By Simon Englert
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Brother Ali tour

This article is over 10 years, 9 months old
Brother Ali opens his most famous tune, Uncle Sam Goddamn, with an invitation into his USA: "Welcome to the United Snakes/Land of the thief, home of the slave".
Issue 363

In this song Ali relentlessly lays bare the contradictions of the American dream by turning it into a nightmare, guiding the audience through the hypocritical self-representation of the world’s “imperial guard”.

Ali, who will be performing in London this month, is part of a new generation of political hip hop artists. Miles away from the bling of the mainstream, he stands in the poetic tradition of Talib Kweli or Mos Def, with the hard hitting politics and personal accounts of Immortal Technique or Vinnie Paz.

Ali is an albino (he lacks any pigment in his skin, hair and eyes) who rejects the idea of a black and white divide, saying, “They ask me if I’m black or white. I’m neither. Race is a made up thing. I don’t believe in it.” He refuses any association with white domination: “Don’t want white folks who praise me, to think they can claim me”.

As a US Muslim, he is painfully aware of the treatment of Muslims around the world. His faith lies at the heart of his perception of the world. In “Good Lord”, he describes his relation to god on a jazzy beat with humour and beautiful imagery.

His magnificent track “Philistine David” is a realistic depiction of the suffering of Palestinians under occupation. While he explains the urge to resist at all costs, he avoids romanticising violence. The lyrics manage, delicately, to evoke sympathy with a suicide bomber: “If I’m the only weapon that I have, then I stand with a bomb strapped to my abdomen, my eyes full of water, God please forgive me, my people must one day live free”.

Brother Ali draws on his experience as a working class single father to depict the reality of class as well. In his track “Faheem” he asks his son for forgiveness for the rough times growing up, while in “Letter from the Government” a young working class man rejects the army’s offer of a way out of unemployment: “Tryin to use the military to come the fuck up, It’s really no different from crack peddlin’, When it comes to dyin and killin for a dream you were given”.

So whether you like poetry, are a political purist, or a real hip hop head, listen to Brother Ali, discover his discography and go and see him perform. However and wherever you hear him for the first time, it will be a moment you carry with you for years to come.

Brother Ali will be performing at The Electric Ballroom in Camden, London, on 7 November

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