Music Between Cultures

    About Fikrun

    Fikrun wa Fann was a cultural magazine published by the Goethe Institute from 1963 to 2016 that supported and shaped the cultural exchange between Germany and Islamic countries. Together with the publishing of the last issue, “Flight and Displacement” (issue 105), in autumn of 2016 the maintenance and updating of this online portal was ceased.

    ‘Klash’: King of Saudi Arabian Rap
    The Voice of Rejection, Rebellion, and Curse of Jeddah

    This article is about ‘Saudi rap’ and its development as an art of protest in Jeddah, the immigrant capital. It also examines the characteristics of the new Saudi culture, the art of rap and what sets it apart from the other Saudi forms of singing.

    ‘The Commission for Investigation and Prosecution referred the famous band “Klash” to indictment with a list of accusations that included the assembly of a group of young people who write and perform songs containing swearwords, curses, and mocking language that target particular social strata (blacks and urbanised city dwellers). The court accepted the case with the intent to begin prosecution in two weeks…’

    Some Saudi eyes read this news in the local newspaper Ukaz, but perhaps no one noticed at the time that this news with its call for a malicious lawsuit targeted the young rapper ‘Klash’ (Mohammed al-Ghamdi, born 1986). Klash is a founding member of the rap band ‘Boys of the West’. He was targeted because of the famous three-part rap song ‘The Goal’, and the song ‘Dogs of Jeddah’, as well as for other songs not written by him. He was imprisoned for three months between 2007 and 2008.

    This incident revealed that, at the start of the twenty-first century, Saudis discovered that their children have led them to the heart of a confrontation with themselves and with their own society, one that contrasts with the preoccupations of international public opinion that regard Saudi Arabia as the nucleus that produces terrorism, ideological extremism, jihadi Islam and antagonism par excellence toward the Other.

    Klash’s fame has vied with that of Osama bin Laden (who was murdered in the midst of the Arab revolutions in 2011). This young man, or rapper, has become a ‘crowned king’ on the worldwide web and its forums, and one of the most influential and frequently viewed young people on YouTube in 2010. He was able to transform himself into a symbol. His name inspired the creation of websites and forums, and satellite channels sent him eager invitations to participate in dialogues and interviews. His participation often promoted these channels and increased the number of their television programme viewers (Between You and Me [Beini wa Beinak], part 3, mbc, Ramadan 2009).

    The Mermaid and her people

    It seems that the fable, rather than the legend, of the presence of Eve’s grave in the city of Jeddah categorically denies it the art of rap, an art that has evolved to express the anxiety of place, memory, identity, and history.

    Klash, Abbadi, Qusai and Mooony are the names of the rappers. Or, going by the names of the bands: Boys of the West, Wakr al-Asfour [‘Sparrow’s Lair’], Asatir Jeddah [‘Legends of Jeddah’] - all names that express the identities of Jeddah’s children.

    Jeddah obtained its nickname, ‘Mermaid’ [Huriyyah], from its location on the Red Sea. It is a name indicative of its cultural importance, which enabled it to inculcate a particular image of itself in the collective memory of its people. The city does not enjoy a long history. It was founded on the margins of older cities out of economic necessity. 

    Jeddah is the city of immigrants par excellence. Perhaps all big cities are immigration cities, and later transform into cities of stability and transformative growth. Yet Jeddah is more like a harbour between two holy cities, Mecca and Medina. The first is the God city; the second is the Prophet city. Jeddah is also the second face for both of these holy cities. It is the city with the desecrated face. This desecration is a reflection of the states of prohibition, concealment, repression that seep into it from the backdoor of these two cities, especially from Mecca.

