Evan Gabriel

Posts Tagged ‘2011’

TRAVEL: In the Medina

In Anywhere But Here on June 28, 2013 at 2:08 am

Under the sunshine, under the mosque’s minarets, under the rising engine fumes, another world exists. In the old towns, sheet metal covers slender walkways of pisé mud brick walls, giving home to the collections of merchants stalls known in the Middle East and Northern Africa as medinas, or souks.

Souk in Tangiers

Souk in Tangiers

These tunnels of commerce have thrived for centuries. Obscured, often dim alleys await the visitor with a stark change of pace from newly developed Ville Nouvelles. In Morocco’s large cities, causeways of shops run for miles and add to the mystique of places like Tangier—what Paul Bowles called the “classical dream equipment of tunnels, ramparts, ruins, dungeons, and cliffs.”

Abruptly in Fez’s Medina, I realize I can barely breath. Unlike Marrakech’s open J’emma El Fna, Fez’s old townhas no opening. Just continuously cramped passageways. Every side has options to browse. Soon it is clear the lanes do not deposit me at a destination, like stairs to a room. The stairs simply continue. I keep a pace of intent as to repel hustlers. Though starting to feel the pressure build. No air and narrow walls. Mounting paranoia. Quickly, I duck into a café where I huddle down, order my food, and eat in peace.

The Medina offers a crossover into the ancient world. Merchants still sell spices of saffron and cumin, along with salts, and dried bodies of chicken and sheep that hang upside down with bellies like fleece. The maâlems, or master artisans, chat in front of their shops. Change is easily made with neighbors. The shab al A’hwa greets a boy arriving to the café with the morning’s supply of mint leaves on the back of his bike. Visiting friends drop in on to clear or collect debts. Walking past, one hears hammering and live crafting of copper or silver tea trays. Dyes from Saharan oils and minerals find their way into the symmetrical sewing of rugs, creams contrast dark-blue backdrops and form matrices in each. Textiles of crimsons, green, and purple are tucked away in shelves, awaiting the grasps of customers. Shop’s corners are stacked with felt hats, gold-dyed cowhide slippers, and almond or wine-dark leather jackets. Old men with shaky eyes eek along in long djellaba coverings, holding canes. Youngsters swipe passed on mopeds but despite their beeping, banter prevails on the cobblestone streets. Like the ancient Agora in Athens, the medina remains a place to meet, to gossip, and argue politics over lunch before heading back to the job. Most of all, the medina is the theater of barter for goods.

Life in the souk is slow paced. It is disrespectful for travelers to rush deals. Although disputes over prices may appear unorthodox to the Westerner, it is a part of cultural tradition. As Akbar Ahmed points out, the Islamic tradition is “rooted in thought and debate, a tradition going back to the prophet himself. The history of Islam is the history of ideas and their power to affect people’s actions.”Due to the charismatic nature of the maâlems, simply making it out of the customer/artisan role-play without overspending is a battle.

At the Hotel Central Palis in Marrakech, Nathan and I overlook the Jaamah El fna. Even from our roof, the buzzing square of flickering lights and wafts of meat smoke is intimidating. Yet we decide to enter for a late dinner. With noise on all sides, I feel lightheaded as if floating. Everything moves in the slow pace of desert life. We keep in single file to avoid clipping heals. As drums beat nearby, I spot a group of older woman, all covered in hijabs and reading the palms of their daughters while waiting for customers.

“Are you scared of snakes?” I hear from behind.


Eagle Eyes

Easily enough, one can become overwhelmed in any medina. Small charges often get hairy. In Fez, Francois and I explore the old town’s famous tanneries. A guide shows us up to a roof where we see cow skins soaking in stone baths of deep red dye. He hands us mint leaves to block the powerful stench. After leaving the rooftop, our guide disappears. I assume he is attending to other business in his leather shop. We head out, but while slinking our way through a tunnel, he remerges to demand a tip, looking disgusted that we left.

“Dh1000,” he insists.

“Too much,” I respond, stone faced in sunglasses.

When we settle on Dh500, his tone changes and we shake hands professionally, the dank tunnel having become a negotiation room.

AUDIBLE: Brock Berrigan Slaying Dragons

In Audible on June 12, 2013 at 10:02 pm


I have been a fan of sir Brock since getting a hold of his 2011 Beat Tape and I must say, his knack for eloquently weaving samples and sound bites throughout his tracks is both revitalizing and inspirational. Since 2011, the beat maker has let little stand in his way, as he has released a score of new projects.


Get familiar with one of my favorite audible hors d’oeuvres and picture Bill Peet’s illustrative genius.


In Case You Slept: Danny Brown’s XXX and Why You Should Listen

In Audible on May 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm


by Evan Gabriel

For Danny Brown, 2011 marked the beginning of fame with the release of his XXX mixtape. Listeners were hit with an X-rated style, which even caused non-Hip Hop fans to google the Detroit rapper.

On one hand, the first half of XXX is extremely celebratory—touting life as a fresh superstar, being signed to A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold Records and spoils of success, which in Brown’s case are most notably sexual exploits. Tracks like “Lie4” and “Bruiser Brigade” celebrate these triumphs endlessly. Yet beyond the superficial fluff of money and the smorgasbord of substances that power the thirty-one-year old, there is a darker side to XXX that sheds light on the beauty of duality.

On the second half of he album, Brown explores his history, the grim details of present day Detroit and all the natural horrors that plague most of the city’s impoverished inhabitants. On songs like “Scrap or Die,” Brown illustrates fictional (or nonfictional) accounts of the grim copper and wire trade in Motor City. What’s more, Brown directly addresses his audience taunting, “You probably laugh/ ‘cause you know it’s true,” eerily predicting his listeners’ responses to this practice of modern barbarity, like the pillage of the crumbling city’s shambles, its abandon houses and structures providing the very livelihood of natives. Can anyone say concrete jungle?

Throughout XXX, however, Brown refuses to let the listener settle on his depiction of fame or famine as the album’s sole focus. Instead, like reality, he balances the two seamlessly. To use a phrase from Detroit author Jeffrey Eugenide’s, Danny is not acting as “a cheerleader for Detroit.” Instead, the rapper depicts Motown as a real place, one of squalor and desperation. Yet above all the grit, the city is simply his home.

Brown’s debut mixtape ends in painful realism as he portrays his life constantly teetering on destruction: “If I don’t make it my life’s a failure,” he airs with a high-pitched delivery, causing the listener to view his unabashed history of poverty and drug abuse as essential to his fame. While songs like “Blunt After Blunt” and “Radio Song” have clearly reached a wide range of listeners, the skeleton of XXX comes from a darker place, one of financial frustration, self-consciousness, and the struggle to make it in the city’s iron heart.

Listeners of XXX are left with a graphic picture of the dualistic lifestyle that Brown continues to live. Whether celebrating raucous evenings backstage, nods of Xanies on his couch or ordering girls to sit on his face, Brown also shows the pain of drug-dependencies, the influx of mindless ramblings, MDMA infused sublimity and the overbearing past that leaves the rapper with a wide smile despite his missing front tooth.

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