Four glances at the youth that is making up the soundtrack of new Africa and the Middle East

Ahmed Ag Kaedi and Fatoumata Diawaran, two of the musicians and protagonists of the documentary “Mali Blues” (Lutz Gregor, 2016)

It happened in September: a Jordanian writer was assassinated for sharing on Facebook – sharing, not actually illustrating – a caricature of a Muslim in bed with two houris asking Mohammed to serve him wine. The authorities had previously arrested the assassinated and his name was Nahed Hattar. He made the news. The protagonists of four documentaries tell what happened next, but it didn’t make the news. Mass Waleed Yassim is an Egyptian musician who looks like she’s only 20 years old. She fled home to avoid a marriage of convenience. She lives with her friend Perry Moataz, bass player. They dress in a western fashion and only ask to have “the strength to tolerate what can come to happen to us”. Fatoumata Diawaran is also a musician, one of the most renowned singers of Mali. She goes back to her village and sings a song against ablation in front of her neighbors. Her neighbors have suffered it and have practiced it on their daughters who are also present, and they tell her “you speak the truth in your song, but we have to practice (ablation) for the sake of our reputation, because our husbands could leave us”.

In Iran, two musicians go to the appropriate religious department to register their electronic band. They can’t call themselves “Beard and Sword”. “Are you making fun of beards?” the official asks. They can’t use English, they can’t have a woman as a solo singer, in the artwork she can’t appear to be wearing makeup, and they have to cover a nude masculine shoulder that appears on the CD cover. “But it’s a man’s shoulder”, one of them retorts, “It doesn’t matter”, the official confirms. Donnia Massoud is the singer of Kazamada – a quartet formed by a Lebanese, a Jordanian, a Palestinian and an Egyptian – she says that, “the western world sees us as the enemy because they need to have enemies. It’s a problem, not mine though, my problem is my life here.” Karem Adel Eissa, an Egyptian rapper exclaims, “Well of course we talk about politics, what else would we talk about in Egypt?”

These are the young men and women of Africa and the Middle East who aren’t waiting for anyone to fix their lives, because they’re already doing it themselves. They live suffocated by a God formatted by intolerant minds. Even in the face of it all, they redefine the music of their countries establishing their own tradition. They question everything. They are politicians. Being involved with music is being involved with politics, especially if you’re a woman. The Arab Spring has been a disappointment. We hear it from the protagonists of Fonko, Raving Iran, Yallah! Underground and Mali Blues, four documentaries that give us perspective on new Africa and the new Middle East, where music is direct action. And if you’re a woman, it’s also danger and provocation. –LUIS HIDALGO