In our weekly Chit-chat segment, we host novelist and translator Nael El Toukhy, who tells us about the things he loves most: “Writing, listening to songs, and riding bikes.” We also offer you more recommendations to read, watch and listen to. 

-In other news:

  • August 27 marked the kickoff of the first edition of Beirut’s SCUM (Street Culture and Urban Music) Week, sponsored by Ma3azef and organized by rappers/producers Mazen El Sayed (El Rass), Nasser Shorbaji (Chyno), and Magali Douiehi.  In addition to multiple performances and acoustic sessions, the event also featured a series of panel discussions under the title “Bridge the Gap,” which attempted to start a dialogue between the creative, cultural and financial aspects of the region’s music industry. Among our recommendations in this week’s Listen section, you will find some tracks by Tunisian rapper 4LFA, one of many Arab artists who graced the stage during SCUM. 
  • Back in Cairo, the 9th annual Cairo Video Festival, organized by Medrar, is set to kick off on September 9 and will feature 101 video works from 30 countries produced after January 2017. The festival will launch with a party at Cairo Jazz Club featuring a performance by audio-visual project Baskot Lel Baltageyya and a DJ set by Nur. According to the organizers, this year’s festival line-up will be showcased at a wide range of public spaces across the city, from storefronts to libraries and other unlikely spots. The festival’s full program is set to be released later in the week. 


  • In an essay titled, “How Change Happens,” writer, historian and activist Rebecca Solnit writes about the work of generating ideas for justice and change, and the struggle of new stories to be born against the forces that prefer to shut them out: “It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently through the labors of others.” The essay is adapted from the introduction to Solnit’s new anthology Whose Story Is This? published by Haymarket Books.
  • In “The Myth of the Free Speech Crisis,” Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik writes about how overblown fears of censorship have normalized hate speech and silenced minorities: “The purpose of the free-speech-crisis myth is to guilt people into giving up their right of response to attacks, and to destigmatize racism and prejudice. It aims to blackmail good people into ceding space to bad ideas, even though they have a legitimate right to refuse.” The piece is an edited extract from Malik’s new book, We Need New Stories: Challenging the Toxic Myths Behind Our Age of Discontent, published by W&N.
  • In Al-Modon, Mohamed Sobhy writes about Scottish author Ali Smith’s Autumn (2016, shortlisted for the 2017 Booker Prize), Winter (2017) and Spring (2019), the first three novels in what is set to be a “state of the nation” quartet. Centering on the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership and its aftermath, the novels are “contemporary classics that console us and contribute to our understanding of the realities in which we’re living,” writes Sobhy. Smith’s works “dig deep for an answer to the question ‘How did we get here?’ and help us believe that we’ll find a way out.”

  • At Ma3azef, Mohamed Omar Genadi writes about Tunisian musician Anouar Brahem’s 2014 album Istethkar/Souvenance (Remembrance), which “captures the essence of revolution” — improvisation. “The music seeks to fulfil two seemingly contradictory missions: the melodies express a moment that has long been over but whose traces remain, and at the same time it tries to reconstruct that moment; to capture it and somehow reproduce its vigor.” (You can find the album in our Listen segment.)
  • Fathi ElShekh recommends French author Jérôme Ferrari’s Where I Left My Soul (2010):

Ferrari’s novel is about the human spirit and how it can move from one extreme to the other over time. It follows Capitaine Dogorce, who starts off in the French resistance during World War II, is captured and tortured by the Nazis, and ends up an officer in the French occupation forces in Algeria, tasked with extracting confessions from (i.e., physically and mentally torturing) members of the Algerian resistance, as well as French socialists who aid them. In his exploration of the depths of his protagonist’s psyche, Ferrari, a philosophy professor, creates a literary masterpiece of lasting resonance. The novel can be classified as prison literature, but what really makes it stand out is that it’s told from the perspective of the oppressor, an ex-prisoner himself who — as the title tells us — loses his soul along the way. 

Where I Left My Soul was translated into English by Geoffrey Strachan and into Arabic by Mohamed Saleh al-Ghamdi. 


A miniseries of four episodes (each over an hour long) based on a true story that took place in New York City in 1989. A young white woman is brutally beaten and raped while jogging in Central Park, her blood-soaked body is found by a passerby who calls the police, and a full-blown arrest campaign is set in motion: every black male who was in or around the park that night is a suspect.

Later, five African-American teenagers are arbitrarily arrested, charged and sent to prison, with sentences ranging from five to fifteen years. In 2002, all five men were proven innocent when another prisoner confessed to the crime.

