All of which helps explain how the child of Muslim, Arabic-speaking immigrants has achieved such fame in Europe’s most anti-immigrant country. Ghali is careful to avoid talking about religion or politics publicly—yet if you listen to his lyrics, you’ll hear plenty that’s subversive. “The newspaper … talks about the foreigner as if he were an alien,” he announces in his most popular song, “Cara Italia” (“Dear Italy”), a love letter that envisions an open-arms nationalism. “When they tell me, ‘Go back home!’ … I reply, ‘I am already here.’ ” Other lyrics are equally pointed: “You think that Islam equals ISIS,” he raps in “Wily Wily,” a song whose chorus Italian fans delight in joining, even though it’s in Arabic.
Some wonder how much Ghali’s fans, many of whom are children and teens, understand of his lyrics, but most observers I spoke with feel sure that his message is seeping through. A prominent Italian journalist has gone so far as to declare one of his songs (“Mamma”) “perhaps the most important text written in Italy so far on the migrant drama.” Ghali is so popular that even far-right voters are being dragged to his concerts by their children.
Zandria Robinson, a sociologist at Rhodes College who studies pop culture, has examined both Ghali’s music and the broader evolution of trap with interest. “Whether you’re talking about selling drugs in Atlanta or fighting fascism in western Europe,” Robinson told me, “you are talking about pushing against something that seems all-encompassing.” Adding to Ghali’s appeal, she says, is “a pop, an ebullience, an effervescence that helps to cut through the noise of this political moment” and encourages “a bit of a clapback” against racism and xenophobia.
“Good fascists,” she added archly, “would appropriate Ghali and figure out how to head this off at the pass.”
This article appears in the April 2019 print edition with the headline “Music for the Migrant Crisis.”
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