    Jeddah was a city of desecration before becoming - and continuing to be - a city of the immigrants, who form its state of disorder that is characterised by fear, commotion, and anxiety. It is a city of shock and crisis. In this manner, it is able to provide its immigrants with opportunities to reorder life by passing through this disorder toward ‘rebirth’. It also assists them in developing their productive abilities.
    Everyone who has known (or, rather, studied) the city of Jeddah - including historians and travellers such as the judge Najm al-Din al-Maliki (d. 1388) in his first publication on Jeddah, Tanassum al-Zahr al-Ma’nous ‘ann Thaghri Jeddah al-Mahrous, the Persian Nassir Khasru Qabadiani (1004-1088), or the Swiss writer Jean-Louis Burckhardt (1784-1817), in addition to more recent scholars of sociology, political science, and economics - stresses that Jeddah is a city of immigration and commerce. It is a centre that has become a human magnet, and has transformed over the ages into a city of global citizenship. It is no surprise, then, that Jeddah is currently the stronghold of economic and diplomatic activity in the Hijaz region.

    Perhaps the most important economic transformation that began attracting new citizens to Jeddah was the 1974 oil boom, when economic activities developed in the city and demands for a new lifestyle prompted new migrations from the Saudi interior, as well as the recruitment of Asian manpower (organised migration) to fill a set of jobs in the service sector, such as medicine, tourism, and banking.  

    However, uncontrolled or arbitrary migration was also evident, although this began in the mid-twentieth century, when Jeddah moved beyond its basic developmental needs into prosperity. By then, it had transformed into a big city with isolated suburbs formed by waves of migration from Asia (India, Pakistan, and Indonesia) and Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, and Nigeria). These ethnic groups formed subaltern cultures, turning themselves into isolated islands that did not assimilate into the mainstream society of Jeddah. Public and private institutions were also unable to incorporate these groups or provide them with services. By declining to adapt to the needs of these groups, they were driven further into new forms of poverty and ignorance that characterise subaltern Jeddah society. These are Jeddah’s proliferating societies, its numerous dissonant faces. Today Jeddah lives with an Asian-Indonesian face, an Asian-Turkish face, an African face, an Arab-Syrian face and an Arab-Egyptian face. 

    As a result, a culture of ‘whatever’, of pretending not to know what is happening or that what is happening is not worthy of one’s attention, has developed. It is a culture that resembles the culture of apathy with its conception of ‘coolness’, a trend that was common among black men in the United States during the age of slavery. 

    The culture of apathy is a reflection of social unrest. It is a negative behaviour that prompts lack of commitment to social and legal matters. At the same time, it prompts the intensification of mechanisms of compulsive control such as laws and methods of socialisation. It also intensifies masked forms of control such as customs, traditions, and conventions, which reflect the state of non-citizenship and instability of the people. There are multiple forms of estrangement in Saudi Arabian culture. This estrangement is a subsidiary state of being that has resulted due to the transition from a traditional, cooperative society toward a contractual, globalised society.

    The first form of alienation was expressed in a song called ‘Strangers’ (1975) by Talal Maddah (1941-2000). It is interesting to note that the songwriter is from Jeddah. He is the poet Muhammad al-Abdullah al-Faisal, who is also a prince. The composer of this song’s music is Sarraj Umar, of Yemeni-Hadrami descent, and the singer is of Egyptian-Hadrami origins. We can also cite another example to illustrate the common characters of the cities of the Arabian Gulf as cities of immigration. The song ‘Stranger’ (1972) is by the Kuwaiti poet Badr Borsali, who is of Indian descent. The musical composer of this song, Abd al-Rabb Idris, is of Yemeni-Somali descent, and the singer, Abdul Karim Abdul Qadir, is of Iraqi-Najdi descent.

    During the last third of the twentieth century this generation was able to consolidate its talents and cooperate to produce its corpus only as a result of long periods of serious attempts at building an identity compatible with an unfamiliar reality. This collective artistic identity worked to comprehend its contexts through the various art forms that it developed in order to express ‘a form of communication and dialogue amongst one other’.

    The aforesaid reveals the city’s combative face. It presents it as a battleground that requires learning mechanisms of defence and attack simultaneously, possibly through the discourses of popular forms of speech such as jokes, parables, aphorisms, puns, irony, and insider sarcasm. The different forms of art deceive one another. For instance, whereas the dominant culture manages to impose its language, syntax, and poetic styles on rap, the musical style as well as the rhythm and its variations are not from the same cultural origins as the lyrics. Multicultural cities provide the opportunity to form isolated identity components, but they also synthesise a new identity of a global nationality.

