Palestinian Music - Beyond the "World Music" Label

By Miri - 

The iconic Fairuz
Music from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East is commonly subsumed under the label “world music”, a category created by media and record industries to diversify the Euro-American market in order to sell more music. In recent years, the Western music market was in fact at least partly opened to non-Western music, including Middle Eastern music, whose popularity steadily rose among Western audiences, with increasing interest in iconic Arabic singers, such as Umm Kulthum, or Fairuz, oriental pop fusions by artists such as Natasha Atlas, and Franco-Algerian raï music.

Analysing it more closely, the term, as well as the concept of “world music” emerges as a highly problematic one. As essentially ethnocentric (meaning from an exclusive Euro-American perspective, which postulates itself as universal and setting all standards), Thomas Burkhalter writes, that “ 'world music' is based on musical difference and otherness at its core“; it subsumes only the music that the market considers to be “authentic”. The world music catalogue for the Arab world therefore pretty much only contains the music mentioned above, and ignores the great variety of musical styles that the region has to offer. The same is true for the subcategory of “Palestinian music”. 

Palestinian music, like Palestinian culture in general, is usually conceptualised as inseparable from the political struggle surrounding it. What is more, to many the very preservation, but also cultivation of an oppressed culture constitutes a political act in itself. Until the 1970s, music, mostly in the form of revolutionary songs which conveyed notions of collective loss and rupture came mainly from the Palestinian diaspora.

In the 1970s and 1980s Israel authorities started viewing music as a propaganda weapon of resistance, and increasingly targeted Palestinian musicians; their work was frequently censored, cassette tapes were confiscated and artists were threatened with arrests. This censorship however only increased the popularity of singers, such as Suhail Khoury and Mustafa al-Kurd.

The years of the First Intifada (1987-1993) established Palestinian bands, such as Sabreen and Al-Ashiqeen. Especially Sabreen and their singer Kamilya Jubran approached their music in a very experimental and innovative fashion, yet, within the world music discourse, Sabreen's departure from classical, i.e. “authentic” Palestinian music, would most likely be downplayed as “world fusion”, i.e. as a hybrid between Eastern and Western music. In the years to follow the First Intifada, musicians such as Rim Banna, Amal Murkus and Trio Joubran have found there spots among canonical Palestinian musicians. 

Since the onset of the Second Intifada in 2000, Palestinian hip hop, spearheaded by Lydda's DAM, has gained increasing visibility. DAM has indeed inspired a great number of young Palestinians to pick up a pen, write and eventually rap about their experiences under occupation.
By now the Palestinian hip hop scene has established itself firmly, with new rappers coming from Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and the Palestinian diaspora.

Recent processes of digitalisation and globalisation forever changed the rules of music production and provided musicians all over the world with new and cheaper means to create, to collaborate, and to present their music. While having revolutionised music creation and production in general, those processes had even more significance for Palestinian artists, whose means to reach the rest of the world, to collaborate with colleagues from abroad (especially from the surrounding Arab states) were severely limited by the movement restrictions imposed on them by the Israeli occupation. 

The outcome is clearly audible in the great variety of musical styles that contemporary Palestinian musicians display, covering basically all musical genres, including electronic music, reggae, soul, singer songwriter and experimental music. While locality and identity continue to play a significant role within their music, those artists consciously suspend with eurocentric notions of what “Palestinian” music is supposed to sound like.

We will finish this article by introducing to you some of those inspiring Palestinian musicians, who defy the categories of "world music", "Oriental music" and so on, while remaining essentially Palestinian in the messages that they try to convey.

Hailing from the North of the country comes Ministry of Dub-Key, referring to both the traditional Palestinian Dabke music, as well as to Dub, a subgenre of reggae. Finally the “Key”, of Dub-Key instils further political meaning, referring to “the key of the house that my grandfather took with him before he was displaced from his home and village, becoming a refugee alongside hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948“. Ministry of Dub-Key typically collaborates with a large number of talented musicians, including Maysa Daw, Wala'a Sbeit, members of DAM and more. 

Also on the experimental music level, Palestinian musicians have a lot to offer. Especially promising are the three founders of Ramallah Underground, one of the first Palestinian hip hop bands, who after their dissolution, individually kept on experimenting with electronic music, found sounds from the streets, hip hop, jazz and more. Rapper Boikutt just released an amazing new album and together with his brother Basel Abbas (also ex-Ramallah Underground) and visual artist Ruanne Abou-Rahme, founded the audio visual group Tashweesh, who explore and collide "video field recordings, archive material, vocals, breaks and soundscapes".

Similarly, Bethlehem based Checkpoint 303, mix field recordings with electronic music, creating a tension between their thoroughly political messages and highly danceable beats.   

Finally, for the metal heads among you, check out the mighty Khalas Arabic Rock Orchestra from Akka, who are just as much inspired by Umm Kulthum, as by Black Sabbath.



Tell your friends. Help spread the word . . . .

Twit it Sphinn it Add To Digg it Add To Google Bookmarks Add To Reddit Add To Technorati Add To StumbleUpon Add To Facebook Furl it Subscribe to RSS


Post a Comment

Please confine your comments to appropriate feedback to the post you are commenting on.