My piece for this issue of Somersault:
By Torie Rose DeGhett, who writes freelance about politics and music, and is a contributing arts writer at Aslan Media. (And is also one of Somersault’s two editors.)
“Sharia laaaawwww…” The opening track on The Kominas’ debut album Wild Nights in Guantánamo Bay hits hard at anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, a surreal flash of satire that pounds through your ears. The Kominas pull off being both alienating and alluring at the same time. They have incredible musical talent and lyrics that are harsh and gleeful, but well-chosen. ”Sharia Law in the U.S.A” mocks and ridicules profiling and institutional Islamophobia, jabbing at the radicalizing nature of security measures:
Cops chased me out of my mother’s womb
My crib was in state pen before age two
The cops had bugged my red toy phone
So I devised a plan for heads to roll…
Being Muslim in the US in the twenty-first century has meant an unrelenting scrutiny, a patchwork of stereotype and profiling including the ignorance of public assumption and the direct attack of authorities.
Challenging Islamophobia is a core tenet of the band’s musical purpose. They aim to overturn assumptions about Muslims, and impugn the legitimacy of institutional anti-Muslim sentiment in the US. Guitarist Sunny Ali says “We used the media’s Islamophobia to get attention the same way they used us and continue to use Islam for their headlines. We are also tapping into people’s stereotypes and turning it around on them for our own benefit. Turning a minus into a plus.”
Addressing the world’s myriad minuses with a punchy, invasive musical style has been a theme of theirs since the band’s beginning. (It should be noted that the current membership of the band has undergone lots of shifts since The Kominas started playing.) Among the songs on Wild Nights, their first full-length album, is “Rumi Was a Homo (But Wahhaj is a Fag),” written in response to homophobic comments by Imam Siraj Wahhaj. The logic of using such a slur to hit back at someone for being homophobic is an obvious question, but The Kominas (whose name roughly translates as “the bastards” or “the scumbags”) often make their way on insults and contrarian juxtapositions. This is the same band that sings “I want a handjob” in virtually the same breath as “Subhanallah (Glorious is Allah).” The lyrics from “Rumi Was a Homo,” “Conventional opinion is the ruin of souls/Bhai-jaan it’s my prose I can’t control,” feels like one of the best descriptions of the band itself and its members, using their witty, sarcastic lyrics to escape the ruination of conventionality.
The punk-meets-bhangra mix of sound that The Kominas produce is a jumble, each song shifting up the pace and the tone. Soundwise, they have a great deal of unpredictability. The changes from album to album might come from the membership changes the band has gone through since they first got in people’s faces by calling Rumi a homo, but from song to song they shift up, varying sounds and styles from jarring to smooth. When reached by email, Sunny Ali says that their musical influences are many and ever-changing, starting with a foundational mix of punk, hip-hop and Bollywood and moving on to the “endless crate” that is YouTube, which offers up everything from reggae to psychedelic African rock. It’s the lyrics that make a song one by The Kominas. Sunny Ali notes that in the process of writing, “the lyrics are usually what turns it into an actual song.”
But the prejudice will follow you. What will save you is tacking into the love of the work, into the desire that brought you there in the first place. This creates a suspension of time, opens a spacious room of your own in which you can walk around and consider your response. Staring prejudice in the face imposes a cruel discipline: to structure your anger, to achieve a certain dignity, an angry dignity.
Former software engineer and current author Ellen Ullman had a fabulously thoughtful op-ed in The New York Times about her experiences being female in the tech world, and speaking about the changes she’s noticed (not ones for the better, really) in the world of coding and software for women.
I love this last paragraph (the one quoted above) in particular, partly because it’s so real but also so genuinely hopeful. It has real promise but it casts no illusions over what it means to be female in any sort of man’s world. Ullman is talking about a prejudice that women far afield from the world of coding can instantly understand. It may not be phrased identically, but the language of dismissal, neglect and prejudice is at its heart universally recognizable and understood, as is the process of structuring the reaction to it.
Definitely read the full op-ed.
Be prepared for some wonderful writing on music+politics, and some beautiful artwork.
Check back here to see the issue!
The countdown begins!
it isn’t. It’s the launch of Somersault’s spring music issue/second issue. We’re featuring some gorgeous art and some excellent essays and reporting by talented writers, so a very exciting Tuesday indeed.
Watch for it on our Tumblr!
The Justice Department is pursuing at least two major press investigations, including one believed to be focused on David Sanger’s reporting in a book and in The Times on an American-Israeli effort to sabotage Iranian nuclear works. These tactics will not scare us off, or The A.P., but they could reveal sources on other stories and frighten confidential contacts vital to coverage of government.
Sometimes you get the sense that these magazines’ cultural writers have very little experience with the entire American culture, and prefer to make their grand analyses based on what people they know in the gentrified parts of cities like New York and Los Angeles were talking about at brunch last weekend. The type of young person that magazine writers come across most frequently are magazine interns. Because the media industry is high-status, but, at least early on, very low pay in a very expensive city, it attracts a lot of rich kids. Entitled, arrogant, spoiled, preening — those are the alleged signature traits of Millennials, as diagnosed by countless magazine writers. Those traits curiously align perfectly with the signature traits of a rich kid. Have you seen your intern on Rich Kids of Instagram? If so, he or she is probably not the best guide to crafting the composite personality of a generation that fought three wars for you.
Elspeth Reeve, “Every Every Every Generation Has Been The Me Me Me Generation,” The Atlantic (via andrewtsks)
As a millennial, I’m busy appreciating the fallout from Joel Stein’s article (whose unfairness I’d explain, but why bother when Elspeth Reeve just did). I’d also direct your attention to this post by Matt Bors, in which he said, among other things:
Maligned as a bunch of shiftless, tech-addled children raised to think they’d all get trophies, Millennials are trying to build careers out of the ruins of a job market. Amid a group that’s supposed to be a bunch of entitled kids, all I see around me are young people juggling multiple jobs and unpaid internships while trying to blot their (trigger warning!) student debt from their minds.
Essentially, you can either repeatedly report the accurate and nauseating facts about national student loan debt, ridiculous internships and unpaid work, low minimum wage and un/underemployment in the 18-25 set, OR you can label us a generation of useless, self-obsessed hipsters. And I’m going to stop there, because actually arguing against this article is at this point completely unnecessary (see the entire rest of the Internet for the last three days. I imagine if you just search “uggghhhh” or “shut up joel stein,” they’ll get you to the right places).
Bob Dylan, “To Make You Feel My Love,” live 1998
We [Fraction and his wife, Kelly Sue DeConnick] were pregnant at the time, and while I was out there I started to realize that if I had a daughter,...”
The freelancer’s life is full of options – what time to wake up, which projects to tackle, and whether to put on pants (hint: yes). Well, as Mark...”