“Sharia Law in the U.S.A.” (The Kominas)

Tit for tat. Taqwacore groups, inspired by Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel, The Taqwacores (1993), are “bad Muslims” who have adopted punk’s love of “deliberately bad music, deliberately bad clothing, deliberately bad language and deliberately bad behavior.” In the novel, the band Vote Hezbollah (actually, it’s a Muslimgauze album title) writes a song called “Muhammad Was a Punk Rocker,” in which it is affirmed that the founder of Islam “tore everything down” and “rocked that town.” In reading this trax, therefore, from perhaps the best-known group inspired by MMK, it’s important to remember that the irony is laid on with a trowel. What’s under investigation here is a certain axiomatics: the Islamic-American singer claims to have had the “cops chase me out of my Mother’s womb,” and “my crib was in State Pen before age two.” After that, adding insult to injury, “the Feds had bugged my red toy phone.” Given this post-9/11 neo-internment of Muslim Americans, everything else falls right into place: the singer turns terrorist and his hyperbolics are astounding: he’ll cut off a hand from every American man, and take the president’s daughter into his harem in order to have his “brother” anally rape her, for example. Finally, there’s one more turn in this struggle or game of tit and tat: the trax’s historical background samples imply either that America will respond to the song’s threat of Sharia terrorism in such a way as to return us to the “duck and cover” mentality of the 1950s (note the trax’s shape as a stray cat strut), or that such a neo-Cold War mentality already governed the treatment of Arab Americans since at least the 1990s. If the latter is the case, then we’re truly caught in a vicious circle. But axiomatics are not destiny, and taqwacore bands prove that American immigrants from the Middle East are more likely to become satirists than terrorists. And that’s dangerous to every form of institutionalized axiomatic analysis.


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“Amen, Brother” (The Winstons)

Urgent, celebratory, and kinetic, this trax—the second most sampled in history—is trans-temporal, extending backwards and forwards. Most known as the vessel or container for the “Amen Break,” it’s also a participant in citation as well, incorporating musical figures from previous songs. This “groove robbing,” as Kodwo Eshun deems it, runs in a deeper, more sustained way than we’re led to expect, too. It goes back to “Amen!,” the gospel tune, which can possibly be traced back to The Presbyterian Hymnal. After that, things get murky. The key is whether we dutifully follow the tendency to work against the secularization of the song. After all, it is testimony. The Winstons’ addition, however, of “brother” in the title issues a challenge: must a profession of faith be directed infinitely outward or can it be shared, agreed upon, enjoyed while avoiding a consolidation into an aspirational grouping? Yes, but only if such an agreement eschews the power to confirm or elect.


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