Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Middle East and North Africa

With a voice adored by Bob Dylan, Robert Plant and millions across the Arab world, Umm Kulthum rejected gender norms with her powerful, political music. But can her 90-minute songs work in a new stage musical?

You hear the Umm Kulthum cafe before you see it. Violins swoon and a monumental voice surges from a doorway in Cairos Tawfiqia neighbourhood. Outside, couples smoke shisha on plastic chairs, dwarfed by two immense golden busts depicting the singer known variously as the star of the east, mother of the Arabs and Egypts fourth pyramid.

Umm Kulthum recorded about 300 songs over a 60-year career and her words of love, loss and longing drift reliably from taxis, radios and cafes across the Arab world today, 45 years after her death. Despite singing complex Arabic poetry, she influenced some of the wests greatest singers. Bob Dylan said: Shes great. She really is. Shakira and Beyonc have performed dance routines to her music. Maria Callas called her the incomparable voice.

There is no western counterpart to Kulthum, no artist as respected and beloved as she is in the Arab world. Despite that, she remains relatively unknown in the UK; a one-off show at the London Palladium on 2 March aims to change that. Umm Kulthum & the Golden Era will dramatise the singers life in English with her music sung in Arabic. My whole message, says the shows producer, Mona Khashoggi, is to promote our rich culture of classical Arabic music in the west.

The musical depicts Egypt during a period of cultural fertility and seismic sociopolitical change. It responds to a question posed by the ethnomusicologist Virginia Danielson, who wrote a biography of Kulthum: Is it possible that 50 years in Arab societies, where women appear to outsiders to be oppressed, silent and veiled, could be represented by the life and work of a woman? And not just a woman, but one whose possible lesbianism and rejection of gender norms raised a few eyebrows in her lifetime.

Kulthum was born in a Nile delta village in about 1904 to an imam and his wife. Her father supplemented his income by singing religious songs with his son and nephew, and his daughter would mimic them, later reflecting that she first learned to sing like a parrot. Joining the family ensemble, her powerful voice proved a novelty but also, as a woman performing religious songs, provocative. Her father dressed her in a boys coat and black Bedouin headdress, leaving only her eyes and mouth visible. Freed from the limitations of gender, her talent shone and she attracted the interest of noted musicians, who invited her to Cairo.

It took Kulthum time to find her feet in the big city in the early 1920s. While her voice was admired in the homes of Cairos elite, she was mocked for her rough country attire and behaviour. She gradually learned to dress with style and worked with the best artists of the age, despite a reputation as a demanding collaborator. Record labels competed over her and she negotiated shrewdly to increase her fees and fame. Soon she was making twice as much money as the biggest stars of Cairos art scene.

Photograph: CPA Media Pte Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

Led Zeppelins Robert Plant said that he was driven to distraction on hearing Kulthums voice while in Marrakech in 1970. When I first heard the way she would dance down through the scale to land on a beautiful note that I couldnt even imagine singing, it was huge: somebody had blown a hole in the wall of my understanding of vocals.

Her voice was a contralto, the lowest type for a female, and had enormous power. She performed to large audiences without a microphone and improvised virtuosically. She acted like a preacher who becomes inspired by his congregation, the Egyptian novelist and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz once said. When he sees what reaches them he gives them more of it, he works it, he refines it, he embellishes it. Crowds called out for line repetitions and she obliged, meaning a song could last between 45 and 90 minutes. She subtly altered emphasis and explored the maqamat, the set of Arabic scales, to eruptions of applause. It was said she never sang a line the same way twice.

An Umm Kulthum performance would generally last about five hours and consist of three extended songs. Her goal was to induce in her listeners tarab, a state of rapturous enchantment, where time and self dissolve in the music.

During the 1940s she shifted towards colloquial, populist Egyptian music, a canny move as the country chafed under British control. Other songs using vivid Arabic poetry linked her to fine literature. She presented two popular images: the refined woman who could educate the masses and the peasant daughter who articulated working-class pain.

She recorded on vinyl and starred in six musical films; from 1934 for almost 40 years she broadcast a live concert on the first Thursday of each month. This became a social phenomenon: stories abound of streets and workplaces from Tunisia to Iraq becoming suddenly deserted as millions rushed home to listen. She embodied pan-Arab unity and became an irresistible proposition for shrewd politicians.

A common story goes that Kulthums music was taken off the airwaves after Egypts 1952 revolution because she had sung for the leaders of the old regime. Gamal Abdel Nasser, national hero and later the second Egyptian president, on hearing the stars music was forbidden, apparently said: What are they, crazy? Do you want Egypt to turn against us?

Nasser understood Kulthum was a symbol of authentic Arab and Egyptian culture. He piggybacked off her radio broadcasts by making political speeches straight after, promoting his pan-Arabist agenda. For her part, she sang in support of Nasser and donated millions of dollars to the military. While some regard her as his tool, Danielson believes the relationship was mutually beneficial; they agreed on many issues. They tended to say the same things about themselves, Egypt and the Arab world, she says. There are times you dont know which one is speaking, Nasser or Umm Kulthum.

Starring in the 1947 film Fatma. Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy Stock Photo

In 1967, Kulthum made her only performance in Europe at LOlympia in Paris. She was paid twice what Callas received for the same venue, with admission prices four times those for Sammy Davis Jr. After the show, she said: No one can describe the extent of my pride when I went to Paris, stood in the middle of Europe, and raised my voice in the name of Egypt.

She performed until about 1970, but died in 1975 of kidney failure. Her funeral procession reportedly attracted 4 million Egyptians. Mourners seized the coffin from officials and carried it for hours through the streets.

Kulthum continues to appear regularly in Egyptian media. Those frustrated by the countrys current malaise are drawn to the golden era she represents. She has been given the hologram treatment in Saudi Arabia, while Arab trap producers sample her music. Singers continue to perform her repertoire, including Sanaa Nabil, her 17-year-old great-grand-niece, who will appear in the West End musical following a breakout performance on Arabs Got Talent. She believes her relatives music is still relevant today. Her music wasnt only for the past, she says. The songs are old, but the music always feels new. It exists outside of time.

Some have complained that Kulthums pervasive media presence has stifled other talents; others are uncomfortable about the bluntness of her nationalist rhetoric. Her hour-long songs also challenge those raised on three-minute pop. Khansa, a Lebanese artist who has made an electronic version of her song Qesat El Ams, says: A lot of people find it difficult to understand classical Arabic, so they dont listen to her, particularly the older, more complex repertoire.

