Fun-Da-Mental is a British-based multi-ethnic hip-hop-ethno-techno-world fusion music group formed in 1991. The group is notable for its energetic fusion of Eastern and Western musical forms, for its outspoken political stance, and for its strong Islamic affiliation and advocacy. Fun-Da-Mental's political stance has led to the group earning the label "the Asian Public Enemy". The group's work has led to international attention and collaborations with artists from Pakistan, South Africa and Siberia.
The core member of the group is Aki "Propa-Gandhi" Nawaz (real name Haq Qureshi).
Inception and original lineup (1991-1993):
By 1991, Qureshi had become more interested in the artistic and political possibilities of hip hop, although he initially believed that hip hop's politics were "much more sorted" than was its music.
The band was formed in the wake of the 1990s British Asian merging of hip hop and bhangra music, during which time various "conscious rapper" groups began to emerge. Common themes expressed in this style of hip hop were very politically based within the sense of race and the Asian identity. "Identity politics is reactionary in fostering as apolitical, a materialist and subjectivist point of view, and that it produces a personalized politics that is inward-looking."
This lineup of Fun-Da-Mental played the Notting Hill Carnival in August 1991 and continued to record and play concerts over the next two years. From 1992 onwards, Fun-Da-Mental began to release singles, beginning with "Janaam" and following up with "Gandhi's Revenge". 1993's "Wrath of the Blackman" (created around a sample taken from a Malcolm X speech) further established the group's assertive anti-racist sentiments.
Split of original lineup (1993):
In 1993, tensions within Fun-Da-Mental came to a head.
According to Aki, the other factor was business-related. Nawaz has admitted that he had been too immersed in the group's creative and promotional work that he had not paid attention to the group's sales figures, meaning that he had neither noticed nor revealed to other group members Lallaman and Mantharoo, conversely, had believed that Fun-Da-Mental's press profile had translated into significant sales and were appalled to find out that the group was not making money. Lallaman and Goldfinger subsequently formed Detrimental which built on Fun-Da-Mental's approach. Despite releasing the Xenophobia album in 1996, Detrimental ultimately failed to last as long as its parent group.
Second lineup and Seize the Time:
This lineup released the first full-length Fun-Da-Mental album, 1994's Seize the Time (on Mammoth Records). A forthright statement of intent, Seize the Time was both musically and politically challenging - the album name itself was derived from the Black Panthers slogan, and the group's lyrics and texts promoted a fervently anti-racist political slant. The group drew strongly on the history and philosophy of the Black Power movement in the United States, albeit focused through a British Asian/Afro-Caribbean context and globally aimed left-wing politics.
The response to the group's approach was varied. Some young British Muslims saw the group as providing a refreshing new meaning and interpretation of the fundamentals of Islam.
Fun-Da-Mental were subsequently given an opportunity to travel to South Africa. This inspired the single 'Gold Burger', a tribute to oppressed peoples, delivered on a global scale, and featuring samples of the ANC choir. The group also took the opportunity to perform with Cape Town's Prophets of Da City, one of the few hip-hop groups who rap in Afrikaans.
Seize the Time was followed by a 1995 remix album With Intent to Pervert the Course of Injustice! released on Nawaz's own record label, Nation Records.
In 1998 Fun-Da-Mental released their second album of original material - the more punk/funk-inclined Erotic Terrorism - on Beggars Banquet Records. This was followed by 1999's Why America Will Go to Hell and the world-music-inspired There Shall Be Love! (2001). In 2003, Fun-Da-Mental released the Voice of Mass Destruction EP.
The release of the album into a tense political climate led to harsh criticism of, and verbal attacks on, Nawaz and Fun-Da-Mental. The Sun referred to Nawaz as the "suicide bomb rapper", and two British MPs called for his arrest. However, a closer analysis of All is War (The Benefits of G-Had) revealed substance and thought behind the sensational subject matter. The Observer's review of the album said "Strip away the outrage, then, and what's left is an album pieced together with great consideration. To provoke not just a reaction but thought and debate."
Fun-Da-Mental's music combines and juxtaposes Eastern and Western musical and cultural influences. These include British dance club electronics and American militant hip-hop inspirations, plus Indian, Afro-Caribbean, and worldbeat samples. The band's music also includes "a vast mix of Indian classical and popular film music, Morrocan Eastern drum beats, Qawwali sounds, Islamic chants, and the interweaving of dialogue from famous Hindi movies."
Musically, Fun-Da-Mental have borrowed extensive samples from Indian film music, particularly from the string sections. Through their juxtaposition with hip-hop rhythm tracks and angry raps, such samples are reconfigured, and a new hybrid Asian identity is emphasized. The band's use of "Indian Sounds" is symbolic of certain experiences for second-generation British Asians.
