WRITTEN BY JIBRIL ALI
A devoted fan base and a massive collection of work were left behind by Bryn Jones, more popularly known by his following as Muslimgauze. Having died at 38 in January of 1999, Jones was resolute in his support for many people in the “Muslim world”. Using that term loosely, he was staunchly against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Western imperial interests in the region. These are only a few of the views expressed in his music regarding issues rarely discussed by western musicians at the time, and something just as unlikely seen today.
Jones developed Muslimgauze in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Since then, he began research into the political histories of many of the countries in the region and formed stances that gained him heavy criticism throughout much of his music career. His intrigue with many predominantly Muslim countries and regions such as; Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan to name a few, was borderline obsessive. Muslimgauze became a staple to anyone who was enthusiastic about ambient and experimental music. His main label, Staalplaat, commented that at one point, Jones was sending in a new album once every week, consistently. Even having a number of LP’s, EP’s, and singles released well after his death. His work ethic is something to be admired, along with his devotion to many of the topics he named song and album titles after; e.g. Last Mosque of Herzegovina, Izlamophobia, and Hamas Arc.
His entire body of work under the pseudonym has no lyrical content outside of the vocal samples he uses from music written in Arabic, Hindi, and other Middle Eastern and South Asian languages. Underneath the thought provoking song and album titles named after cities and religious movements, there lies music laced with repetitive percussion and vocals that closely resemble distant humming. The sounds are hypnotic and faint at times, and callous and violent at others. His music, at the very least, is gripping and almost intoxicating. His devotion is refreshing, although his unyielding support of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah can be seen by some in the Muslim world as misguided.
The delicate part about being a fan of Jones, comes with the concern of his identity and who he was--or rather who he was not. He never converted, never learned Arabic or Farsi, and never visited any of the countries he had such strong opinions about. He was a white man from Manchester, England and there was an undeniable privilege in what he was doing. Some rightly criticized him for making a career out of struggles that didn’t affect him, which is something he seemed to have been well aware of himself. His authenticity came into question as well, whether he was genuine with his solidarity or just another artist seeking a new edgy and different trope. There lies a very blurred line between acting as an ally and taking advantage of causes that don't inherently belong to you. No one outside of his closest friends can say for certain where Jones resided past that line, or where he would have been if he were alive today. Those that were closest to him did describe him as a shy and enigmatic character, but one that was steadfast in his political beliefs. He often dismissed criticisms made by Westerners about the fact he never did actually step foot in the Middle East.
As for the people that follow him, the truth remains the common theme among his fans is the motivating force that prompts them to research and form their own opinions of the topics Jones vaguely explores with the titles of his works. This is something that is welcomed when the narrative is commanded by conservative, and even liberal, media in the west. An example being, one could hear the album “Vote Hezbollah” and would in turn drive them to learn about Lebanon's history following Israel’s creation, and learning why the overwhelming attitude among the Muslimgauze following, are critical of the Israeli state.
The first few songs I heard were Jerusalem Knife, Arafat’s Radio, and Zindabad from Hamas Arc. I was engrossed in something completely foreign to me, I felt a really strong attachment to it almost immediately. The more I listened, the more comfortable I felt in being Palestinian. The truth is, I didn’t need a white man to validate me, although there was solace in knowing that there were people that saw humanity in the Palestinian cause. This meant a lot more to me at the time considering the people who claimed to care about Palestine were either incredibly anti-Semitic or would persuade me against claiming my identity, let alone how pro-Israel all white conservatives are in the south--which remains the staggering majority even today. This is not to say liberals were better in this regard. I can't say I totally found that in Muslimgauze either, at the least I found music I was very into during the later part of my formative years.
Surprisingly, there’s not much of a critique on Jones or his music from those in the region he had an interest in. I can only speak for myself as someone whose father is Palestinian, and as someone who was born and raised in the United States. Racism, Islamophobia, ethnocentrism; are all things people in my position are dangerously too familiar with. Bryn Jones' stance on many of the issues concerning a people he doesn’t come from is valued to an extent, and his massive body of work is more than impressive to say the least. Knowing what I do, my fascination and caution with Muslimgauze is equally met.
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