There have also been attempts to pose trickier questions about her biography. Kulthum subverted the gender norms of mid-century Egypt with her hard-nosed business deals, active engagement in public life and resistance to giving up her career for family life. She had two marriages, neither of which was conventional: the first dissolved within days, the second, age 50, was to a younger man with children from an ex-wife.

Umm Kulthums funeral in 1975. Photograph: Historic Collection/Alamy Stock Photo

We dont talk about strong or masculine women in our history, says Musa Al Shadeedi, an Iraqi writer based in Jordan. We only discuss her as a singer. When he wrote an article for Jordanian LGBT magazine My.Kali exploring Kulthums rejection of traditional gender roles, he included this quote from the prominent Palestinian intellectual Edward Said: During her lifetime, there was talk about whether or not she was a lesbian, but the sheer force of her performances of elevated music set to classical verse overrode such rumours.

The mere reference to Kulthums possible lesbianism caused a scandal and the Jordanian government blocked My.Kalis website. In fact, there may be truth to these assertions. Danielson says that Kulthum was constantly surrounded by particular women and showed little interest in men. It is very, very likely she had relationships with women, she says.

Al Shadeedi is wary of pushing such claims. I dont see how dragging dead people out of the closet will fix our society today, he says. But we can ask: if she was lesbian, would that change how we see her? This might help people reconsider how they react to such taboos.

The furore shows how fiercely protective people are about Kulthum almost a half-century after her death. This is a credit not just to her vocal chords, but also to her careful creation of a public persona. Kulthum was wary of the press and ensured her story was told by select journalists and photographers. She shaped her public narrative, deftly balancing the personas of stately matriarch, pious Muslim, peasant country girl, defender of the Arabic language and symbol of Egyptianness. She could mean different things to different people, and mastered that potential. As Danielson writes: She tried assiduously and consistently to construct a voice that millions would claim as their own.

Rehearsals for the show Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era.

In one of her few video interviews in Paris in 1967, Kulthum is superbly poised, fixing the twitchy journalist with a steady gaze. Her answers are terse and guarded despite a kindly facade. She analyses the subtext of each question and seizes every opportunity to buff her public image. When asked which monument she visits most in Paris, she cites the Luxor Obelisk at Place de la Concorde, which was transported from Egypt to Paris in 1833. When the journalist asks why, she says simply: Its ours. She subtly reassures fans at home that, although she is performing in France, she will never be anything other than Egyptian.

Her public self was clearly a construction, Danielson says in her book, but it was neither artificial nor false. Umm Kulthum simply learned to present herself in the way she wanted to be thought of and remembered. To truly understand Kulthum not just as a musician but as a social phenomenon that continues to blaze, Danielson says we must grasp not only the life behind the myth, but the myth at the heart of the life.

Umm Kulthum & the Golden Era is at the London Palladium on 2 March.

Read more:

Musician dubbed the Persian Bono fled Iran at age 22 and built a genre-blending career in Los Angeles

At age 22, Andy Madadian fled Iran with nothing, moved to Los Angeles and started playing guitar at nightclubs to pay rent.

Now 63, the internationally celebrated pop singer says hes ready for another new beginning: Madadian is getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first Iranian artist to earn the honor.

Many people may wonder: would you have a new beginning after 14 albums? Madadian said days before the ceremony unveiling his groundbreaking star. But to me its new because a lot of Americans are just discovering me and my music. Im hoping this Hollywood star will open some doors. We have a lot of great Iranian artists here in LA, and the western world has not discovered them yet.

Sometimes nicknamed the Persian Bono or Persian Elvis, the Iranian-Armenian American artist is being honored on the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk on Friday, after two tumultuous weeks of escalating conflict between Tehran, where he was raised, and the US, the country he has called home for decades.

Its a very difficult position to be in as an Iranian American artist, because whatever I produce is for my people my American people, my Iranian people, my Armenian people, he said on a recent afternoon, seated inside a bakery in Encino in the San Fernando Valley, not far from his home. Unfortunately, all of them are in some kind of a clash.

Madadian grew up 7,000 miles away in Irans capital, in a neighborhood home to many Armenians. Born in 1956, he shared a single room with his parents, grandmother and five siblings, and for much of his early childhood, the family didnt have any electricity or running water. But we had love and music, he recalled.

He excelled in math in school and some expected him to go into economics, but he always knew he would be a musician. His dad, who worked in road construction, helped him take out a loan to buy a guitar from a neighbor when he was 14 years old, and Madadian quickly started playing gigs with other singers to pay off the debt.

While others around him were interested in Iranian music, Madadian took a liking to British and American rock, falling in love with Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, Kansas and Chicago. I was much more rebellious, he said. Ray Charles was his vocal idol. A CBS recording branch in Iran discovered him when he was about 22 and helped him record a song he wrote in English, with plans to pitch him as an Iranian Rod Stewart given his similar raspy voice.

Enthralled with American-style music, Madadian knew he wanted to move to the US. But when he finally came to America, it wasnt just to pursue his dreams. When the revolution broke out in 1979, many were forced to flee, and Madadian lost contact with the producers who had recorded the single. (Maybe its better it didnt come out, because my English was not good.)

He got a student visa to play soccer for California State University, Los Angeles, and started playing guitar at nightclubs when he was not in school. He took the bus everywhere and invested whatever cash he saved in his instruments and paying for music lessons: To me, that was success.

He later formed a duo with another Persian singer, Kouros Shahmiri, and the two released several albums before Madadian went solo. Madadian eventually began working with the LA-based Iranian lyricist Paksima Zakipour, and in Persian markets, they became known as the Elton John and Bernie Taupin of the Iranian industry.

Over the years, Madadian has fused styles of his Iranian-Armenian heritage with western dance music, Spanish flamenco guitar, African rhythms and more. He has long attracted audiences overseas but also got mainstream US attention in 2009 when he collaborated with Jon Bon Jovi to record a Stand By Me cover in English and Farsi to show solidarity with protesters in Iran.

Bon Jovi learned the Farsi lyrics in a day, and Iranian fans thought he sang with a cute accent, Madadian said. This is a New Jersey kid singing Farsi for the first time.

Joe Jackson, Michael Jacksons father, introduced Madadian to his daughter La Toya Jackson and the two recorded a song in Farsi called Tehran in 2016. The song, like much of Madadians work, was hugely popular in Iran, though all of his music is officially banned by the Iranian government. Bootlegged versions of his music have spread across the country, but he doesnt make any money off of album sales there.