The show, produced by and available for streaming on Netflix, is more than just another courtroom drama; it is a thorough and profoundly moving treatment of the story of the “Central Park Five,” as the men have long been referred to in US media. It shows how utterly avoidable indicting those five teenagers was, if the entire system around them had not been racist, from the police to the jury to the business community, including Donald Trump, then still a real estate tycoon, who publicly demanded the reinstitution of the death penalty in the state of New York so those five kids would receive their “due punishment.”

Creator and director Ava Duvernay masterfully captures the spirit of the times, reenacting the events with exacting precision and gut-wrenching performances from an exceptionally skillful ensemble cast. The experience of watching this show will fill you with immense anger, but the experience is likely to stay with you for a long time. 


This week we recommend a selection that includes music from Tunisian artists Anouar Brahem and 4LFA, three “Afro-cocktails” by Egyptian artist Yara Mekawei, and tales from the life of Sudanese music icon Aisha al-Fallatiya. 

  • A young rapper from the Tunisian city of Kasserine, 4LFA is one of the country’s most promising up-and-coming musicians. Recently, he collaborated with music producer Ratchopper on “Garden,” a remarkable song with an equally impressive music video. Other notable works by the rapper include “Beautiful” (also with Ratchopper) and “Yawman Ma” (Someday). 

  • We also recommend Souvenance by Anouar Brahem (see our Read segment for a piece about the album’s evocative power on Ma3azef).  

  • Last week, Egyptian sound artist Yara Mekawei performed a mix of hip-hop and electronic beats at Underground by After 8. Here, we highlight Mekawei’s African selections, from her radio show Submarine, where she explores the underground music scene in various African cities.




  • Wrapping up this week’s listening recommendations, we move on to the final episode of the first season of Dum-Tak, a music podcast by Sowt and Ma3azef that sheds light on the life of groundbreaking women musicians in the region’s history. Here, we discover the story of Sudanese singer and revolutionary Aisha al-Fallatiya, the first woman to perform live on Sudanese radio in Omdurman back in 1943. 


Our guest this week is Nael El Toukhy, interviewed by Ahmed Wael. 

What do you write? And who do you write for? 

I write literary fiction and reflections for two groups: 1) Arabic speakers, they are the one group I always have in mind while writing and 2) The world, particularly when I’m writing fiction. To me, there’s no value to fiction that doesn’t speak to “humans” — as silly as this word seems — from every time and place. 

How do you see the future? 

A different place that speaks a different language, and the moment we learn that language our awe and bewilderment dissipate, and we discover how banal it is — just like the place we’ve come from. 

What do you love the most? 

Writing, riding my bike, and listening to music (not singing, and not listening to instrumental music). Put me anywhere where I have my bike and my laptop and you’ll see how happy I become. 

What are you scared of the most? 

To feel that someone has something over me, for whatever reason. To make a mistake and refuse to acknowledge my error and end up in a terrible situation. To lose my desire to learn as I grow older, with the “prestige” that comes along with age. 

Is it true that the world never changes but we are the ones who do?

We invent things in order to develop what’s been left behind by those who preceded us, these things we invent change the world, and that change in the world ends up changing us. 

What is a “homeland”?

A place I am used to. 

The past was over when…

For someone like me, the past was over when the Internet arrived, and everyone suddenly had the right to write what they wanted and nobody had any power over them. If we go back in time, the answer would be the invention of the printing press, or when they came up with the alphabet, and so on.  

Do we pass time? Or does time pass us by?

The only answer is that we pass time because time is not a living thing — in truth, it is incapable of doing anything. Imagine if I ask you “Do we walk on the sidewalk, or does the sidewalk walk on us?” It’s a ridiculous question because it’s obvious that we are the ones who walk on the sidewalk, and that’s mostly because the sidewalk is a physical thing that is easy to imagine, and our brains would therefore reject the image of a sidewalk walking on us right away. 

But if I ask you “Do we make love or does love make us?” you might be impressed and think I’m very poetic. But it’s actually still a ridiculous question because love making us is just like the sidewalk walking on us — unthinkable. The only difference is that love is an abstract concept, so your brain can’t visualize it, and therefore you might be temporarily impressed with the phrasing, that’s all. Your mind will think of the language, not the meaning, before you realize it’s actually an empty sentence. What does it mean? That love changes us? Brings us to life? I could’ve picked any of these, but I chose “make” just so it would match the first half of the question, creating a beautiful phrase that has no meaning.  That’s all there is to it. 


Breaking Bad fans can now rejoice in the news that the story they followed for five seasons is not over yet — at least not for Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Produced by Netflix, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is set for release on the online streaming platform October 11. The film, directed by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, follows the trajectory of Pinkman after he escapes his captors (as seen in the series’ finale) and attempts to deal with his past and a precarious future. 


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