Rock The Casbah

Or “No More Menudo For Me”

To say that my rap collection is somewhat limited in size is something of an understatement. In the early 80’s, when I first heard a rap “song,” I thought the art form would last about as long as ham sandwich. Do I need to admit I was wrong?

Robin Wright’s book, “Rock the Casbah,” though, might make even the most frumpy middle aged man a rap aficionado because there she tells us the story of “El General” (Hamada Ben Aoun), a 21 year old unemployed rapper in Tunisia who released a single, in which he protested against the oppressive Tunisian government. In the same way that in some Middle Eastern countries mosques provide the only place for non-approved political discourse, so too rap may the lone instrument by which the oppressed in those nations voice their unsanctioned beliefs.

El General put his song on Facebook last November, and it became extraordinarily popular overnight. A month later, a fruit vender in a remote Tunisian town decided that he had to protest against the government, too.

The vender’s decision to immolate himself sparked massive street protests, during which protesters sang the song of El General. Later in the spring the song went to Egypt and Bahrain and beyond.

Wright claims that rap is now “the rhythm of resistance.”

I want to do my bit, so no more “Air Supply” or Barry Manilow for me. I’m down with El General. Please cue the Victrola.


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