
So, here's our stance: We are pro-Palestinian, but we are not anti-Israeli. A lot of people don't understand that concept, because they think that one is at the behest of the other, but that is because their minds are so conditioned to think in Nationalistic terms. We believe in people empowering themselves, and also not doing it at the expense of others. So, the national liberation of the Palestinians is very important.
Many anarchopunk bands come at the conflict from a purely political standpoint, and not a personal standpoint. It's more important to tell your own stories than to just talk about shit that you read about in a book, but really don't know about. It comes back to the whole idea that it's easy to talk about something in a comfortable situation. In the West, we don't know about what it's like to have your neighborhood rocketed by American-made helicopters, but we DO know what it's like to benefit from the riches that are benefited from keeping the Middle East unstable. When discussing the Palestinian conflict, the media always makes these crazy generalizations about Arabs having something in our culture that makes us a violent people, and makes us prone to terrorism. But the truth is much simpler. A lot of those extremist groups build their political power by providing services that the government doesn't provide, like food, shelter, etc. And if you're hungry, of course you'll choose to support someone who is feeding your over someone who is dropping bombs on your head. So, that's what this conflict is really about. By starting a war on terrorism, or the Israelis conducting anti-terror raids, all that they are doing is encouraging more violence.
But ultimately, no one REALLY benefits from war. Someone just needs to stop the cycle of violence and endless victimization. We just want peace, and the empowerment of the Palestinians.
I think if the punks were in charge, we'd be able to make peace with some Israeli punks. But then again, if the punks were in charge, we'd probably just do away with countries all-together! HAHA

El Evil Emperor: How is the local Punk & Metal Scene? And What was your contribution to improve it?
   Al-Thawra: The scene in Chicago is amazing. There are a lot of people doing some really great bands doing original music. I think that people are so concentrated on New York and LA, that they often overlook the music scene here. So, you have a bunch of talented bands that don't really get that much exposure, work all week, and just make music on the side. It's good though, because the music is earnest and honest. I feel like there's a lot less of that industry shit here.
The other thing is that we have a scene that is pretty strong in supporting identity politics. During the 90's until today, there's been a huge Latino punk scene here in Chicago, with bands like Los Crudos. A good portion of the people at punk shows are not white kids like in other cities, so Chicago's unique in that way. It was the natural environment for us, and when we started a band that focuses on being Arab, people were really into it.
I feel like that kind of encouragement is good for growth. By providing the environment, we're able to give space to other Arab kids to talk about themselves.
We mainly contribute by providing entertainment in exchange for beer, though.

El Evil Emperor: Thank you, it's been a pleasure, the closure is yours.

   Al-Thawra: Yeah. Thanks for everything. We also have to give special thanks to Karim Ben Khelifa, Karim Badawi, and Chris Dilts for the photos; Michael Muhammad Knight for connecting all of us through his book, "The Taqwacores," and everything else; the Kominas; Omar Waqar; Amador from No Slogan; Eyesteelfilms/Omar Majeed for having us in the documentary; Eyad Zahra for the new film we're going to be in; Usama Al-Shaibi for letting us use his footage for video loops; Toufic El Rassi for his great graphic novel, "Arab in America," and letting us use his truck to get around; Karlos Punky from Shaman Records; Shaytan Productions; and everyone else we may have forgotten. And finally, our biggest thank you goes out to those who feel the same way we do wherever you are, in Beirut, Damascus, Cairo, Sfax, New York, or wherever else you are, this music is really for you. Up the punx! Wa keman, salam wa hurriye le kil el nas bil sharq el awsat, nahna ma3kum.

Par El Evil Emperor


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