Because of the ban on his work, Madadian hasnt been back to Iran in the 41 years since he left. While some Iranian pop stars are exiled, Madadian hasnt tried to return and doesnt know what would happen if he did.

We have a lot of great Iranian artists here in LA, and the western world has not discovered them yet, Madadian said. Photograph: Courtesy Andy Madadian

Its the country I grew up in and I love beautiful people, beautiful place, beautiful culture, he said. I would like to go back when its a free democratic country, and my music is not banned but is on the radio and TV. One of my biggest wishes is that one day Iran and America will be good friends where we can visit and play in both countries, and live in both countries.

A vegetarian whose charity work focuses on animal rights, Madadian said he stays away from political activism. But he noted that that the devastating deaths from the Tehran plane crash caused by an accidental military strike were weighing heavy on him as he prepared to celebrate his Hollywood star and the triumph it represented for Iranian Americans.

Madadian will receive his star alongside a number of world-famous American musicians joining this year, including Elvis Costello, Billy Idol, Alicia Keys, 50 Cent and Muddy Waters.

The honor is a full circle moment for the artist, who remembered his first gigs in LA 40 years ago, which he would promote by posting flyers along lampposts on Hollywood Boulevard.

Ive lived most of my life in Los Angeles, so I am truly an Iranian-Armenian American and can say this is an American dream, he said, adding, The majority of Iranian artists live in LA. This is our Hollywood, also.

Read more:

As Kurds claim border is already being shelled, US appears to backtrack but Ankara says it will not be controlled by threats

Turkey has signalled its intent to press ahead with an attack on US-backed Kurdish-led forces in north-east Syria despite confusion over US policy after officials appeared to backtrack on Donald Trumps decision to withdraw troops from the area.

The vice-president, Fuat Oktay, said Turkey would execute its own plans regarding national security and would not be controlled by threats.

Turkey will not accept a terror corridor or terror state right next to its borders under any circumstances, whatever the cost, he said.

The Trump administration appeared to step back from the presidents reported promise to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyap Erdoan, in a phone call on Sunday that he would withdraw US troops from Syrias north-east.

The decision appeared to clear the way for a Turkish assault on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the US has backed but Ankara considers an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers party (PKK).

The SDF said late on Tuesday night that Turkish forces were already attacking near the border. The Turkish military is shelling one of our points on SereKaniye Border with Turkey, it said in a tweet, referencing the key border town of Ras al-Ain.

It was one of the places from which US troops withdrew from on Monday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

There were no injuries to our forces. We didnt respond to this unprovoked attack, the SDF said.

After the White House announced that the Turkish offensive was imminent and that US forces would be moved out of the way, Trump was heavily criticised by both Democrats and Republicans, including close allies such as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell on whom Trump could ultimately rely as a bulwark against impeachment charges.

The critics warned that a rushed withdrawal could open a new front in Syrias complex war, undo gains made against Islamic State and betray a military partner that had lost 11,000 fighters in that campaign.

The criticism prompted a change in tone from Trump on Tuesday morning. He said on Twitter: We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters.

After threatening to obliterate Turkeys economy if it did anything off-limits in the planned offensive, Trump talked up Washingtons relationship with Turkey. So many people conveniently forget that Turkey is a big trading partner of the United States, he said.

The Republican senator Lindsey Graham warned Turkey that Congress would impose sanctions if Ankara went ahead with its offensive.

Any incursion into northern Syria by Turkey creates a nightmare for the region & US national security interests, he said on Twitter. It will be met with most severe sanctions against Turkeys military and economy by Congress at a time we should be working together to solve common problems.

With his rhetorical U-turns and mixed messages, Trump has been publicly coming to terms with policy dilemmas that constrained his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The US cannot afford to worsen its already poor relationship with Turkey and cannot contemplate a military clash with a Nato ally. On the other hand, there is considerable US support, particularly in the Republican party, for standing by the Kurds.


The compromise until Sunday was an effort to establish a demilitarised cordon along the Turkish-Syrian border, patrolled jointly by the Turkish and US forces. That was ultimately torpedoed by Erdoans insistence that the 20-mile-deep zone should be resettled by Syrian Arab refugees, and that Turkish forces establish outposts inside the zone.

When Erdoan told Trump of his intention to invade, Trump agreed to withdraw the US troops in the zone and to try to sell it as the fulfilment of his election promise to bring troops home and to stop Americas endless wars.

White House officials insisted no US troops would be withdrawn from Syria, and that between 50 and 100 special forces would be redeployed from the border zone to more secure positions in Syria.

Nicholas Danforth, a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund who studies US-Turkey relations, said: Trump came through for Erdoan in a big way. Now Erdoan has to decide how far to press his luck before provoking a backlash from the US Congress or even Trump himself.

Trumps unpredictability is a double-edged sword for Ankara. Territorial gains Turkey makes in Syria will be immediate and obvious. The full cost of antagonising Washington will appear more slowly.

In Turkey, there has been a mixed reaction to news of the planned assault. Turkeys fragile lira dropped nine cents to 5.80 against the dollar after Trump tweeted a threat of more sanctions on Monday.

People are wondering if the campaign is being used to cover up the economic distress and declining Justice and Development party [Erdogans ruling AKP] votes, said Asl Aydntaba, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

One worries Turkey could stumble into a situation here where rather than just establish a safe zone a war could escalate very quickly.

Nationalistic sentiment is already being drummed up on online. Turkeys national defence ministry posted several clips of Turkish soldiers set to rock music and snippets of the national anthem on its social media accounts. We will come back war veterans or we will come back martyrs, one post read.

Yusuf Erim, a political analyst familiar with the Turkish governments thinking, said that with Isis defeated as a territorial entity and given the appeal of sending back up to 2 million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey a move Ankara insists does not amount to demographic engineering the operations timing made sense.

Trump actually wanted to withdraw in December 2018, so this is not an unplanned idea, Erim said. Neither the US nor Turkey wants a unilateral Turkish operation that would risk a confrontation between the US and Turkish troops. This is a proposal that was on the shelf but has been dusted off and brought back. Its not a spontaneous thing.

Read more:

Residents of the Tennessee city the Kurdish capital of America feel sold out but unsurprised by troop withdrawal

If you spend enough time in Kurdish places, from sidewalk tea stands in the shadow of the Erbil citadel to the bullet-pocked alleys of Diyarbakir and the dusty fields along Syrias frontlines, there is a proverb you will hear. It goes like this: The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.

