Take a tour of Muslim youth culture through ‘Rebel Music’

BY Noreen Nasir  August 21, 2014 at 3:11 PM EDT

Hisham Aidi, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, sat down with chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown during a recent stop at the Tropicalia music lounge in Washington, D.C., to discuss his new book, “Rebel Music: Race, Empire and the New Muslim Youth Culture,” and tour the Muslim world through contemporary music.

Recent political developments in the Middle East — like Palestinian struggles with Israel and various Arab uprisings against their governments — have helped unite Muslim populations around the world. But there’s another force, spanning decades, that’s fostered a global Muslim youth community.

“For Muslim youth, music [is a way] to proclaim your identity, to proclaim your politics, to explain who you are, to mobilize, to build community,” Hisham Aidi told chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown.

Aidi is a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. In his new book, “Rebel Music: Race, Empire and the New Muslim Youth Culture,” Aidi explores the cross-cultural trends in political activism and movements throughout history, and how it’s all brought together with music.

Aidi begins the narrative in the South Bronx — the “Mecca” of hip-hop — with artists like Afrika Bambaataa emerging in the 1970s to counter gang violence. From the beginning, Aidi says, Bambaataa and other hip-hop artists were influenced by a range of Muslim movements, and even drew upon some teachings of the Nation of Islam.

From there, the music spread, and with it, its message.

“What happens in the ’90s is hip-hop goes global,” Aidi said. “It introduces Muslim youth around the world to black history, to the African-American struggle, to the black freedom movement, to figures like Malcolm [X] and Marcus Garvey and Nation of Islam and so on. But it also introduces non-Muslim youth — kids in Norway, kids in Ohio — to Islam. And in so doing, it transforms identities and creates new cultures.”

According to Aidi, governments have also picked up on this global phenomenon, using hip-hop as a tool for diplomacy.