The Future of the Mediterranean – Bawurt & Radio Raheem’s Michelle Davis
Radio Raheem is an Italian webradio based in Milano. Located inside the Triennale museum. It broadcasts music and insights on contemporary issues 24/7 – from monographs such as “Verticale” to DJ sets, culture, focussing on current affairs and interviews with musicians.
Giorgio Valletta, one of Radio Raheem’s mainstay hosts, is a stalwart of Italian music journalism. Alongside presenting all new releases every Thursday he hosts ‘Forgotten Tapes’, a format featuring old cassette interviews recorded in the 1990s with artists on the brink of success such as Aphex Twin, PJ Harvey, Chemical Brothers, Blur and many others.
Radio Raheem is a window onto the Milanese and Italian cultural reality whilst staying open to the wider world. There is also a newsletter; Galaxy Express which discusses different themes – not always musical in narrative – each week.
After the sinking of a ship full of migrants from Turkey, off the coast of Calabria (Italy), the theme of national borders, immigration and political responses is present both in Italy but also in the UK and in many other ‘countries’ of the World.
Michelle Davis, who edits the newsletter, and our very own Bawrut – whose In The Middle LP was a study on the Mediterranean – had a discussion on Radio Raheem. Shaken and helpless once again in the face of these tragedies that all too often occur on our shores, they caught up for a bittersweet chat about the crossroads of histories and cultures that is the Mediterranean basin.
The Truth About Pasta with Tomato.
The Mediterranean: the Romans christened it so because in the midst of lands, sealing the destiny that sees it as the scene of encounters and clashes between the three titans Africa, Asia and Europe. Our sea, a potential link between different cultures, has over the years become a kind of no man’s land, exploited by tourism and deprived of its community identity in favour of a strategic game that reaps victims and nurtures antagonistic political visions. Driven by a desire to understand more, we turned to producer and deejay Bawrut, who has been studying the cultural and sonic legacy of the Mediterranean on a wide-ranging basis for years and hosts the RR show Arkipelagos, where the soul counts more than a passport.
Starting with Arkipelagos, your broadcast show for Radio Raheem, tell us about your vision of the Mediterranean, today centre of great tensions.
The Mediterranean’s long history has so many vantage points that it represents a place where we can still read the present. Celebrating and studying it is a pleasure and a very personal attempt to find an identity within multiplicities. Since I moved to Spain, my conception of flamenco has been totally overturned. I used to see it as a folkloric phenomenon à la Gipsy Kings but instead, I now realise it is deeply rooted in the territory and is proof of how porous cultures are. The cante jondo comes from a kind of blues sung by Arabs and Jews left behind in the Andalusian reconquistada in the 1500s. The guitar originally comes from India and made its way into Europe through Spain, the percussion is African or imported by Paco de Lucia in the 1970s from South America. Flamenco is an art and tradition guarded by the gypsy community . Considering that the gypsy people have always been marginalised and persecuted, I find it extremely interesting that their music has become representative of Spain abroad and an element of Spanish identity flaunted even by those who want them ghettoized or see them only as thieves and beggars. I find similarities there with the history of African American music in the US.
Raï music is also another classic example. Born in Oran in Algeria – a seaside city with the most diverse influences, it was seen as a popular and “vulgar” music in the 1970s. Its encounter with Western pop and funk of French origin gave rise to a movement of producers and musicians eager to reinterpret and expand stylistic features of the past in a more modern key. Unfortunately, the result was to exacerbate the conflict with the more orthodox part of Islamic society and force many of its famous performers to flee to France in the 1980s in light of the death threats and then murders of some of the most famous representatives such as Cheb Hasni or Rachid Baba Ahmed.
Even today this attitude of mixing exists and thankfully manages to elevate originality and authenticity without generating conflict. Perfect case study in music: Rosalìa. Or Liberato.
Even today this attitude of mixing exists and comes out by elevating originality and authenticity without thankfully generating conflict.
Returning to today’s tensions, I try to contextualise this with my own experience and sensibility. I was born in Gorizia, a city divided in two by the border with Slovenia (Yugoslavia until the 1990s). When you look closer yes I am Italian but also half Slavic, a quarter Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman etc. My parents’ house was 500 meters from the border, which is nothing but cultivated fields and vegetable gardens. Ever since I was a teenager I have been able to observe Kurdish and Afghan migration flows. From time to time I would see groups of 20 to 30 people, including women, men and children pass by. It was painful to see them, fearful, often at night, asking for directions to the nearest train station. There is one detail that I will never forget: they dressed well. In suits, with good clothes, not to look like refugees but this of course went against the way people dressed at the time making them even more recognizable. Even then I could sense little humanity towards these issues and I always felt the need to speak my mind in some way. I did it through music.
This theme is not simple in fact it’s quite the opposite. It does scare me how society or a good part of it has cleared the way for the absence of empathy for a person who is suffering. It is laughable that as humans we are the only living beings who do not admit migration as a natural drive. Plants migrate, animals migrate, we, on the other hand, have impassable boundaries.