It means that in the end, when Kurds are under attack and facing death, the mountains they retreat to will be the only things to protect them, whatever alliances they may have had before.

Youll hear it in Nashville too, in Little Kurdistan, a strip of grocers and eateries tucked between an Aldi and a Waffle House along the Nolensville Pike.

This week, Donald Trump announced he was pulling US troops from Syrias border with Turkey, seemingly giving the green light for Turkey to attack Kurdish forces allied with America. For many Kurds in Nashville many of whom came here and prospered after fleeing for their lives the sudden reversal was nothing short of a betrayal.

A Kurdish grocery store in Nashville. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

He betrayed the whole Kurdish nation, said Salah Osman, the imam at the Salahadeen Center mosque. We knew this is what would happen. We knew after they used [the Kurdish forces], after they did their job, they would leave them to face their future without any friends.

To most Americans, Nashville is the country music and bachelorette party capital, a place for boozy and raucous fun at neon-lit honky-tonks on Broadway. But it is also the Kurdish capital of America, home to an estimated 15,000 Kurds, the largest such population in the US.

When members of the Nashville Kurdish community like Osman look at images of Syrian Kurds fleeing Turkish attacks, crowded into the back of trucks or fleeing on foot with whatever they can carry, they think of their own experiences.

There are those who were in the first wave, arriving in the 1970s after a failed rebellion in Iraq. There are those who fled Saddam Husseins genocidal al-Anfal campaign in the late 1980s, and those who fled after George HW Bush encouraged Iraqis to rise up during the Gulf war but then did not provide assistance.

There are those who were born in refugee camps to parents who escaped with only the clothes on their backs. There are those who fled in the mid-90s, after Saddams forces, briefly pushed out of northern Iraq, stormed back in. There are those who risked their lives as interpreters for the US military, after the 2003 invasion.

More recent arrivals have fled from Syria and from oppression and violence in Turkey.

Sakir Cinar says sleep has been hard to come by since it was clear that Turkey was going to attack Syrias Kurds. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

It is unlikely that the latest violence will bring another surge in Nashvilles Kurdish population. Under new asylum rules, applicants must first try to seek safe haven in a third country. It is nearly impossible for Syrians to get US visas under Trumps travel ban and the administration has set the refugee cap at an all-time low.

Kirmanj Gundi, a Tennessee State University professor, came to Nashville in the 1970s. He spoke no English and the Kurdish community numbered in the hundreds.

I dont know how to express my feelings, he said this week. Its sad. Its frustrating. We feel we are betrayed again. We feel we are sold out again. We feel we are used again.

Gundi came to America after the Shah of Iran cut off funding to Kurdish rebels in a deal with Iraq. He watched more Kurds arrive in the 90s. The betrayal by Trump, he says, is more intense, the wound is deeper They were promised that they would be protected.

Trump did not stop at clearing the way for a Turkish attack. He has sought to justify his decision by painting Kurdish forces who did the bulk of the fighting against Islamic State in Syria as potentially fair-weather allies.

On Wednesday, Trump even defended his decision by saying the Kurds didnt help the US during the second world war.

At a rally in Minneapolis on Thursday evening, Trump was speaking about Turkeys offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces and his decision to withdraw US troops when he suddenly brought up how he has to send letters to the families of soldiers killed in blue on green attacks, where were teaching people how to fight and then they turn the gun on our soldiers and shoot them in the back.

He had previously praised Kurds for being among Americas most loyal allies.

We feel like when Donald Trump makes statements like this, it affects our position in this country and how some other citizens may perceive us as a threat to this country, which we are not, said Zaid Brifkani, a Kurdish American doctor in Nashville who is president of the Kurdish Professionals Group in the city.

We are part of this community, we are part of this American dream.

We are free here

Nawzad Hawrami, the director of the Salahadeen Center, says Kurds like him have found freedom in Nashville. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

At the centre of Little Kurdistan, around the Salahadeen Center mosque, Kurdish stores are interspersed with a Latin American nightclub and a hibachi restaurant. Earlier this year, Nashvilles public schools approved adding Kurdish-language electives in high schools. During Ramadan, when the mosque is open all night, the police department stations a squad car outside. Some in the older generation only speak Arabic and Kurdish. Their children have American accents.

We are free here. As a Kurd, as a Muslim, we are free more than in our back home countries, said Nawzad Hawrami, director of the Salahadeen Center, who lived in the Iraqi city of Halabja during al-Anfal. This is a great country, a great nation.

Sakir Cinar got asylum in the US two years ago after, he says, he made a Facebook post critical of Turkeys president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, that led to a mob attacking his restaurant and his arrest by Turkish authorities.

In Nashville, working as a cook, he can say what he wants. He can speak Kurdish without having to look over his shoulder. He can speak with a journalist in public, without fearing repercussions.

But the Turkish attack on Syria has left him sleepless, glued to his phone, checking for updates.

My insides are hurting, crying. I just can pray, he said.

A mural depicting scenes of traditional Kurdish life is painted on the side of a Kurdish grocer in Little Kurdistan, Nashville. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

Nashvilles Kurds are unsure they can make a difference. Tennessees two Republican senators have spoken out. On Friday, hundreds of members of the Kurdish community protested in downtown Nashville. But at the end of the day, they are a small community with little ability to leverage state elections, let alone foreign policy.

Trump has said he will try to broker a deal between Turkey and the Kurds and has raised the possibility of working to destroy and obliterate Turkeys economy if it does anything off limits. But despite widespread criticism, even from his closest allies, he has stood by his decision to withdraw.

While many in Little Kurdistan feel betrayed, Trumps behavior has not soured their thoughts on America.

When it comes to America, there are opportunities, said Gundi, the professor. When you compare America with any other nation America comes out head and shoulders above any country in the world.

Brifkani, the doctor, said: I dont think Trump represents true American values.

Read more:

Leather-clad group Hatari say this years contest, in which they will represent Iceland, is built on a lie

Nothing titillates the Icelandic bondage and dominance-themed band Hatari more than a glaring contradiction.

On stage, the group, whose name means Hater, present a fascist-inspired dystopia of blood-splattered whippings. In person, they are softly spoken and occasionally cheerfully optimistic.

They have slammed Eurovision in Israel which is the subject of boycott calls over the countrys treatment of Palestinians as being built on a lie, calling it propaganda and a whitewash, yet they have agreed to represent their country in Tel Aviv this week, expressing genuine love for the competitions message of unity and diversity.