    Synthesis of the expressions of rejection

    If the traditional forms of performance art such as secular songs and religious chants are creative expressions of the various human states in poetic forms and musical patterns and various melodic forms and rhythm, they did not occur outside the frameworks of communication with the beloved, the travails of love, and celebrations like engagement, wedding, and the birth of a new child; or the frameworks of spiritual communication during religious chanting, through the invocation of God and praising the Prophet and his virtues.

    The art of literary writing invented a variety of genres, going beyond the literary heritage of maqama and the traditional form of the poem with its set topics of romance, eulogy and elegy and moving toward the modern forms of the short story, the novel, and free verse. Modern literature also broached topics such as national ideology, the employment of myth, and the metaphor of everyday life. By the same token, new literary schools appeared such as the romantic school, the symbolic, the realist, the modernist, and the post-modernist. Likewise, the art of singing went beyond its traditional forms of mawwal and muwashshah, among others, to the new song with its folk, romantic, and dramatic colours.

    However, the pop song, which is the antithesis of traditional, folk, and modern song, acquired a commercial quality that indicated political control. As a result, it turned into a single style with cheap ideas, and became limited and repetitive. It formed a gap in the reception of innovative suggestions in alternative song, and it became alienated from the legacy of traditional and folk culture. It also undermined the taste of the old, and deformed the taste of children and adolescents. It invalidated the social fabric by turning it into endless atoms as [people] lose their commitment to the small social groups and become unable to interact with each other successfully. Instead, people become isolated, connecting only on the level of totalitarian official ideology, politicised mainstream media, and charlatan intellectuality.

    The art of Arabic rap music first appeared as a marginal, alternative art that underwent a rupture with the past. However, there are evident attempts by rap artists to vindicate it by tracing it back to the art of Arabic poetry, especially to what is known as antithetical poetry (eighteenth century CE), which relied on the subjects of satire, slander, and humiliation of the foe by exposing his defects and errors while at the same time expressing pride in noble origins, heroic acts, and virtuous conduct such as hospitality toward strangers and protection of the weak.
    We could add to classical Arabic antithetical poetry the colloquial Qaltaform. This is a product of folk culture that dates back to the sixteenth century or earlier. It is related to the colloquial Nabati form, as it constituted one of the poetic-musical styles that were performed with music through the collaborative participation of two poets. It consists of a rhythm and a simple form of dancing (foot stamping and hand clapping).

    One of the members of the Egyptian band ‘Arabian Knights’ mentioned, by way of justifying the development of this kind of art, that rap goes back to the sixth-century Arabic poetry of boasting of the days of the Ukaz market. The rapper Klash also confirmed this by tracing rap back to the ancient Arabic poetry of satire.

    Both points of view represent a perspective that reduces the role of rhythm and music to contemporary forms of communicating with the world through a common art medium transmitted by globalised Africans. These Africans were not authentically African when they conjured up this art in the United States through the coming together of various artists of mixed origins, from both the east and the west coasts of the United States. The most prominent of those who were behind transforming rap into a form of singing was the Jamaican Kool Herc (b. 1955).

    The development of rap took two trajectories. The first was a line of African folk poets who addressed social and political issues related to discrimination against blacks, teenage pregnancy, and the brutality of the police, whereas the second was a group of rappers that depicted the crime scene and the life of gangsters. What is most noticeable about rap, be it Afro-American or Arab, is that it deals with human themes that concern the lives of marginal people, as well as crime, violence, discrimination, and racism.

    Nonetheless, we may consider rap, as well as jazz and blues before it, to be forms of art that developed due to the coming together of several factors, one of which is the African factor. And since American culture is a culture of transmission and assimilation, it is possible to take the Arab factor as one of the geo-artistic layers (the basic foundation of the history of art) for these three forms of art. If we recall accurately, the Africans who immigrated to America or were forcefully transported there were previously slaves under the Arabs of Andalusia (711-1492 CE), perhaps also slaves under the Bani Hilal and Bani Salim tribes who spread throughout North Africa during the Fatimid period (969-1171 CE), and they transmitted the culture of their masters, among which was the Arabic component of melodies and vernacular poetic conventions of Bedouin poetry (also known as Nabataean). This included the aforementioned Qalta poetry, which is an art of poetic dialogue.

