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Palestinian Rappers

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 25.02.2006:

Artist of the Month

This Week in Palestine

August 2005

Muhammad El-Farah

Three years ago, shortly after the Al-Aqsa Intifada began and the Gaza Strip was effectively sealed off from the rest of the world, a group of young men formed the first Gazan rap group. Inspired by Hip Hop artists making appearances on satellite TV and the growing success of Palestinian rap inside Israel, such as DAM from Ramleh and Mahmoud Shalabi in Akka, the now 21-year-old Muhammad El-Farah (Dynamic Rapper) from Khan Younis decided to try his hand at writing rap.

The son of a government administrator who is a closet musician, Muhammad grew up with music. The voices of Fairuz and Um Kalthum and the sound of the oud dominated the family’s living room in the old city quarter of Khan Younis. Sitting at home in his modest studio on the second floor of his father’s house from which he can see Israeli tanks and soldiers, the ‘music’ he heard for much of the first two years of the Intifada was that of Apache helicopters and explosions. “I was angry and there was nothing I could do. I got wounded once in the arm by an Israeli bullet and then I turned to rap.”

Unlike rappers in the United States where most rap music, while a protest, is dominated by vulgar and profane lyrics, Muhammad, a literature student at Al-Quds Open University, goes to great pains to use classical Arabic in his lyrics. As writer, composer and singer he is the lead vocalist in Palestinian Rappers (PR), which he formed with friends Muataz Hawihi “Mezo” (19), Nader Abu Ayash (22), and Mahmoud Sayid “Bond” (22). Almost all of the lyrics are a mesh of political and emotional messages that address the occupation and the tragedies resulting from it. But not all the lyrics are political. One is about his best friend who was killed by the occupation; it is about mourning. Another is a song he wrote for his mother; it is about love.

In early July the group performed for the first time in the West Bank. The performance at Al-Kasaba Theatre in Ramallah was not only their first musical performance in “Al-Difa” (West Bank) but the first time they had ever been allowed to visit it. Due to a travel ban imposed by Israel on almost all Gazan males aged 14-35, the youngsters had never seen Jerusalem either. “We saw Al-Haram [Al-Shareef] from afar and it was so beautiful, but we could not go and pray there, the permit was specific – West Bank only,” Muhammad remembers. Being in Ramallah was very exciting for the group, who was joined by some members of another of Gaza’s sprouting rap groups, Gazaette.

But the Ramallah concert was not the first for the group outside Gaza. In March of this year they were invited to Londonderry, Northern Ireland, as guests of the Void Gallery and of filmmaker Jackie Saloum. A Palestinian-American, Saloum is currently finishing a film on Palestinian rap artists which she has named Slingshot Hip Hop (www.slingshothiphop.com), in which she calls Palestinian rap “alternative voices of resistance” within the Palestinian struggle. She already has commitments to show the film in more than two dozen countries. Muhammad and his co-rappers are likely to come out looking like superstars in the film, and the message their music sends will be heard around the world.

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