While the groups founding purpose was to overthrow capitalism, they own a for-profit company selling T-shirts and merchandise and brashly advertise their own carbonated water at any opportunity, promising it is the purest water left on Earth.

Of course, dismantling capitalism is an expensive affair, says one half of the bands main duo, Matthias Tryggvi Haraldsson, in monotone sarcasm.

The worlds longest-running televised song competition boasts a proud history of pop ballads light on meaning and heavy on fun and glitz, making it a wonder that a black leather, highly sexualised group who revel in pain have made it to Eurovision with a song entitled Hate Will Prevail.

Some of our fans in Iceland are gimps at heart, explains the other frontman, Klemens Hannigan, his golden hoop earrings dangling, framed by a blonde mullet.

The pair of cousins, both 25, dreamed up the performance art group during a stroll in the nighttime sun in Reykjavk several years ago, contemplating the rise of populism in Europe. Hate Will Prevail takes it forward, imagining a dark future. The militaristic, authoritarian style of BDSM bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism seemed apt and they have been welcomed, they say, with open arms by the Icelandic fetish community.

They told us about the importance of consent and trust, before proceeding to flog us, says Tryggvi Haraldsson. The chairman of the national BDSM society became an ally and even made a cameo appearance in a music video.

The third member of the band, Einar Hrafn Stefansson, is a drummer who appears in shows in a mask. He was spotted recently on a beach in Tel Aviv in platform boots and metal chains. He was let out for a couple of hours; otherwise he is locked in his [hotel] room, says Hannigan.

Hatari have emerged as the most controversial act this year, putting politics front of stage in a contest that has been at pains stay apolitical, to the point of adding censorship of lyrics and speeches into its rules.

With their deadpan humour, Hatari challenged the countrys leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, to a traditional Icelandic trouser-grip wrestling match the day after the Eurovision finale, to be adjudicated by a neutral UN-sponsored referee.

Hatari came out on top in Sngvakeppnin, Icelands domestic Eurovision contest. Photograph: Mummi Lu

If they win on 18 May, they warn they will have earned the right to take control of land within Israel to set up the first liberal BSDM enclave. The parallels with Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory are clear, even if Hatari do not point that out explicitly.

Their pronouncements have riled Israels supporters and no doubt caused anxiety among Eurovision organisers. There was public pressure on the interior ministry to block their entry to the country, and they say pre-competition events in Tel Aviv have been awkward.

There is tension, says Tryggvi Haraldsson, adding that they have received hate mail. There is an elephant in the room.

Eurovision, created in 1956 in the aftermath of the second world war, has always been deeply, if not overtly, political. Countries with close linguistic, ethnic or diplomatic ties often vote for each other. Armenias 2015 song was originally entitled Dont Deny, interpreted as a reference to Turkeys denial of the genocide. This year, Ukraine pulled out of the contest because its singer accused the national broadcaster of pushing her to abide by a ban on concerts in Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014.

Israel has sought to use Eurovision for political gain, originally planning to host it in Jerusalem in a campaign for international recognition of the holy city as its capital. The organisers chose Tel Aviv instead.

Eurovision is, of course, a beautiful thing in that it is based on ideas of peace and unity and this year its held in a country thats marred by conflict and disunity, says Tryggvi Haraldsson.

Letting the narrative of the fluffy, peace-loving pop contest go on unchallenged in this context in our view is extremely political. Everyone who takes part in this is taking part in a political statement whether they are aware of it or not.

Hataris Klemens Hannigan (right) and Matthias Tryggvi Haraldsson (second from right) at the Sngvakeppnin finals in March. Photograph: Facebook

To push back, Hataris first point of call after landing was to drive to the largest city in the occupied West Bank. More than 200,000 Palestinians live in Hebron, but the presence of ultranationalist Israeli settlers around the main souk has in effect shut down local life in its centre as army checkpoints cut off the area.

Its so absurd to be in this contest and everyone is super polite; its all about the music and everybody loves each other, says Tryggvi Haraldsson at his hotel in Tel Aviv. And to be in that bubble a day after witnessing apartheid in action just an hours drive away is the contradiction that we want to be aware of.

Yet Hatari have found themselves under pressure from Palestinians, too, in particular the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which wants not only businesses to pull support for the competition, but artists to pull out of it too, even ones who criticise Israels policies.

One of the movements founders said it appreciated gestures of solidarity but Hatari was fig-leafing by playing in Eurovision.

Tryggvi Haraldsson says he supports any non-violent movement that campaigns for Palestinian rights, including BDS, even though, obviously and paradoxically, our approach is very different. Otherwise, he says, an opportunity for a critical discussion is wasted, as Iceland was always going to send a group.

The big question is whether Hatari will use the Eurovision stage to protest in front of millions of viewers worldwide in the semi-finals on Tuesday.

In rehearsals the band performed with backing dancers in front of a giant prop of grinding gears, which some thought resembled a grenade. It is the logo for Relentless Scam Inc, the holding company that sells their bottled water, SodaDream. It is not to be confused with Israeli product SodaStream, they warn with the slightest hint of a smirk, which used to operate a factory in a settlement.

We are using a platform to uphold a certain agenda, says Tryggvi Haraldsson. It doesnt have to be a physical platform.

When the contest hibernates for another year, Hatari are determined not to be a one-Eurovision wonder and plan to release an album in September.

But do they have other ambitions? Tryggvi Haraldsson answers in monotone: Playing shows in countries where there currently is not an illegal occupation taking place.

Read more:

On a bus in the West Bank, fearing for our lives, this 13-year-old boy taught me the true power of empathy, says the playwright and actor Tariq Jordan

As an actor and storyteller, I always felt that I was an extremely sympathetic person. That was a source of pride. But a couple of years ago I realised my sympathy was, in fact, pointless. It was devoid of any value whatsoever. My sympathy allowed me to merely sit as a spectator in the arena of human struggles. It achieved little for others. What I needed was to re-engage with something I had forgotten how to do: empathise.

In 2014 I found myself travelling along the West Bank on a coach with about 30 young Palestinians. This journey was full of music and dance. Darbukas and dabkes. And I was involved. It was impossible not to be. That is what empathy is. Feeling with others and not for them. But along this journey, that empathy turned quite suddenly to sympathy. Our bus had to pass a roadblock guarded by Israel Defence Forces soldiers. Guns were pointed at our driver and he was forced to halt the bus, throwing the younger members of the group 10 feet down the aisle. As we all scrambled to our seats, I immediately sat next to a young Palestinian boy of 13.