    Perhaps the advent of the white American rapper Eminem (b. 1972) has resolved the issue of the overlap of several factors and races to create a form of art. It was as if the death of two legendary rappers, Tupac (d. 1996) and B.I.G. (d. 1997), paved the way for this white rapper to lead the black art of rap music. This phenomenon gave the white world the gift of discovering the treasures of black culture that were hidden within it. Perhaps this is also a reminder of how jazz, blues, and rock and roll were transmitted from the blacks to the whites. The sociologist Paul Gilroy comments that ‘it has been a long time since we have gone beyond the exclusive adherence to authentic publishing in American culture’. This statement about American culture can be extended to the nature of culture in the world of multicultural cities. 

    According to the Algerian rapper Rabah Ourrad, rap music is the descendent of rai music that is in the process of dying. Yet the political reason for the spread of rap music in Algeria as an expression of protest and rejection has the events of 1988 as its backdrop: the day thousands of students and young unemployed people took to the streets to protest against the high food prices and the dilapidated education system during the era of President Chadli Bindjedid (president 1979-1992). The Algerian army killed five hundred of these protesters. On the other hand, according to Tamer Alnaffar, member of the Palestinian band ‘DAM’, the band formed because of the ‘drugs and killings in al-Lydd [in Ramallah], which have become a daily routine’.

    The globalization of the new slaves

    Arab rap music highlights the personalities of young Arab artists who represent images of migration and exile, criticism, social and political rejection, as well as the non-professional artistic margins. Thus, Arab rap music came of age in the context of perpetual acts of violence or discriminatory marginalisation with regard to age groups or gender.

    We witness young Palestinians (often in the refugee camps of Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories) who experience persecution, internal exile, and the impossibility of a homeland. They are represented by the following: Fareeq al-Atrash, Battalion 5, I-Voice, MC Walled, and DAM. Likewise, we witness the same experience among Arab immigrants (Tunisians, Algerians, and Moroccans) in Europe (France, Belgium, and Holland) in terms of their chronic alienation, lack of integration, and social, political, and juridical exclusion. We see this clearly in the work of the Dutch rapper Salah Edin (of Moroccan-Algerian descent) who toured the world with the American rappers Wu-Tang Clan. We also see that Jeddah - the city of eternal immigrants, the other, non-sacred face that the two sacred cities carry in a state of peace, compassion, and tolerance - is also the city of discordant immigrants, of the multiple, incompatible cultures from the Asian East and the African West and the peninsular South (from the interior of the Arabian peninsula), and the intense intolerance in their perpetual anxiety and confusion. This is the city that will give birth to the rappers Qusai Kheder (b. 1978) and Klash.

    The Palestinian band ‘DAM’ came on the scene with its first song ‘Stop Selling Drugs’ (1998) and its second work ‘Who’s the Terrorist?’ (2001). The famous Moroccan-Egyptian singer Samira Said performed, as a rap song, ‘May God Help, How Do I Love’ which was one of the songs of her famous album Day After Day (2002). The Saudi rapper Qusai Kheder produced The Life of a Lost Soul (2002) in the United States. Urban Legacy produced Rebirth of Kamelion: American-Made (2005). After DAM, the Egyptian band MTM appeared in 2003 with a musical album that contained a sarcastic song called ‘My Mom Is Away’, along with a famous video clip. Soon afterwards, it was followed by the popular song ‘My Phone Is Ringing’ (2004). The Egyptian rapper MC Amin appeared suddenly and successively in more than one album, such as Black Attack (2006), Arab Rap Soldiers (2007), Desert Saga (2008), and Hiroshima (2009).

