By Tariq Shadid
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
For many living in the West, music is not something that springs to mind immediately when they hear the word ‘Palestinian’. Nevertheless, this uprooted and occupied people is much more active in this field than the sources of mass media might have you believe, and in many more styles of music than you might think. ‘Dedication’, DAM’s new album, proves beyond a doubt that these artists can often compete, both musically and lyrically, with the best contemporary artists around.
From the first sounds on, the album will grab you, lift you up, smack you down, enchant you, confront you, and carry you away. If you understand the Palestinian dialect, the vocalists get really close to you, pouring out their statements in direct but nevertheless decent language, and making you a partner of their life’s experiences. It is hard for me to imagine what it would be like to listen without knowing what they are saying, but an excellent booklet fortunately accompanies the CD, with the translations of some of the songs in English, next to the original Arabic lyrics.
Musically, the Hip-Hop beats are unmistakable, and will carry you away on a carpet of Middle Eastern sounds springing from instruments like the Oud, the Bouzouki and the Kanoun. Nowadays, in American Hip-Hop, Middle Eastern scales are quite popular, but it seems these artists could use some advice from DAM on how to really merge Arabic riffs with a Hip-Hop groove. The credit for this production goes to Tamer Nafar, creating an album with a pleasant, transparent sound, with plenty of headroom to make the vocals stand out clearly. At the same time, there is enough ‘fatness’ in the lower frequencies to make the bass and the bass drum kick in powerfully.
Mukadime (Introduction) will take you straight into the right environment, you can imagine yourself in the political turbulence of the Middle East, even if you don’t understand the clips from political speeches that override the intro’s slow deep beat. Mali Huriye (I Have No Freedom) then falls upon you like an avalanche, with a traditional Palestinian melody paired to a thumping Hip-Hop beat. Overall, one can definitely say the basis of the music of DAM is distinctly Palestinian Arabic, but its unique marriage with Hip-Hop has its own identity, making it international at the same time.
Although DAM consists of three young male rappers, they clearly wish to connect to all genders, and all ages. Children are featured in a few of the songs, most distinctly in Ng’ayer Bukra (Change Tomorrow) , and the song Al Huriye Unt’a – translated ‘Freedom for my Sisters’ but literally meaning ‘Freedom is (a) Female (word)’- has Safa Hathoot showing off her velvet yet spicy rapping skills. The words of DAM’s songs reach out to all the peoples of the world, without any exclusivism, and without even a hint of any difference between peoples of all races and descents. Even French lyrics are included in this so widely oriented album, on a collaboration with Nikkfurie/La Caution, in the song Mes Endroits.
Some songs, like Usset Hub (Story of Love) and Ya Sayidati (My Lady) are about love and romance, but even the political songs are a story told by ordinary people longing for a normal life of equal opportunity, freedom from discrimination, and full recognition of their historical rights as inhabitants of the land. The words are a struggle against the limitations caused both by the invasion of Zionism, and the downsides of traditionalism. Coping with daily life as a Palestinian in the Zionist state is a hardship in itself, born from a historical context described quite vividly in G’areeb fi Bladi (Stranger in My Own Country).
American Hip-Hop seems to now be dominated by the likes of 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg, who seek to encourage people to engage in materialism, promiscuity, and foul language, instead of providing food for thought for oppressed ethnic groups in the United States. The Palestinian group DAM takes Hip-Hop back to its original roots, as a megaphone for the voices of the downtrodden, and a binding force to keep a generation dedicated, as is rightfully the title of their album. This is music with real meaning, where the cheap profanities of modern day Hip-Hop have again made way for the deeper wisdoms from the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ of life.
Musically, lyrically, vocally, instrumentally – this album has it all. DAM has skilfully planted a flag for Palestine in the history of modern music. A truly impressive achievement from Tamer, Mahmoud and Suheil, which took five years but turned out to be well worth it, and is deserving of international recognition as an alternative voice of Palestinian protest. This album should definitely be a part of the music collection of anyone interested in the Palestinian perspective.
-Tariq Shadid is Palestinian, and founder of the Musical Intifada, a project aiming to promote music for the Palestinian cause. Next to being a professional surgeon, he is also a songwriter and musician known by the handle of Doc Jazz. He has recently released his debut album ‘Front Door Key’, featuring his jazz-pop songs with English lyrics about the Palestinian cause. The Musical Intifada can be found at www.musicalintifada.com