Wednesday, July 02, 2014


Yesterday I tuned into the USA vs Belgium match a bit, then headed downtown. Near my meeting place there was a crowd watching the final minutes of the match and since I was early, I joined in for a bit. It was cool to watch the match like that, with the crowd oohing and aahing, following every moment. They were all rooting for the USA of course. I asked what the score was and was informed it was 2-1 to Belgium, in extra time.

It's interesting how popular the World Cup has become; my brother notes that it feels like Europe over here with the large crowds watching footie all around the country. I certainly noticed a lot of people watching the match, from the crowd outside, to the security guys inside, to the office workers. Later in the evening I went to a halal Chinese restaurant and the match was being replayed there. I remember a few World Cups ago it seemed like no one was paying attention and few cared that the USA was in it. Football, actual football, was just not big. Now its everywhere. While I still can’t bring myself for some reason to root for team USA, it's still pretty neat that football has gotten big here. And kudos for Team USA for getting through the group stage, whereas England fell apart, yet again, worse than before.

We know of course that football isn't called football here. As a 9 year old from the UK I was thoroughly confused by the term "soccer", not having any idea what it meant. It took a while for me to figure out that "soccer" meant football. These days, I notice a lot of ads here calling football "futbol", to differentiate it from American football, and also maybe to tap into the Latino audience. If here in America, we're going to call it either futbol or soccer, instead of just football, I prefer futbol over soccer.

Here are some thoughts from this article, from an England fan in NY on football's growing popularity:

"Meanwhile, the rest of the city was engaging with the World Cup like never before.

There is always interest, of course, thanks to the bubble of passionate (mainly Hispanic) soccer fans in and around New York. Flushing Meadows turns into Hackney Marshes every weekend.

Even our lovely, 50-something Guatemalan housekeeper does Panini swapsies with my five-year-old son. And the game of footie I organise every Friday night on the Lower East Side is made up of a brilliantly diverse group of British, Aussie, American, Dutch, Moroccan, German and Japanese players.

And yet, and yet... There's something happening outside that bubble, too. Last Sunday, Madison Square Park was heaving with flag-waving USA fans for the Portugal game.

Bars have been advertising the games "with sound", as if suddenly realising what they've been missing all these years. And people at work have started talking to me about football.

American people.

How infuriating that football - our football - has finally become a talking point at precisely the moment the USA has progressed further than England on the world's biggest stage.

All I can do is reluctantly accept my colleagues' condolences ("Sorry for your loss") and quickly change the subject by saying what a great World Cup it's been, and soccer's been the winner, and please leave me alone, and take off that ridiculous bandana will you?"

Monday, June 16, 2014

It's Getting Better

A couple weeks ago I made and finished a new mix. Haven't made a mix in a couple years so it was fun to get back into it. I quite enjoyed putting the tunes together, though since I'm not a DJ, and probably won't be, please pardon my lack of mixing skills. :-)

This mix unlike my other mixes has more of a journey to it. It starts off with some poppy tunes then moves into dance music, both new and old, then goes into what I like to call "mind music", music for your mind that lets your mind travel, and then the last few tunes are from the "East", ie the producers are of Eastern origin, including, erm, myself. Here's the tracklist:

(mix starts up after 15 seconds)
Hot Natured - Benediction
AlunaGeorge - Your Drums Your Love
Thomas Bjerring feat. David Skog - 2:45
Todd Edwards - Saved My Life
KLF - 3am Eternal
Oliver Heldens - Gecko
Leon Vynehall - Brother
Kode9 - Bad
Happa - Bring It Back
Marie Claire D'Ubaldo - The Rhythm Is Magic (Todd Terry Rubber Mix)
Gerry Read - Roomland (Youandewan Remix)
Hyetal - Northwest Passage
Borealis - Streamsnare
Jamie xx - Sleep Sound
Leon Vynehall - Untitled017
Hena Ashraf - Marvel
Dauwd - Lydia
El Mahdy Jr. - Phantomatik (Alter Echo & E3 Remix)
Yasmine Hamdan - La Moush

I decided to call it "It's Getting Better" because I wanted an optimistic title. Have a listen if you want something to listen to.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Forty Rules of Love

Excerpts from The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

Page 66
…he said one should keep the intellect satisfied and yet be careful not to spoil it. It was one of his rules. “Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolved all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advises, ‘Beware too much ecstasy’, whereas love says, ‘Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!’ Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.”

“Most of the problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstandings. Don’t ever take words at face value. When you step into the zone of love, language as we know it becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence.”