    The singer Mohamed Hamaki invited the Dutch rapper Berry Mystic to collaborate with him on his song ‘Best Thing About You’, from the album We’re Done Talking (2006). The band Arabian Knights worked on songs that were written for Egyptian movies, such as the song ‘Life Is If’ for the film Fish Garden (2008). The band also joined the actor Ahmad Fishawi in a song for the film Code Paper (2008). Samira Said teamed up with the Moroccan band Fnaire to perform the song ‘Be a Winner’ (2010). The band Y-Crew wrote a song called ‘We’re Too Many’ for the film Microphone (2011).

    The band Battalion-5 produced its first album, Welcome to the Refugee Camps (2008), and their second, One Decreed Road (2011). The Lebanese band Fareeq al-Atrash produced its untitled first album in 2011. Qusai Kheder produced two more works, Don Legend the Kamelion (2008) and Experimental Edutainment (2010). On his last album he collaborated with the singers Abdul Fattah Jraini and Muna Amrsha on the song ‘Any Given Day’ (2010).

    There are Arab rappers and rap bands that appear and become famous without producing albums, although they promise to do so without succeeding. One such famous rapper is the Tunisian Hamada ben Amor (known as El General) with his song ‘President, Your People Are Dying’, which he released days after the start of the Jasmine Revolution, criticising President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who subsequently fled the country. The Egyptian band Arabian Knight released their song ‘Rebel’ as an aggressive response when the Egyptian rebels were deprived of communications media on January 25th-27th 2011. The main protagonist of this study, Klash, has since 2004 been able to test his talents and abilities in Arab Gulf rap contests featuring a group of Saudi youth of his generation, such as Abbadi, who beat Klash in 2002, B.A.Z., Klash’s own band Boys of the West, and some young Arab men from Egypt and Jordan. His success enabled him to flourish in 2007, when he was able to move beyond club halls into Bluetooth and YouTube with songs that engraved his legendary name on the memory of a whole generation of Saudi Arabian teenagers and youths.

    Champions of the margins

    Klash, which is the abbreviated form of his stage name ‘Kalashnikov’, was able to form a broad base for several reasons. His fame was due only in part to the obscenity and degradation he incorporated into violent and rebellious songs, such as ‘Goal’, ‘Dogs of Jeddah’ and ‘Jeddah’s Crisis,’ and to the celebratory, subservient and domesticated feel of some songs such as ‘Mother’ and ‘Union’.  The deeper reasons for his success can probably be understood best by listening carefully to samples of other bands and rappers and making the following comparisons:

    1. His different manner of performance, which takes into consideration stress, intonation, variation in poetic phrasing, dialogue, commentary, and imitation of various voices and dialects to align with the social and ethnic classes of people depicted in the songs.
    2. The uniqueness of his lyrics, which do not reiterate conventional poetic formulas or borrow from others. I also notice that his lyrics exhibit a wide range of rhythms and end-rhymes.
    3. Fighting back against the enemy (destroying the other side). The rapper Klash succeeds in crushing his opponents with knockdown strikes in the style of hook punches in boxing, as though rap were a form of verbal boxing.
    4. The improvement of sound engineering and musical and rhythmic distribution, which reflect the combined and well-concerted efforts of the composer, the DJ, and the professional distributer. This makes the production of Klash’s rap songs a special process.

    What has been written about Klash and his band Boys of the West confirms this. His imprisonment in 2007 became a positive phenomenon that fortified his image not only as a Saudi rapper but first and foremost as an Arab rapper.

    We can follow the trajectory of his output since its beginning in 2003 on the sites of Qatar Rap and UAE Rap, as well as his participation in challenge contests with rappers from the Arab Gulf. This could be the earliest beginnings of the history of Saudi rap, when the association of Saudi Arabian rap was founded by the rapper 2 MAM (who is from the south and currently lives in Khobar in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia). It was named KSA Connection, and hosted under this banner the rappers Abbadi (the true founder of Saudi rap, from Medina), Satam, Mooony, and the bands Boys of the West and Boys of Mecca.

    All of these Saudi rappers have participated in challenge contests with rappers from the UAE and Kuwait, and their names have been released on the internet. Klash and his band collaborated with Abbadi (who would later become the founder of the band Hell Committee) against Abbadi’s opponents. Sometimes these oppositions expose an incompatibility of personalities that reveals differences in social and economic class, which in turn accentuates the particular challenge that instigates each of the rappers. Economic, social and cultural differences are usually the motives behind these electronic battles.

