The musician trying to rip France apart

This is a picture of Fabien Clain when he was a child in northern France:

Fabian schoolIt’s taken from his Copains d’avant page – France’s Friends Reunited.

Back then, Fabien was into rap and basketball, and was a real fan of Jesus (he used to write Catholic raps).

Here’s another picture of him, this time in the ’90s, foot up on a chair like any other moody teen:

Fabian teen

I’d like to post a picture of him today, age 40. I know he’s huge – prone to putting his arm around people’s shoulders and dragging them in when he talks. And I also know he’s got a beard. But I can’t say anything else. Because Fabien Clain is in Syria.

And he’s a member of ISIS.

Fabien Clain is apparently high up in the terrorist group – last week, the French press revealed he’s behind a plot to use child suicide bombers in Europe – but what’s less known about him is he’s also the group’s leading songwriter, a man whose tunes have reached into the heart of France and Belgium.

I’ve made a podcast about him – and the music of jihad, more generally – that’s just come out as part of the amazing music series, Pitch.

It’s on Audible, which means you need to be a member of it or take a free trial, but please do listen by heading here now (Amazon Prime members also get free access).

I came across Clain’s story initially while researching ISIS’ music for my book, hence posting it here, but this clearly takes that story somewhere else.

If you want a reason to listen to something so dark, well, The Sunday Times has just called the episode “utterly riveting”, but I’d prefer you listen because jihadi songs are important. Why else has ISIS released four this year even though it’s on the ropes – shouldn’t it be putting all its resources into fighting?

Al-Qaida’s Indian arm has released 13 songs in the past two months.

If you like it, please check out other episodes in the series. The amazing Laura Snapes has one on the world’s first Cornish pop album and what it says about our sense of national identity; there’s another great episode on the man who makes music for cats; and there’s a fascinating one on a music teacher who turned around a school – and a district – only for his plan to backfire (that could easily be a New Yorker story).

Huge thanks to Whitney Jones and Alex Kapelman, the people behind Pitch, for commissioning me. It was an amazing experience. And also huge thanks to everyone who features and helped me make it.

If you do enjoy it, you should also listen to the New York Times’ Caliphate podcast. It’s 10 episodes long, includes interviews with a former ISIS members and those who have been terrorised by them, and it’s the best podcast series this year: shocking, moving and thought-provoking.

 

Why I became a jihadist poetry critic

Elisabeth Kendall in Yemen. She owns this photo!

Er, not me, but the woman pictured!

Anyone who’s read my book on national anthems will know that I have a deep (i.e. worrying) fascination with jihadi culture, especially the songs that such groups put out and almost gain the status of ‘national’ anthems. You can read a little about that musical world here.

Well, this week I wrote a piece for the BBC extending that interested. It’s a profile of Elisabeth Kendall, an Oxford academic who’s not just interested in jihadists’ music, but their poetry too. You can read about her insane life and learn just why such work is important here (or if you’re Spanish, here).

The piece has been having very nice things said about it by everyone from Peter Frankopan – author of The Silk Roads – to Rukmini Callimachi, the NYT’s terrorism correspondent. Even Tom Holland, the historian, said he liked it.

All of which is very professionally pleasing, but I’m largely putting it below to try and make you read the piece as this stuff’s vital to how we understand the world. Thanks in advance!

What should London’s anthem be?

If it goes independent, obviously. And who knows post-Brexit?!?

London Calling?

West End Girls?

Dizzee Rascal’s Fix Up, Look Sharp?

“Er… What?” I hear you say. Yes, Dizzee would be a strange choice. But he’s mine, and for a good reason, which you can learn by listening to Adrian Lacey’s great London Podcast at his site, via iTunes or here if you’re using Android.

I’ve never been asked the question before, which is surprising given so many cities, at least in the US, have anthems.

Adrian gave me one of the best podcast experiences I’ve had, taking me back to my childhood school in the London suburbs to stand in pouring rain (that wasn’t his fault) and explain where my love of music came from, doing a full, fascinating interview about the book, and even getting me to do a reading.

In the episode, he also goes out on London’s streets to ask people what their anthem would be. And he tells a brilliant story about his (white, lower-middle class, British) parents trying to write Nigeria’s anthem when it became independent.

It’s a real fun and interesting listen. And few podcast presenters go to such efforts, so, seriously, head here to hear it.

Adrian’s done some amazing other podcasts on everything from the Fire of London to Bob Marley’s London home, so check out other episodes if you can. Huge thanks to him if he’s reading.

The importance of the Islamic State’s music – again

Earlier this week, it emerged that the terrorist in Nice, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, had searched online for Islamic State songs “on a near-daily basis” in the fortnight before the attacks. They may have played a part in his radicalisation, prosecutors said.

If you want to learn more about them, read my book, or scan the audio guide here. Yes, this is a controversial topic, but it’s an important one, and increasingly so.

Boko Haram’s using the Islamic State’s national anthem

Boko Haram video still

Last year, I wrote this article for The Guardian about the Islamic State’s apparent “national anthem” – the worryingly catchy My Ummah, Dawn Has Appeared.

Some doubted the Islamic State would do something as Western as pick a song to represent itself, but it seems the song’s only grown in stature since that piece was written. Last week, for instance, Boko Haram – the Nigerian terrorist group allied to ISIS – used it to open one of their propaganda videos for the first time, according to the excellent Jihadology website.

Expect it to appear in other parts of the self-styled caliphate soon. Yes, a song that sounds like it was made for yoga classes really has become the soundtrack to modern terrorism. Christ.

The Islamic State’s national anthem – and why you’ll worryingly like it

I recently wrote this article for the Guardian on the Islamic State’s national anthem and how the body’s changing the music of jihad. It was the most interesting article I’ve researched in a while, so hopefully it’s a moderately interesting read.

For those without the time to read 1,500 words, here’s the actual anthem. It’s great… until 2’53 in.

Update: If you want even more on ISIS’ music, I recently spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s brilliant Q radio programme about it. Listen here. They amazingly gave me 15 minutes to prattle on. You have been warned!