Fighting Oppression Through Music in Palestine
Resistance culture in Palestine defines and unites Palestinians. The need for resistance of the Israeli occupation has become an integral part of Palestinian society, binding people together, passing on messages of hope and strength and forming societal bonds that no other institution can. One of the most heard phrases through Palestine is “Existence is resistance”; in the face of the occupation it has become a mantra, a message of support and of solidarity to support the resistance that is key to fighting the occupation. It reminds Israel on a daily basis that Palestine does exist, has existed and will always exist.
Where once guns and fighting were the key to resistance, the end of the second intifada marked a change in resistance approaches. Now resistance is explored through the arts; music, art, sculptures, stories/narratives, poetry and pottery are all methods of exploring resistance to the occupation, and it is beautifully effective. Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry reached a worldwide audience, forcing them to confront the occupation. The overwhelming support for Arab Idol’s winner Mohammed Assaf reached thousands who were inspired by his Gazan roots and fight for the chance to audition, he has catapulted the Palestinian/Israel context back into consciousness. Palestinian arts reflect every aspect of this beautiful culture: the ways of dressing, the history, the fight and the level of awareness that each person has here. Music especially has the ability to reach millions of people worldwide. More poignantly each expression of resistance art is a reminder to Israel that Palestinians will always be there. That there will always be resistance.
Palestinian music is tantalising, often compiled of a lone voice and one instrument, the most haunting of which is called a oud. Traditionally lyrics were often made up on the spot for families and close communities, those which are penned down quickly become absorbed by many communities. Songs are beyond beautiful, capturing entire audiences. They enthrall and convey so much emotion simply through one voice. The most incredible part is that due to the strength of Palestinian traditions the old songs have lost no relevance in modern society. They are sung at weddings, christenings and to babies as they sleep. Music is passed between generations in Palestine the way Aesop’s Fables were passed for the British youth.
Having said that, of course things do develop as well. Palestinian hip-hop and youth music began to develop in the late 1990’s, reflecting a changing youth role and place within society. Young Palestinians took the hip hop sounds of New York and London and blended them with their own unique Palestinian style and expression to form a new emerging sound. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the West Bank’s and Gaza’s top music artists, Rami GB, in Ramallah. Having grown up under the fierce occupation in Jenin (north of the West Bank), his music began at 16 when he began to explore outlets for the pain and sadness he saw reflected around him. For Rami, music became an expression of grief and anger against the occupation. As he grew older his music too began to develop, taking on an underground aspect. For Rami, music is a way of reminding people that they fight together, that they are united, that the message is heard and no one stands alone in the struggle. His music is inspiring and all his videos are shot in the West Bank, keeping him close to his roots. Interestingly, despite his popularity Rami won’t do concerts, feeling that concerts are given by those in popular culture and for a youth-specific audience, in his words the “cool kids”. It is vital to him that music remains close to the roots of how it began and remains a resistance tactic. For a society that has a huge musical influence (it plays everywhere), it is easy to see how music can shape resistance movements in a peaceful yet powerful way. Call it what you will, Palestinian folk music, Palestinian hip hop or otherwise, each song has a meaning behind every word, each song brings to light the struggle for justice.
Rami GB – Sera3 da5eli
Another newer form of resistance being explored and growing in popularity is graffiti. Worldwide graffiti has become a popular expression method; it has the ability to reach huge audiences and convey a world of words within one picture or symbol. A popular graffiti artist here in the West Bank is Hamza. His work ranges from the portrayal of a bleeding figure whose insides depict a map of Palestine to the faceless Palestinian prisoner being held by Israeli soldiers. This art has meaning, strength and an unmistakeable message: you can never bleed Palestine dry. Where some could see aggression, I see a magnitude of resistance. His graffiti characters have the power to convey so much with one drawing, it’s an absolute talent. For those of who don’t know, in 2007/2008 Banksy came to the West Bank and did many works across the major tourist cities such as Ramallah and Bethlehem. Whilst Banksy has a highly distinctive appeal to his work, the majority of it being focused around irony, Hamza somehow captures a more realistic portrayal of the resistance struggle and Palestinian essence in his art. There is a quiet determination in his work, an aspect that makes you stop and stare, and most importantly his images remain in your head.
This is the resistance that is getting people talking, the method of binding people in an increasingly fragmented society to fight the Israeli occupation. More importantly, this resistance could be the key to a free Palestine.
Viva la Filastin.