One of the IDF soldiers entered the bus and shouted at us for paperwork, permits and identification. As we sat silently, staring down the barrel of his gun, the 13-year-old boy sitting next to me turned and asked if I was all right. I simply nodded. He smiled at me and said: Dont worry, it will all be fine. I suddenly felt rather embarrassed. Embarrassed that a 30-year-old man was being comforted by a child.

The soldier began walking along the bus and at that moment I needed to feel good about myself. So what did I do? I acknowledged my sympathy. I felt for this kid sat next to me. I reminded myself no child should have to stare down the barrel of a gun. I reminded myself no child should have to feel the fear of death. I reminded myself this was all so wrong. And I ultimately reminded myself that my sympathy did nothing for my 13-year-old companion.

This lad looked to me again and observed that I was nervous. Smile, it will help! he said before asking for my passport. I didnt even question giving my British passport to a 13-year-old child. He placed the passport visibly on my lap and said something that made me realise my sympathy was futile. This is Kryptonite, remember that. The soldier arrived at my seat and pointed his gun in my young friends face, while the boy showed a stoicism that I did not know existed in children. The soldier then clocked my passport, and lo and behold, he moved on. Kryptonite.

I am often reminded of that young boy whenever I see news of the destructive events happening in the region. All I can think is: I hope he is still smiling. I thank him for helping me to re-engage my own sense of empathy but also for understanding what it means. Empathy is the ability to not be able to switch off the news or put down a newspaper when the suffering of others is so prominent. Empathy is not sitting in the political chambers around the world, talking, but rather doing. Empathy is not turning a blind eye to the destruction of innocence we are seeing in our youth; whether that be a child living in the confines of Gaza, surrounded by nightly airstrikes, or an Israeli child living within the range of Hamas rockets. Empathy forces world leaders to not just condemn with shallow sympathy, but to take action and save our children.

That 13-year-old boy made a choice to feel with me, rather than for me. And that was humiliating for me to acknowledge: that I didnt have that capacity as an adult. But maybe we need to feel humiliated sometimes. Because if a child already possesses that quality, then we as adults need to re-educate ourselves. Children exhibit empathy by putting themselves inside the struggles of others and help to find a way out together. Children realise that empathy spurs us into positive action, sympathy doesnt.

Tariq Jordan is an actor and writer with dual Arab-Muslim and European-Jewish heritage. His play Ali and Dahlia is at the Pleasance Theatre in London, until 14 April

Read more:

The screening of a 1966 film about their countrys bitter colonial conflict has seen Algerians unite in peaceful protest

More than half a century since it was released and promptly banned by French authorities The Battle of Algiers, depicting the bloody struggle for Algerias independence from France in 1962, still has the power to shock.

On Friday night, the black-and-white, 1966 film relating Algerian anti-colonial guerrilla warfare and its brutal repression by the French military was screened in Paris. London-based musical activists Asian Dub Foundation (ADF) performed a live soundtrack.

The cin-concert, organised months ago, had become suddenly and unexpectedly topical with Algerians in Paris, like their compatriots back home, calling for regime change following the resignation of longstanding President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, last week. As the credits rolled and the reverberations from ADFs powerful interpretation, performed alongside the original Ennio Morricone score, faded in the packed auditorium at the History of Immigration Museum, a line from the film echoed on.

Its only after we have succeeded that the real difficulties begin, says Yacef Sadi, a Front de Libration Nationale (FLN) leader who plays himself in the Gillo Pontecorvo film. Algerians have now succeeded in forcing Bouteflika out after 20 years, but now, say many, comes the difficult part: fulfilling their real and urgent desire for peaceful but total regime change.

What happens in Algeria still casts a long and sombre shadow over France, whose 132-year colonial rule over the north African nation became a form of apartheid, with one million colonialists of French origin so-called pieds noirs dominating nine million Algerians.

Today there are an estimated four million people of Algerian origin in France its largest migrant community. And as the streets of Algiers have erupted in calls for an oppressive regime to tumble, so too have the streets of Paris.

The demonstrations in Paris are very much in tune with demonstrations in Algeria. Its all very peaceful. They want to avoid conflict and violence, but to bring about some kind of peaceful transition where Bouteflika goes but the system isnt simply rehashed, said Martin Evans, a specialist in Algerian history at the University of Sussex.

With Algerias ethnic and cultural diversity, it was perhaps inevitable that some of the historic tensions that have existed for decades between different groups would resurface at a time of heightened emotion: in particular, tensions between Algerias Arabs and Berbers known as Amazigh in the indigenous language.

Berbers make up about 30% of Algerias population and while a minority follow the Ibadi school of Islam, most, like their Arab compatriots, are Sunni Muslims. For centuries they lived peacefully together, but during colonial rule the French stoked the cultural and linguistic differences as a divide-and-rule tactic. In recent years there have been sporadic outbreaks of violence and killings, as Arabs migrated to traditionally Berber areas competing for jobs, land and homes and leaving Berbers claiming they were being discriminated against in an attempt by the government to Arabise the country.

Evans said he had been surprised to see Amazigh flags at recent demonstrations he attended in Paris. I hear people saying the Arab-Berber issue isnt a problem, but when I spoke to demonstrators there was certainly some tension between the two groups, so its evident the issue isnt just colonial and will have to be dealt with, he added.

Omar Kezouit, whose association Agir pour le Changement et la Dmocratie en Algrie (Act for Change and Democracy in Algeria), has organised demonstrations, said the ripples of events unfolding in Algeria were felt keenly in France, and that but insisted the diaspora had put aside its divisions. He told the Observer: Algerians are united by the fact they have no hope in the current regime and desperately want change. What do we want? We want a country that gives us proper leaders, hopes and futures, and above all freedom. What we dont want is to be tricked.

Algerians are also profoundly scarred by the countrys experiment with Islamism that led to what they call the Black Decade, the 1992-2002 civil war in which between 50,000 and 150,000 died (the figures are disputed). But Kezouit and Evans dismissed fears that the current unrest could encourage a resurgence of Islamism.

Evans said: Algerians will tell you Islamism is something that happened in their country and they definitely dont want to go there again.

Azouz Kamel, a freelance Algerian journalist working in Paris, who was at the ADF cin-concert, agreed. The press in France is making a big thing about the problem of Islamism in Algeria, but it has nothing to do with what is happening. People dont want Islamists. We have turned the page on that, he said.

Certainly, what unites Algerians in France is fear that Bouteflikas departure will change nothing. Kamel said: Right now Im not at all happy. Weve gone from a clannish, family dictatorship to a military dictatorship.