Fun-Da-Mental are an explicitly political and controversial band with an outspoken concern with social justice (particularly in regard to Britain's treatment of its Asian and Afro-Caribbean citizens) and have been described as "articulat(ing) eclectically a kind of militant Islamic-influenced, pro-Black anti-racist identity politics." The group takes pride in its militant stance, stating "We are hard politically, uncompromising musically and we won't be led by marketing angles. We try to give people a bit of confidence. People have to start educating themselves, respecting themselves." Because of their political stance, the group have earned the label "the Asian Public Enemy."
"We have always been about information and not messages - discussion and debate as opposed to ranting. It's always been about destroying all the stereotypical ideas about us and others and fighting against the preconceived misconceptions of a host society that has been poisoned by the past."
The name of the group itself deliberately invokes the idea of Islamic fundamentalism, while the hip-hop-inspired hyphenation implies and indicates another purpose, that of combining pleasure ('fun') with thought ('mental').
Sometimes criticised for writing "extreme" or "hard left-wing" lyrics, the band's stated aim is to try to educate the British youth about the presence of Islam and about the causes of extreme behavior. Fun-Da-Mental frequently sample the voices and rallying speeches of historically significant protest leaders from the past such as Gandhi, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan and the Black Panthers. The group have also promoted the merits of militancy and self-defense through the lyrics of their songs.
As a group, Fun Da Mental's stated main view and issue is the fact that equality must be sought after, and until it is reached one must keep fighting for that cause. "Until the philosophy that holds one superior and another inferior is finally and permanently dismantled and abandoned, THERE SHALL BE WAR!"
""It's the white folks who need to rebel against their own ignorance - racism is their problem, economic terrorism is their problem, pollution is their problem - everything that is going wrong they have a hand in, they have an influence in - with all that is wrong in the world they are lucky to be dominating."
Despite their apparent allegiance to black nationalism, Fun-Da-Mental's greatest recognition and fan base has been amongst white audiences and institutions, with more response from white student populations than from the less-educated urban poor generally addressed by hardcore rap. As a result, the group has gained considerably more coverage in the student-oriented British music press than any other British hip-hop act.
Promotion and discussion of Islam:
Fun-Da-Mental's lyrics consistently express the group's Islamic and ethnic pride, as well as the political issues which Muslims face within Britain. Exploring the position that Muslims are oppressed within Western culture because of their religion, the group aims to express the hardships and rejection which Western Muslims experience at the hands of their governments, and to assert though their lyrics the beauty of being Muslim. Nawaz has also directly incorporated quotations from the Qu'ran into Fun-Da-Mental tracks. The band's symbol is a crescent, which not only invokes the sense of Islam but also of the Pakistani flag. Notably, Aki Nawaz's mother was one of the leading activists for Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party.
""It's always been about destroying all the stereotypical ideas about us and others and fighting against the preconceived misconceptions of a host society that has been poisoned by the past"
Fun-Da-Mental has also been one of the first British music groups to actively and fiercely defend the Muslim community by example. In particular, Fun-Da-Mental have set out to appeal to and voice the concerns of the alienated Muslim youth of British towns such as Bradford (Nawaz's birthplace and the original hometown of the group). Consequently, Fun-Da-mental has reached a significant number of British Muslim youths who identify with the situations and topics covered in the group's lyrics, slogans and presentation.
As is common within any culture with a hybrid demographic, British-born youths of Islamic heritage were struggling to fit into either aspect of their given identity and were trying to find a place for themselves. Fun-Da-Mental made this hybrid identity accessible, and allowed the youth to explore themselves. They countered the strict views and opinions of mosque scholars and Muslim community leaders with their own political manifesto. "Fun-Da-Mental's expressions of pride in Islam appealed to Muslim youth who had been raised on British popular culture yet also felt wounded by British Islamophobia."
Islam has always played a large role in Fun-Da-Mental's anti-racist campaign lyrics. The group has taken on a role as one of the leading forces for keeping issues about the Asian population in the public eye. Fun-Da-Mental members appear actively on various television shows in the UK in order to participate in debate.
Fun-Da-Mental's work has been compared to that of the Nation of Islam in its combination of pro-black (or pro-non-white) assertion and condemnation of racism. The group has taken direct inspiration from several black activists in the United States and their reassertion of history. A particular inspiration was Malcolm X, who notably became a Muslim as part of his political journey: the group sometimes cite his pronouncement that "I am a soldier named Alaha, so put down the cross and pick up the X". In the song "President Propaganda", Fun-Da-Mental's lyrics rely on the rhetoric of the Nation of Islam to send anti-Western messages. The lines "you had us whipped, raped, and lynched/Took away the Quran, you gave us the Bible" allude to issues such as slavery and religious persecution.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license