    For example, Mooony (real name Aimen, from Jeddah, originally from the city of Jazan) collaborated with the band Sparrow’s Lair, led by Hashim Qazzaz (from a prominent Hijazi merchant family), despite the weakness of the works produced by the band against Klash and The Boys of the West. Klash, on the other hand, collaborated with Abbadi in order to wage this war. Both Mooony and Sparrow’s Lair have songs in which they attack and insult the ‘Surub’, a new colloquial Hijazi reference to Bedouins. Surub is a new pejorative term that parallels the old expression ‘Shrouq’, which also refers pejoratively to the Bedouins, whereas the people of Hijaz (Jeddah, Mecca and Taif), as seaside dwellers and descendants of pilgrims, are considered intruders and newcomers to the Arab peninsula. The dwellers of the southern region are called ‘07’ in reference to the area code of the region. According to a social analyst, this phenomenon reflects the ‘hegemony of language systems’ as a subset of political ideology. The rappers also condemned several of their characteristics such as their ‘filthy appearance,’ their social hypocrisy, and bad taste. Although Klash was immersed in his Gulf competitions, he did not miss what had been said. He himself was attacked directly, prompted by his rivals’ envy of his success and fame, in songs that described him (and the band Sparrow’s Lair) using derogatory appelations such as ‘the servant’, or ‘the grilled chicken’, alluding to his origins outside of Jeddah and Hijaz and his humiliating social position as a servant. He got back at them by showing off his artistic prowess: ‘Klash al-‘amm ysakkir al-famm’. Yet these confrontations did not worry Klash much, so he left the matter to Abbadi and the members of his band, Boys of the West.

    However, behind the ‘Goal’ trilogy that made him famous is a story that did not emerge from the context of challenge, and which he did not release through internet forums but rather through mobile phones. After releasing his three songs, he said: ‘First, the songs that I sing I only release through Bluetooth and not through internet forums. The idea of the song came after an incident in one of the resorts that no self-respecting person could have ignored. Of course I was displeased about what happened, and that prompted me to compose this song.’

    Klash represents the image of a Saudi personality of the kind that has been formed by a state of erasure and addition according to social, political and economic shifts. He deals seriously with his art and works continuously on developing his abilities. I see him, along with Qusai Kheder, who is ahead of him in terms of the years spent in the world of underground rap with his band ‘Legends of Jeddah’, dealing with art and business in his work with extreme responsibility.

    After his release from prison, Klash was able to appear publicly in the media on the Lebanese satellite channel LBC in 2008 on the programme Red in Bold Font, and on the culture channel of Saudi television in 2010. He came to represent the role model of a Saudi artist who differs greatly from his contemporaries who represent traditional and folk culture, such as Abdul Majid Abdullah, Rabih Saqar, Abbas Ibrahim, and Rakan.

    Rap songs are classified according to their topics and their style of presentation. If Klash locates himself in the world of underground rap, and in the old school of rap, he is doing so to distinguish between the songs of Diss, or what is known among the historians of rap music as rebellious rap, and between ‘clean’ or purposeful rap, which is also known as ‘domesticated’ rap.

    However, whatever his reasons or motives for writing his debut songs - the Goal trilogy - these showed him to be bigger than he had expected: someone who would crown the current of Saudi rap. And although he stands as one of the legends of Arabic rap, he nonetheless represents a black culture that is repressed in Islamic Arab society. Klash has made no attempts to reverse or modify this, because rap is an art of black descent.

    In addition to representing the black image, he also confesses in the isket (lyrics) that he is a son of the Ghamid tribe of the south (‘Asir region), and uses the vernacular expression ‘07’ in the defiant phrase, ‘Ghamid wa al-qalb jamid 07 li-l-abad’ (‘Bravely a Ghamid, 07 forever’). In doing so he portrays the image of a repressed culture that was transported via the art of rap, a ‘black’ art that emerged out of racism and gangster life. He adds to it the image of repressed Saudi culture in two parallel lines: the image of the son of the south who is scorned by mainstream Saudi culture, and the image of the outsider with the rebellious personality who cannot belong to Hijazi society.