We dont want the job half done. We want a radical change to the whole system. I came to France 20 years ago when Bouteflika took power and Algeria was rich. He has brought the country to its knees with widespread corruption. His clan, friends and supporters have got rich. The poor have got poorer.

Kezouit added: Nobody wants the army or old regime. We fear they will sacrifice some people to make out theyve listened to the people, then try to carry on as before, but we will engage with them peacefully.

Algerians have paid heavily for years of conflict. We remember this well. The wounds are still open. So its important that, while we need to be victorious, it must be peacefully.

But everyone who represents or is part of the regime must go. We say, you got rid of Bouteflika. Great. Now go home. All of you. Algerian people will not be satisfied until they have that change.

At the cin-concert, part of the Paris-Londres Music Migrations exhibition, ADFs interpretation of The Battle of Algiers was cheered and applauded. When the film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1966, the French delegation walked out. It was so politically sensitive in France that even after the brief ban was lifted it was not screened there until 1971.

Steve Savale, ADFs lead guitarist, said he hoped Algerians in the audience would feel the group had interpreted a piece of their history respectfully and in doing so had kept the struggle alive. Bass player Aniruddha Das, aka Dr Das, said the film had resonated with members of the multicultural British group: Like Algerian people we all have the same colonial experience. Were all in Europe because Britain or France occupied, exploited and sometimes engaged in genocide in our respective places and we can relate to that.

Read more:

Kurdish-led group says last of militants cleared from stronghold of Baghuz

After almost five years, the battle to dismantle Islamic States brutal caliphate has ended with an announcement from US-backed forces that the militants have been driven out of their last stronghold of Baghuz.

Isis had held out for months against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the small oasis town on the Euphrates river, clinging on to an area of land less than 700 sq metres wide despite fierce coalition bombing. But on Saturday an SDF spokesperson, Mustafa Bali, tweeted that the town had been liberated.

On this unique day we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible, he wrote.

One of the groups infamous black flags was ripped apart and trampled underfoot by SDF troops on the riverbank, also littered with shrapnel and discarded suicide belts. Kurdish pop music blasted from armoured cars and young male and female recruits danced and fired AK-47s in the air in celebration.

Three days ago we clutched our weapons, trying to break forward even a few metres, a fighter called Rami told AFP.

But now weve finished with Isis and its black banner and weve hoisted our own instead.

The elimination of the caliphate is a significant symbolic victory against Isis, which at the height of its power held more than 8 million people hostage to its bloody interpretation of Islamic law in a swath of territory across Syria and Iraq that was roughly the size of the UK.

Theresa May praised the extraordinary courage of the UK armed forces and their allies against the group, also known as Daesh.

May tweeted:

Theresa May (@theresa_may)

The liberation of the last Daesh-held territory wouldnt have been possible without the immense courage of UK military and our allies. We will continue to do what is necessary to protect the British people, our Allies and partners from the threat Daesh poses.

March 23, 2019

The UK defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: This has been a long campaign ending the misery of millions, as [Isis] swept through Syria and Iraq, and came so close to taking the city of Baghdad. But due to the tireless efforts of our service personnel, we have been able to beat them back, depriving them of territory and making sure that Britain is safer.

But we cannot be complacent. Theyve dispersed, and theyll continue to pose a threat to Britain, and that is why we will always remain vigilant.

His sentiments were echoed by Hunt, who tweeted:

Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt)

Todays liberation of Daeshs last territory in Syria is a historic achievement. But the fight is NOT over. We remain resolute in our commitment to tackle the real threat Daesh & its poisonous ideology poses to people in Iraq, Syria & around the world

March 23, 2019

At least 11,000 SDF fighters, a Kurdish-led militia which includes Arab, Syriac and Turkmen units, have died in the four-year military campaign against the group in Syria. Tens of thousands more troops died across the border in Iraq, and monitors say the civilian death toll in both countries is far higher than official estimates.

Car, motorbike and even bicycle suicide bombs slowed the SDFs advance in Baghuz to a crawl as Isiss most committed and battle-hardened men the majority believed to be foreigners from Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt as well as a handful of Europeans fought to the death.

The offensive also ground to a halt several times as the militants wives and children poured out of the town in staggering numbers, with some women defiantly shouting Isis slogans and threatening reporters.

Coalition intelligence had estimated Baghuzs population to be 5,000 at the beginning of the operation in December, but 62,000 women and children have since arrived at displacement camps, overwhelming the local authorities.

Many of the children are suffering from malnutrition, hypothermia and trauma wounds: more than than 120 people, the vast majority infants, have died on arrival at the camps.

The fate of at least 300 Yazidi women and girls enslaved by Isis believed to still be in Baghuz when the town fell, as well as that of high-profile hostages kept by the group as bargaining chips, is unknown.

The announcement of victory in Baghuz was somewhat undercut by reports of sporadic gunfire and shelling on Saturday near cliffs on the towns eastern edge. On Friday another SDF spokesperson, Kino Gabriel, had said clearing operations to drive out fighters hiding in caves there were still under way. Airstrikes pounded the area overnight.

Graphic map of caliphate’s rise and fall

The SDF, which had been preparing for a victory announcement for weeks even building a stage at the operations base was robbed of a more climactic victory moment when the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, told reporters on Friday that the acting defence secretary, Patrick Shanahan, had briefed Donald Trump that Isis had been completely territorially defeated.

SDF soldiers and international coalition commanders celebrated the collapse of the caliphate on Saturday but they remain under no illusions that Isis has already morphed back into an insurgency which continues to pose a serious threat in a country still mired in an intractable civil war.

The militants have carried out dozens of sleeper cell attacks in recently liberated towns and villages along the Euphrates river corridor as well as in their former capital Raqqa. Since the Baghdad government declared Isiss defeat in Iraq in 2017, the group has carried out more than 1,000 attacks there.

As the fight against Isis enters a new chapter, attention is increasingly turning to the complex issues surrounding any extradition or justice proceedings for captured fighters, as well as women and children. Most western governments are reticent to repatriate their citizens, fearing they will not be able to bring adequate charges against them – but the Kurdish administration in north-east Syria has stressed it does not have the resources to hold or try approximately 800 foreign men currently in their custody.

Some 3,000 children born to foreign nationals are currently being held in detention camps across Kurdish-held Syria, most of them stateless. Without sustained support and education the families remain extremely vulnerable to radicalisation, rights groups say.

