***UPDATE: Brother Ali requested a clarification on what was admittedly a breezy recount of his complex statements on same-sex marriage. It's posted at the end. Also, he reports that his bandmates from the taping will unfortunately not be involved in his Soundset performance.
What a difference a few TV cameras can make in the reality-show-worthy world of Brother Ali. The battling rapper performed in front of a film crew for the second installment of the “Lowertown Line” series Wednesday night at Twin Cities Public Television’s studios in downtown St. Paul. It was alternately one of the lightest and heaviest showings hometown fans have seen by him. And let’s face it: Ali has been anything but light of late.
Looking leaner and (no kidding) a little tan after a few months of being off the road, Ali opened the taping with “Mourning in America,” the title track off last year’s dense, stern, sometimes preachy album. The song was accompanied by the burka-wearing female dancers from the video, and by an installment from Brother Ali’s Book Club (he recommended “Dirty Wars” by Jeremy Scahill for another look at America's recent military actions). Along the same lines, Ali later threw a couple new lines into his 2007 classic “Uncle Sam Goddamn,” including: “Even Obama is killing people with drones / Now I’m going to jail with Occupy Homes.”
The headiest parts of the taping came after the performance, when Ali sat with “H2” radio co-host and Rhymesayers staffer Kevin Beacham for a Q&A filmed for a new initiative on TPT’s website called “Open Air.” That discussion was done on top of an interview with “Lowertown Line” host Dessa, which was filmed separately (she’s currently on the road). All the audience’s questions were submitted via mobile phones in the studio. Among them was an inquiry about Ali’s Muslim faith shaping his opinion on same-sex marriage. One of the performers who urged fans to shoot down the amendment banning gay marriage at First Ave’s Vote No concert last fall, Ali conceded that he supports Imams who would refuse to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.
“But we don’t live in a country where my spiritual beliefs dictate your life,” he said. Perhaps pointing to his failed first marriage, he added with a laugh, “I don’t get [same-sex marriage], but I also don’t get why someone would marry a mean-ass woman, either.”
There were many more wryly humored moments like that throughout the taping. He repeatedly talked about the sociopolitical tone of last year’s album. “It was career suicide,” he said, admitting it fared poorly compared to his more personally toned, better-loved 2007 album. “It’s not as good as ‘The Undisputed Truth,’ but it’s the album I had to make at the time.” Introducing another dark track off the 2009 "Us" record, “The Travelers,” he joked, “My job now is to do music that’s entertaining and that says what I want to say. So I did this one for the clubs … and it’s about slavery.”
Other songs in the taping included “Forest Whitaker” and “Fresh Air.” In addition to his usual ace DJ support from Plain Ole Bill, Ali performed with keyboardist DeVon Gray (Heiruspecs, Liminal Phase) and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker (Andrew Bird, Alpha Consumer), whose funky and sometimes freaky interplay added a cool, grinding edge to the songs.
Ali will return to the stage again for next weekend’s Soundset festival. Look for Ali’s “Lowertown Line” episode to air when TPT’s new season kicks off in September.
Here is Ali's further explanation of his answer based off Tuesday's passage of the Freedom to Marry Bill, which made Minnesota the 12th state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage:
To give a little context, I was asked what is "The Muslim Opinion" of same sex marriage in light of the Marriage Equality bill that just passed in Minnesota. My answer was that aside from the belief that there is a Creator called Allah, there's no one "Muslim opinion" on any topic. Muslim scholars, Imams and activists have debated almost every topic for hundreds of years just like every other community gathered around a system of beliefs and ideals.
I said that my personal understanding is that Islam starts with the prospect that Allah has dignified every member of the human family and that basic human dignity is under attack in this society based on identity. Its our sacred duty to protect and defend the human rights of everyone regardless of our differences.
I went on to explain my personal understanding of marriage in Islam and when TPT posts the entire session, folks can hear the entirety of my comments. To be clear, though, I didn't say that I support Imams not performing same sex marriages. I said that some Imams probably will, but most won't.
I'm not saying that you quoted me completely wrong, but I feel like the quotes you selected don't reflect the overarching theme and message of my answer to the audience question. I have a strong sense that Religion and GLBT rights are generally being portrayed as opposing ideas in the media. I think that undermines not only GLBT folks who also belong to religious communities, but the alliances that exist and can potentially be built between the GLBT fight for human rights and prophetic faith communities.