    He was also able to construct the image of the angry, violent rapper through the image of the non-integrated Bedouin (of southern origins, from the Ghamid tribe) with his rebellious personality existing within Hijazi or Jeddah societies. In one song, ‘The Goal’, he combines (or confronts) the anger of Jeddah’s cosmopolitan society towards its young men and women, and the anger of homosexuals, making dual generalisations and applying them to their silent sufferings as negative, or ‘cool’, personalities. He presents a singular image of their behaviour, rather than their instincts alone, in a crude hybrid manner (dishevelled hair, lewdness on the street, absence of honour, superficial education), and the anger of the culture of the educated cosmopolitan (heedless of the conditions of tribe honour and lineage).

    The ‘Goal’ trilogy presents, through its three parts, fundamental ideas that reveal personal-individual and societal-moral situations about the city culture of ‘cool’ through swearwords and insolent scorn. It uses sexual verbs and the names of sexual organs, and a conflation that reflects the inability to distinguish between behaviour and morals or the promotion of a set of objectionable behaviours from Klash’s perspective (i.e. the perspective of a southern, tribal man who does not belong). He also scorns the uncivilised behaviour of the civilised youth, both men and women, of Jeddah society. In the first part, he criticises behaviour, descent, the Other who does not belong due to his or her appearance and dress. In the second part, he proceeds to confirm the loss of the value of good lineage, and the civilised manners he fails to understand. Finally, in the third part, he stops at the subject by depleting the repeated ideas. He intimates, metaphorically, that he is no longer angry: ‘the lumber has fallen’.

    This trilogy made Klash’s name known. His songs spread and prompted commentaries and media reports in Saudi journalism after the songs were transmitted through the cell phones of teenagers and youth in high schools and colleges. These songs also provoked other rappers who represent the opposing culture. Rumours spread that Klash had been beaten or murdered. Others tried to impersonate him, producing weak works which they ascribed to his name. He presented a reply to this in collaboration with his friend Abbadi, who became better known to Klash’s followers and fans. This reply came in the song ‘Dogs of Jeddah’, which exposed gangster wars as represented by Klash. It stressed the right to defence, even if this took the form of sexual revenge against the enemy, and of insulting the ‘cool’ again, if the matter required it. The song contained an extra dose of machismo display, oppressed homosexuality, and a defensive justification by his friend and collaborator.

    This song appeared within the context of challenge contest, as a survival attack against his opponents, who would proceed to provoke him still further. The band Sparrow’s Lair came out with songs that targeted Klash, such as ‘Klash’s Family, the Return of the Surub’. The rapper Mooony followed suit. Yet Klash’s infinite confidence and his preoccupation with outside competitions meant that he avoided replying, a strategy that masked his sense of supremacy and triumph, until he released his ‘Klash al-‘amm ysakkir al-famm’ and joined with Abbadi again in the song ‘Only A Warm-Up’. The Sparrow’s Lair band did not remain silent, but assumed their usual satire in their rebuttals, unlike Klash who usually employs offensive and violent language against his opponents.

    Mooony’s song ‘Only a Beginning’, which was structurally weak and awkward, was attacked by Klash during this verbal war by his release of the song ‘Tshatti tkhazzin ya Mooony’, meaning, ‘do you want to do drugs?’) as the expression is colloquially expressed by the slang of the people of Jazan, similar to the Yemeni expression. He continued dealing him blows, through songs such as ‘Shawarma Master, Farewell Mooony’.

    After his release from prison, Klash promised to move toward purposeful rap, the kind that is intentionally domesticated. He had entered contests with rappers from Kuwait and UAE in the summer of 2007. He challenged to quit after four rounds in case of losing, but was imprisoned before he finished. In this sense, his imprisonment came as a kind of rescue. Many other rappers were silenced by the event and disappeared from the forums that had been filled with their screaming, anger, and fights. After he came out of prison, he performed the song ‘Mother’ in his first video clip on Mother’s Day, March 21st, which is generally not acknowledged in Saudi society: the only celebrations it recognises are the two official religious ones, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adhha. Nonetheless, it gave the impression that he had repented of his former style of rebellion and slander.

