From Umm Kulthum to Rachid Taha (Cosmopolitanism)


Something new to listen to. What a thought! In the little world of twentieth century philosophy and thought that I inhabit, sometimes sadly, cosmopolitanism means Germany and German Jews and maybe, just maybe German modernism. But isn’t that all a little stale by now, even philosophically? More and more, a larger Jewish cosmos today might, under the right conditions, place itself in a broader Middle Eastern-Mediterranean arc. At least in Israel. I really liked this piece by Amos Noy. It appeared first in Hebrew at Café Gibraltar and was then translated at +972.

Noy’s article reflects a genuine openness and curiosity about the world around him, travelling to new places, listening to new things, refusing the friend/enemy distinction. And the music is very good. Posted by Noy, the clip of Rachid Taha’s cover of Rock El Casbah is particularly awesome.  I like Taha’s not so-young-anymore, secular Paris-based Algerian hipster look, and how the video intercuts fast between the street and concert venue. I’ve never seen an oud do this. And then I read  this article in yesterday’s  New York Times about the new, oppositional music scene in post-revolutionary, Muslim Brotherhood Egypt. I went online and found this bit of Egyptian “mahraganat.”

All this Levantinism, which for me remains mostly virtual, recommends itself to Jewish philosophy for more broad  minded, less Eurocentric sounds, sights, and perspectives. I won’t worry about Orientalism and cultural imperialism if the music’s any good. By this, I would like to assume that one can enjoy hybrids like these on their own sovereign terms, not as some putative Other or with some constant reference back to the Same. I think that was part of Noy’s point. Either you like the stuff or you don’t. Can’t it be that simple, even if and especially because it is not always that?

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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