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This Black Tunisian Family Is Fighting Racism In Their Country Through Music

In Tunisia, the very few black celebrities who dare denounce racism are bullied by authorities. Slah and Sabry Mosbah are two of them.

Following a car accident with a military van, the popular Tunisian singer Sabry Mosbah was thrown in jail for “attacking the dignity of the army."


After being released he started considering exile, as it was the only way to escape racism in Tunisia. Unfortunately for him, it was just the beginning of his legal troubles. He called out a former Minister of Culture for plotting to put him in jail and, as a result, the minister pressed charges against him.

What was his father Slah Mosbah's crime? Openly calling out racism in Tunisia.

Slah Mosbah is a famous Fan Chaabi singer, a musical genre influenced by Tunisia's rural regions with origins that can be traced back to Bedouin music. He rose to fame with "Yamma Lasmar Douni" in 1991, a song in which he laments the prevalence of racism in Tunisia. The song is a cover, as it was originally written to celebrate the abolition of slavery in Tunisia in 1846.

Slah Mosbah frequently called out racism in Tunisia. And he payed the price for it.

Sabri Mosbah's wife, Saadia Mosbah, is one of the most prominent anti-racist activists in Tunisia. She created the charity M'nmety, which organizes sit-ins and demonstrations to fight against racism. She's been recently attacked by the police along with her son, Sabry.

In Tunisia, the very few black celebrities who dare mention racism are bullied by authorities and lose public funding and support, like the paralympic athlete, Soumaya Bensaid, or the slammer Anis Chouchène, who's famous for his poems denouncing discrimination.

The history of Black Maghrebis is long and complex. The black population living in the region arrived through the Arabic slave trade. In Tunisia, it's estimated that they are between 10-15% of the population, although no ethnic statistic is officially available.

It's an invisible minority trying to not cause any fuss in a country where segregation is still very much alive and where black people are still considered foreigners in their own country. As a result black Tunisians, in order to survive, have made the choice to “keep it to themselves" and organize themselves in communities mostly located in the South of Tunisia.

Of course, sub-Saharan migrants are also on the receiving end of the notorious negrophobia in Tunisia and are regularly victims of racist assaults. Last year, three young men of Congolese descent were stabbed in Tunisia during a vicious knife attack. Why? Because of their skin color.

Black Tunisians are, however, fighting back. They include people like Maha Abdelhamid, an academic who created the first association for black Tunisians, called ADAM.

In this context, having a famous singer like Slah Mosbah who, despite having so much to lose, isn't afraid to fight for his community, is a relief. Seen in Maghrebi countries as a griot (African storyteller), he's fighting to not be put in a box as the “convenient black singer." When confronted with racism in Tunisia, people would say “but we have a singer like Slah Mosbah," instead of admitting the elephant in the room.

With a nearly 40-years career under his belt, Slah Mosbah doesn't see himself as particularly political. But he knows he's discriminated against in his work when he opens up about racism, fully aware that had he been white, he wouldn't have to speak up about racism and thus wouldn't have been targeted by the government. Various controversies, as well as stints time in prison have plagued Slah Mosbah's career

His son, Sabry Mosbah is taking over his fight.

Sabry grew up influenced by his father's music and, naturally, followed his footsteps. He began his career as a solo writer in Tunis in 2005, before working with the Tunisian slammer Hatem Karoui and forming the musical duo, KIF KIF, with him in 2010.

When the duo disbanded, he released his first solo album, ASSLY (“My Roots"), which was inspired by funk, blues and Tunisian folk music. In that album, Sabry proudly defends the diversity of his roots: he is a black Tunisian, inspired by the music from his country and from foreign nations as well.

Sabry is also well-known for his modern pop and jazz covers of classic Tunisian songs like "Wadoouni ya lebnét" and "Masi'T." He sings in French and Tunisian Arabic; his versatility and talent have made him popular across the country. Sabry's not as outspoken as his father, but fighting against racism remains a priority for him. At a recent gig he played for the Jazz Cartage music festival this year, he shared the stage with American singer-poet Akua Naru, whose writing takes a strong stance against racism and towards equality.

Sabry's dad, Slah Mosbah is still very much active as a singer, touring all over Maghrebi countries. But he's weary, sick and tired of having to fight for a community to be acknowledged in their own country. While not as outspoken about racism, Sabry's growing popularity is a breath of fresh air in Tunisian pop music, a space where black Tunisians are often not seen.

What's next for black Tunisians? For Slah Mosbah and his family, the fight to be treated as equals in a society that keeps denying their existence has to continue, through music, art and activism.

Music

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'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

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"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

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Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





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