Page 140
“You are bleeding,” Shams murmured as he started to wipe the blood off my face. “Not only on the outside, but inside as well.”
Upon saying that, he took out a silver flask from the pocket of his robe. “Apply this ointment to your wounds,” he said. “A good man in Baghdad gave it to me, but you need it more than I do. However, you should know that the wound inside you is deeper, and that is the one you should worry about. This will remind you that you bear God within you.”
            “Thank you,” I heard myself stutter, touched by his kindness. “That security guard…he whipped me. He said I deserved it.”
            As soon as I uttered those words, I was struck by the childish whining in my voice and my need for comfort and compassion.
            Shams of Tabriz shook his head. “They had no right to do that. Every individual is self-sufficient in his search for the divine. There is a rule regarding this: We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.
            “That sounds good,” I said, amazing myself by the ease in my voice. “But don’t you Sufis ever doubt anything about Him?”
            Shams of Tabriz smiled a tired smile. “We do, and doubts are good. It means you are alive and searching.”
            He spoke in a lilting tone, exactly as if he were reciting from a book.
            “Besides, one does not become a believer overnight. He thinks he is a believer; then something happens in his life and he becomes an unbeliever; after that, he becomes a believer again, and then an unbeliever again, and so on. Until we reach a certain stage, we constantly waver. This is the only way forward. At each new step, we come closer to the Truth.”

Page 216
Other than my mother back in my childhood, Shams was the only person who treated me with unconditional compassion. He had taught me not to be despondent, no matter what. Whenever I told him there was no way someone like me could shed the past, he would remind me of one of his rules: The past is an interpretation. The future is an illusion. The world does not move through time as if it were a straight line, proceeding from the past to the future. Instead time moves through and within us, in endless spirals.
            Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness.
            If you want to experience eternal illumination, put the past and the future out of your mind and remain within the present moment.
            Shams always told me, “You see, the present moment is all there is and all that there ever will be. When you grasp this truth, you’ll have nothing to fear anymore. Then you can walk out of this brothel for good.”

Page 233-234
            On the surface we lived a collective life where everyone ate, drank, and performed the same activities at the same time, but underneath we were expected and encouraged to remain alone and look within. On the Sufi path, first you discover the art of being alone in the crowd. Next you discover the crowd within your solitude – the voices inside you.
            … I suddently knew that I didn’t need to go anywhere. Not anymore. I was sick and tired of always longing to be somewhere else, somewhere beyond, always in a rush despite myself.
I was already where I wanted to be. All I needed was to stay and look within…

Page 246-247
“Religious rules and prohibitions are important,” he said. “But they should not be turned into unquestionable taboos. It is with such awareness that I drink the wine you offer me today, believing with all my heart that there is a sobriety beyond the drunkenness of love.”
Just as Rumi was about to take the glass to his lips, I snatched it back and flung it to the ground. The wine spilled on the snow, like drops of blood.
“Don’t drink it,” I said, no longer feeling the need to continue with this trial.
“If you weren’t going to ask me to drink this wine, why did you send me to the tavern in the first place?” Rumi asked, his tone not so much curious as compassionate.
“You know why,” I said, smiling. “Spiritual growth is about the totality of our consciousness, not about obsessing over particular aspects. Rule Number Thirty-two: Nothing should stand between yourself and God. Not imams, priests, rabbis, or any other custodians of moral or religious leadership. Not spiritual masters, not even your faith. Believe in your values and your rules, but never lord them over others. If you keep breaking other people’s hearts, whatever religious duty you perform is no good.
“Stay away from all sorts of idolatry, for they will blur your vision. Let God and only God be your guide. Learn the Truth, my friend, but be careful not to make a fetish out of your truths.”
I had always admired Rumi’s personality and known that his compassion, endless and extraordinary, was what I lacked in life. But today my admiration for him had grown by leaps and bounds.
This world was full of people obsessed with wealth, recognition, or power. The more signs of success they earned, the more they seemed to be in need of them. Greedy and covetous, they rendered worldly possesions their qibla, always looking in that direction, unaware of becoming the servants of the things they hungered after. That was a common pattern. It happened all the time. But it was rare, as rare as rubies, for a man who had already made his way up, a man who had plenty of gold, fame, and authority, to renounce his position all of a sudden one day and endanger his reputation for an inner journey, one that nobody could tell where or howit would end. Rumi was that rare ruby.
“God wants us to be modest and unpretentious,” I said.
“And he wants to be known,” Rumi added softly. “He wants us to know Him with every fiber of our being. That is why it is better to be watchful and sober than to be drunk and dizzy.”
I agreed. Until it turned dark and cold, we sat in the courtyard with a single red rose between us. There was, beneath the chill of the evening, the scent of something fresh and sweet. The Wine of Love made our heads spin gently, and I realized with glee and gratitude that the wind no longer whispered despair.

Page 257
“Ah, so you do have questions after all,” Shams said. “The message is that the torment a person can inflict upon himself is endless. Hell is inside us, and so is heaven. The Qur’an says human beings are the most dignified. We are higher than the highest, but also lower than the lowest. If we could grasp the full meaning of this, we would stop looking for Sheitan outside and instead focus on ourselves. What we need is sincere self-examination. Not being on the watch for the faults of others.”

Saturday, April 12, 2014

To be or not to be, an artist

It's only recently that I've begun to think of myself as an artist. I've been calling myself a filmmaker for many years now, but calling myself an artist is new. I suppose I'm still getting used to it. But I realized, my constant craving for wanting to create, and that I do create, probably makes me an artist.

I recently came across this comic strip, and I really identify with what's expressed here:

Life is hard, inevitably. There's always ups and downs, but creating something, anything, seems to always cheer me up and make me feel energized and motivated. It feels like I'm doing something worthwhile.