Read more:

Two New Zealand women face claim for emotional injury over singers scrapped Tel Aviv show

Lorde: Israeli fans sue activists over tour cancellation

Two New Zealand women face claim for emotional injury over singers scrapped Tel Aviv show

You can hardly blame Lorde for getting in a diplomatic brouhaha, celebrity singers are too young and too busy to be political sages. So heres a cheat sheet, says Guardian writer Hannah Jane Parkinson

Give us today our daily outrage: the pop star Lorde has decided after much consideration to cancel her concert in Israel after a letter from BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) supporters. Cut to a rightwing American rabbi taking out a full-page advert in the Washington Post to denounce her as antisemitic, and also hold her responsible for New Zealands entire foreign policy.

All of this seems a bit harsh expecting a 21-year-old to have a fully formed opinion on something she readily admitted to not knowing much about. This is a woman who sang on her first album about never having been on a plane. This is a woman who also made one of the best albums of 2017, so probably didnt have a lot of time to refresh her news app every time something happened in global politics (and that would have been a lot of times). This is a woman who thought about something for a while, sought some advice, and then made a decision she thought was best.

I am not sure Lorde should be the flashpoint for peoples anger here. And yet popsters seem to get it in the neck a lot of the time. So here are some tips for besieged entertainers who enter the arena of geopolitical or social issues.

Middle Eastern conflicts

The Middle East in itself is a weird term because thats not even where it is on a map (BRITISH EMPIRE KLAXON), but when the US president is referring to a country called Nambia, the bar for geographic accuracy has been set low. Firstly theres the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is best avoided if you dont know too much about it. Do not, as Vox once did, write an explainer of the conflict that got virtually everything wrong and invented a non-existent bridge.

Then theres the situation in Syria and neighbouring states. There are a lot of factions and sub-factions across territories: PKK, YPG, SDF, PYD, KCK, pretty much the entire alphabet is covered, and sometimes it is hard to keep track of the good guys and the bad guys. This is because, you know, this conflict is more complex than that and quite difficult to make a slogan out of for some tour merchandise.


Kanye West performs onstage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Photograph: John Shearer/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

So many pop stars seem to have a blind spot when it comes to agreeing to perform at birthday parties, weddings, ket raves (maybe not that last one) of the relatives of dictators. Out-and-out dictators. Not even low-key dictators, but full-on unmitigated tyrants. I have no idea why singers are so drawn to the equivalent of, say, jumping out of a cake at Pol Pots summer bash, but they are. Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, Sting and Kanye West (serial offender) have all performed for dubious characters. If you mess up, do the decent thing and donate the proceeds to charity. (As Beyonc, Usher, Mariah Carey and Nelly Furtado all said they did when they performed for the Gaddafi family).

Party politics

One of the most glaring discrepancies between the Obama and Trump presidential inaugurations, except, obviously for crowd size, was the quality of the performing talent. Obama had: Beyonc, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Usher and too many others to mention. Trump had some dude in a cowboy hat I had never heard of. Theres actually been a cheering number of pop stars calling out politicians for using their tracks without permission at events, but I also rather enjoy the pop stars who take the Brenda from Bristol approach (theres too much politics!). See Girls Aloud, one of the best girl groups of all time:

David Cameron said he fancied me. He was just trying to be cool … Do I fancy him? No! Politicians should stop trying to be cool and get on with running the country. Exactly, Cheryl.


Remember when Ariana Grande, a then 23-year-old pop star, became a target for opprobrium after her concert was hit by a terrorist attack? Because apparently going home for a few days to spend time with family was not the done thing after being caught up in a terrifying bombing, even though she had already made a statement about how devastated she was?

Those people (Piers Morgan, obviously) quickly had to bite their tongue when Grande organised a free benefit concert two weeks later. Too soon! others said. Its funny that Grande attracted so much negative attention for handling it all as well as one could, while the Eagles of Death Metal lead singers comments about Muslims celebrating in the streets and Bataclan employees being in cahoots with the terrorists went under the radar. Either way, I cant offer much advice on this one, because its all just horrible.

Sexual politics

Your role model here (and in all things) is Beyonc. Beyonc who sampled a feminist essay from the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Flawless, and performed that song at an awards ceremony with a huge neon FEMINIST sign behind her. She did all this and was still criticised for wearing a skimpy outfit, because, men. In 2017, Taylor Swift took a break from recording the musical equivalent of a voodoo doll to bring a douche who groped her to justice, suing him for a symbolic $1. This is good too.

When it comes to LGBT stances, early allies such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper provide good examples; also the rapper Macklemore who, though straight, has been a consistent LGBT rights campaigner, and wrote the quite lovely same-sex marriage anthem Same Love, performing it in Australia just before a postal vote on that issue.

Race issues

Taylor Swift arrives at the iHeartRadio Music Awards at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Photograph: Richard Shotwell/AP

Taylor Swift is a great example of a pop star who is particularly woke in one area and less so in another (unlike Beyonc, who as well as her FEMINIST sign inserted a Black Panthers vignette into her Super Bowl performance, watched by an audience of millions). Swift got into hot water when she defensively reacted to a Nicki Minaj tweet which accurately pointed out the lack of black women nominated for music video awards. Swift took it as a personal insult, but the two have since made up. In truth the whole thing was blown out of all proportion, but is a good example of white people panicking during discussions about race.

Someone who goes out of their way to learn is Katy Perry, who, after some real clangers, went on a journey to educate herself. She hasnt always got it right (see also: model Bella Hadid talking about sneakers, which remains one of the funniest things), but at least she is trying. NB to pop stars: racism does still exist, as Sam Smith was shocked to find out in 2016. Its not like it has been around for centuries and society is built on it though, so can you really blame him for not knowing?


Are you even a pop star if you dont have a charitable foundation bearing your name? The best are celebs who make it to number 19 in the charts once, and assume Grimsbys comps are crying out for their help funding bongo drums. The main advice here is to avoid the sort of poverty porn that Ed Sheeran and Tom Hardy were recently criticised for, which was de rigueur in the 80s. As for charity singles, please, please, can we have videos other than the finger-clicking stars in sound booths. Be like George Michael, who used to organise free concerts for NHS nurses. In fact, be like George Michael in everything.


Ringo Starr, just knighted, came out for Brexit, which apparently is a popular position among mega-rich people who dont actually live in the UK. See also: Morrissey. In fact, the best piece of overall advice to give to pop stars on political issues is that whatever Morrisseys position on it, take the opposite. (This advice works from about 2000 onwards).

  • Hannah Jane Parkinson is a Guardian writer

Read more: