Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Names - I

The Shabazz Palaces EPs that were released in 2009 have titles, although few know them. It's commonly supposed that the one with the 'palace' logo is simply self-titled, while the one with the sword logo is called 'of light', due to the words Shabazz Palaces of Light on the spine. In fact, the names of the EPs are to be found on the back flaps, in Arabic. As for the 'self-titled' EP, the words translate to Eagles Soar, Oil Flows. The 'Of Light' EP is simply named The Seven New.

Eagles Soar, Oil Flows

There are many ways we could read this. Most obviously, it's a summation of the age we live in, one dominated by the empire's geopolitical designs. In this reading, the eagle symbolises the empire, which invades countries, topples elected leaders, and maintains tyrants in power in order to secure a 'strategic advantage'. While others fly low having had their wings clipped (or ripped off), the empire is able to soar far above. The reason? Oil.

It might remind you of a lyric from one of SP's songs: "One eagle, a billion crows" which in turn is reminiscent of a lyric from Sleep Pretty Girl by Cherrywine: "For every playground, there's ten empty lots".

The reason why this title works so well, however, is its 'elemental' power. That seems to me to be a key adjective to describe SP's sound. Raw. Primal. Furious. And what bird is more elemental than the Eagle? S H Nasr points out the poverty of the modern scientistic way of viewing the world that equates reliable knowledge only with empirical science by asking that because the Native Americans didn't dissect and study the Eagle in a laboratory, should we then conclude that they didn't know anything about the creature that was central to their deepest beliefs? They knew. Because their hearts were open to the metaphysical realm, and after all man needs art because it is provides an avenue through which we can connect to this beyond and thus transcend our physical form and fulfill our true potential.

Oil likewise is an elemental substance whose composition is full of meaning. What is it made from? Countless dead animals, plants, and minerals that changed form over millions of years. Life has died to create it, and as we see today, lives are being lost in chasing it and extracting its precious hydrocarbons. But while the lives lost in its creation were those of lesser life-forms, and happened naturally over eons, the lives lost in its extraction are those of humans, and their deaths are abrupt, unnatural, and needless.

In a Cherrywine interview, Lazaro said of See For Miles (with its baffling refrain of "cocaine's coming") that the thing about cocaine is that "it's so white. When you start thinking about that, the connotations get real real heavy." One might likewise say, the thing about crude oil is that it's so black.

The choice of verbs too is interesting. Soaring and flowing represent effortlessness. This is a quality that we all associate with genius in every field, not least of which, art. Many artists are good, but to be great (or a genius) you have to exhibit effortlessness born from some intangible 'divine instinct' whose source is cloaked in mystery, although light is a good place to start.

Q: Did SP choose Arabic for the EP titles just because it looks cool?
A: There is more to it than that. On a general level, writing something in a language the audience generally doesn't understand encourages us to ask someone who knows. In the case of Arabic, its speakers (and Muslims generally) are being attacked and vilified today just as other groups were previously. The empire's propaganda machine tells us what to think of them. But what if we actually spoke to that Arabic girl in our class, or the guy in the shop, and got to know them? In an age where friends are more likely to sit round a coffee table each staring into a computer/phone/ipad screen this is a wake up call. It was after dinner with some brothers one of whom was an Arabist that we translated the names, and it was great fun! Initially we translated it as Oil Pours Eagles Circle, (Arabic words can have several meanings) the initials of which are OPEC! But after hearing the words "eagles soar n' oil flows, we will pay back what they owe" in one song, the truth was uncovered.

[To be continued...]

1 comment:

  1. Just after I posted this I happened to come across an ancient Arabic proverb that reminded me of the title discussed above. They say:

    "The moon passes and dogs howl".

    Meaning don't let foul criticism change your course.