On a related note, I came across this article the other day, called "Real Artists Have Day Jobs". It's very nice to hear that. While it is a blessing to be able to have work and I certainly recognize that, having a job while creating or wanting to create also gets draining, day in and day out. However, as this writer noted:
"While I don’t know you personally, I know that you are a real artist if you can answer “yes” to any or all of these questions:
Do you make art?
Do you make art because something inside you tells you that you must make art?
Do you make art because it’s the only way you can feel like yourself sometimes?
Do you make art because it brings you joy, and also pain, but the good kind of pain, the kind you need in order to remember that you are a real person with worth and value and power and all of the feelings (yes, even the shitty ones)?
Do you make art because it’s fun?
Would you make art regardless of whether anybody paid you to make art?
Do you stay up at night after the kids have gone to sleep, when you really ought to be in bed yourself, or at least doing laundry, just because it gives you a few precious minutes to make art?
Do you sit at your computer in your office and make plans to use the money from your office-and-computer job to buy supplies to make art?
Do you make art that some people love?
Do you make art that some people hate?
Do you make art that some people ignore?
Then congratzel tov, my friend. You are a real artist."

I can answer "YES!" to all of those questions. 

"Art does not require an MFA. Art does not require a BA. Art does not require a high school diploma. Art does not require any formal education at all.
Art does not need your full-time attention. Art does not demand that you starve in order to afford paint and canvas and brushes.
There is more nobility in hard work than in pure luck (though every artist can use a bit of that.) You’ll make better art after a day at the office than you will after a lifetime in an ivory tower.
Real artists have day jobs, and night jobs, and afternoon jobs. Real artists make things other than art, and then they make time to make art because art is screaming to get out from inside them. Screaming, or begging, or gently whispering.
Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not a success. Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not good enough. Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not the real deal.
More importantly: don’t ever tell yourself any of these things.
Believe me when I tell you that no matter how much time you spend at the office, it’s just a side gig.
You are an artist, full-time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Now go make your art."
"You are a real artist right now."

Thank you! I have made myself some art, and will continue to, God-willing.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Yasmine Hamdan 'Ya Nass'

Back in the early days of The Ashraf Obsession I wrote about Soap Kills, an underground electronic Lebanese band from the 90s'. The singer, Yasmine Hamdan, has released her first solo album, Ya Nass. Fahad sent along the link from NPR a few weeks ago, and I kept streaming the album non-stop.

It's entirely in Arabic, and Hamdan likes to play with different Arabic dialects. I barely understand any Arabic but I can at least tell when she's singing in different dialects, and its pretty neat. The songs themselves flow very well together and the instrumentation is very unique and engaging.

I can't really describe the album much more than that due to my limited skills, so just have a listen to a couple of songs off the album. And also here's another NPR link, this one of a live performance.

Once my CD arrives I can't wait to play this album again and again! I'd like to get some Soap Kills stuff too, but Fahad says "there is no soap kills to be bought on the internet!".

- cross-posted on The Ashraf Obsession

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

achtung baby

I think U2's best album is Achtung Baby. Then again that's really the only album of theirs that I have save for a "best of" disc. I love the twangy and distorted guitars, the hurried drums, and here I think Bono's at his best, being sincere in "One" while being flippant and playful in many other songs like "Even Better Than the Real Thing". I love that the band challenged and reinvented themselves and weren't afraid to try something new. And "the fly", of course.

I only started to listen to and appreciate this album about twenty years after its release in 1991. And that only because I picked it up as a used CD back in 2009. I was already familiar with the major hit from the album "Mysterious Ways" as I remember watching the music video as a little kid. I think my fave song though is "Acrobat", especially for its line "I must be, an acrobat, to talk like this, and act like that."

What a wonderful metaphor, for a hypocrite. That line is one of my fave metaphors and showed me how a metaphor can actually reveal truth, much more than a regular flat statement - dressing something up as a metaphor adds a whole lot more dimension. One could say "oh yes, I'm a hypocrite" but to describe as one's self as an acrobat, ie someone who's constantly twisting and turning or going through hurdles, really makes it hit home of how much of a hypocrite Bono thought of himself to be.

Anyway, here's one of the reasons why I still buy CDs - they're like a mini time travel machine. I can open up the sleeve and see in the notes addresses to Amnesty International, Greenpeace, etc. I can see photos of the band during that time. And these guys gave us a good sleeve, with lyrics and lots of photographs. You can't get any of that with a bunch of mp3s, and you'd forget you have these songs since they're just digital files. With CDs, I can see what music I have right in front of me, and I'm a lot more likely to listen to whole albums rather than just random tunes.

While I'm not a huge fan of U2, apart from this album and some other songs of theirs, I do appreciate that the band has been around for so long and that its always been the same 4 blokes. Good for them.

sidenote - after I watched Melancholia a couple years ago I thought "Until the End of the World" should've been on that film's soundtrack. Woulda been perfect!

Here's a cool video of the band performing one of the songs from the album, near Detroit, and this was broadcast live during the VMA's, or nowadays, we'd say, livestreamed. Pretty nifty for back then.

- Cross-posted on The Ashraf Obsession