The Mediterranean makes me think of the complexity of the world over time, of which integration between cultures and peoples is a part. Natural crossroads between three continents, three different religions, cultures and languages fully represent many of today’s contradictions and is the example of globalization down to a tee.
"It does scare me how society or a good part of it has cleared the way for the absence of empathy for a person who is suffering."
(Photo: PA/Stefan Rousseau)
I am honestly afraid of the incipient neo-nationalist rhetoric made up of crass statements where fictitious boundaries that become the result of matters of principle and are drawn across people’s bodies …
One of the many, many problems is that this kind of rhetoric appeals to people’s short term memory. In mid-August 2021 we saw the drama of ordinary people fleeing Kabul before the Taliban arrived. People desperate enough to throw their child over a net or even worse climb onto the wings of a departing plane hoping to hang on to it for the entire flight. No one dared to say “it’s okay, let them stay in their homes and let’s see how to help them, a real Afghan doesn’t flee but helps his country.”
A year and a half later those same ‘People’ are just bodies, acronyms. White sheets on a beach and above all they are poor people, without a voice or representation. When people point out that migrants have phones, I honestly find it baffling. When I worked in my family’s tobacconist newsstand for 10 years, I heard some curmudgeonly remarks but they were ordinary people. I understand that. But representatives in politics that have a voice and pretend not to know that in the world EVERYONE has a phone shows tremendous ignorance and unpreparedness as well as an embarrassing colonialist or racist view. People run away from a country that already sees you as dead or a slave from birth. We should be aware that one day we will reckon with what we are doing now, that history will speak of an indifferent Italy and Europe that blocks entry to people seeking asylum and lets them die at sea. The lack of empathy and vision is gut-wrenching.
I chose to live in Spain for love, my brother in the U.S. for work, both of us fortunate to have a Western passport that is a pass-out to go wherever we want.
Being born on the right side of the border matters and being aware of this is important.
What is your vision with respect to potential futures for hybridisation and integration in the Mediterranean setting?
When you look at music and food you see that things move freely and have no interest in maintaining established traditions. The cultural hybridisations of the Italian cuisine are there for all to see. The music says the same: The urban Maghreb scene and the artists of its diaspora are amazing and, in my humble opinion, is one of the leading sounds of the Mediterranean at the moment. Morad is a rapper from the outskirts of Barcelona, a voice of ghettoisation, of redemption and of a movement without a flag.
He does not speak to Spaniards, he speaks to anyone from Marrakech to Brussels. The effect he is having on the Maghrebi community alone is important to note. In North Africa then there is a very strong aesthetic and when it will be able to really break through it will become a transnational phenomenon. It’s a shame that in interesting discussions we always go back to the North American thermometer and don’t look more on our own doorsteps. Maybe we would have a better understanding that American inner cities and Roma camps have elements in common and we should revisit these double standards.
Being Eurocentric in our view of the Mediterranean, we don’t notice that something is moving, that the epicentre is shifting, and that we are missing a great opportunity to be part of something a new and exciting identity.
pasta essentially is Arabic, tomato comes from the Spanish imported from America, basil comes from India, and Parmesan comes from northern Italy.
What role could and should Italy specifically play?
Italy’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t realise what it is. It is already the potential cultural melting pot of the Mediterranean. We are just lucky custodians (not even overzealous, by the way) of all this beauty. In the light, fun book “The Myth of Origins,” Montanari deconstructs the staple dish pasta al pomodoro: pasta essentially is Arabic, tomato was imported from America by the Spanish, basil comes from India, and Parmesan comes from northern Italy. If you go back through the centuries everything we have we owe to colonisation and the know-how gained from the countries that conquered us. We should be aware of the mistakes and horrors of the victors in order to recognise and understand the redemption of the vanquished but I think we should see it in a much larger temporal scheme. As Walter Benjamin said, “Behind every act of culture is an act of barbarism,” and the sooner we take note of that the better.
Italy is losing the ability to look inside itself to understand that we are children of the union of an expanded world. We could be leaders of thought and vision and instead, we insist on maintaining this “Italic” traditionalist museum attitude when almost everything we have is the result of encounters between different cultures. Italy does not have the humility to see its origins, it thinks it has good eyesight but is instead myopic to the present and the past and blind to the future.
There are nuances and complexities but I would rather see myself in a world that accepts integration than one in which we believe ourselves to be the chosen ones.
Bibliography suggested by Bawrut:
Ian Chambers – Mediterraneo Blues
Alessandro Leogrande – La Frontiera / The Border
Massimo Montanari – Il mito delle origini / The Origins Myth
Fernand Braudel – Il Mediterraneo / The Mediterrenean Sea
Gilbert Rouget – Musica e Trance / Music and Trance
Paolo Pecere – Il Dio che Danza / The dancing God
Luis Costa, Christian Len – Balearic
Invernomuto – Black Med
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