    In winter 2009 the city of Jeddah woke up to torrents that flooded many areas. This was due to the ongoing embezzlement from 1980 onwards of money designated for sewer sanitation projects. The event was Klash’s opportunity to regain his stature and confirm his role as the only rap singer able to address such events in his songs. He made a compelling petition to government representatives, but his call was not taken seriously, as the same catastrophe occurred the following year. Nonetheless, his song ‘Jeddah’s Crisis’ (2009) remains as a witness to governmental corruption in Saudi Arabia.

    After his release from prison, Klash participated in the famous Ramadan programme Between You and Me (third episode, 2009) with a song that condemned the expansionist role of the United States.  He teamed up with two stars from his region, the actors Faez al-Maliki and Hasan al-‘Asiri. He has repeatedly announced that he is working on his first album, but it has not appeared yet. This fact has not deterred him from continuing to release new songs, after he started appearing at park concerts and some private parties, the hosts of which enjoy their patronage of rap as a fashionable art in a contemporary cultural lifestyle.

    In his new song, ‘Life Goes On’ (2011), he presents an existentialist state in which he recalls his childhood days. The song also confirms his entry into the world of youth and its different responsibilities. He reminisces about his childhood love, his classmates, and neighbourhood friends, and he muses about his future with an overflowing religious sensibility reminiscent of the transformative stages of rap music in the United States toward the end of the 1990s, when some rappers converted to Islam and reformulated counterculture in the United States, moving from the black component and nonchalance (being cool) to conversion to Islam as a countercultural weapon against Christianity and Judaism, the two religions that dominate and control American culture. It seems that Klash is not concerned with the question of whether or not singing is permitted in Islam, an issue that is usually invoked in some extremist religious milieus in Saudi Arabia. Along with Qusai Kheder and most other Arab rappers, he continues to represent a marginal culture that has not yet been fully acknowledged, even if some artists have been able to collaborate with dedicated traditional and folk singers, or have produced song albums and video clips.

    The following words indicate a state of reconciliation with Klash’s rapper self: when asked during a television interview about his artistic future, he said that he might limit his activity to song writing and production rather than continuing as a rapper (Cultural Channel, 2010). This reply resembles that of the founder of the Saudi rap band 2MAM, who answered the interviewer thus:

    Petro B: OK, where do you see yourself ten years from now?

    2MAM: Married. I will flush these days down the largest toilet in the Middle East.

    Do they see no future for rap music? Is it a point of view that results out of a need to justify that what is possible in one’s youth is not possible in middle and old age? It seems that it is a strategic but unconscious defence, repenting of the errors of experience despite the temptations of distinction, fame, and heroism. Do they await death as revenge, like their black role models, The Notorious B.I.G. (1972-1997) and Tupac Amaru Shakur (1971-1997)? Each of them knows that there are queues of opponents who may be driven by jealousy and envy, and others who might be provoked to avenge themselves for their injured pride.

    In a video clip that was recorded to be broadcast on Klash’s official website, the camera appears to be chasing Klash as he arrives at the studio where the Ramadan programme Between You and Me is to be filmed. Some teenagers and young men who seem happy about his presence gather around him to greet him. He waves at them using the gestures of rap singers. Wearing his baggy T-shirt and blue jeans, he turns to the camera to show that he is reaping the fruit of his hard work. Despite this rapid success, his output is very limited; yet it is sufficient for fame and self-satisfaction. One sees his joy in vanquishing the cats of rap, which he has won over and chased off the main roads into the back alleys. Although his eyes are gleaming with joy and conceit, there are indications that unhappy endings are in store. Time is the keeper of the future, as the vagabond poet Tarfa bin al-‘Abd says, the rap man of the Age of Ignorance!
    Ahmed Al-Wasel
    is a Saudi poet, novelist, and critic. He was born in 1976. He has published five collections of poetry, two novels and two studies about music in Saudi Arabia.

    Translated by Yasmeen Hanoosh
    Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann
    November 2011

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