‘Cast off Your Sandals, Moses’: Rola Azar Releases New Song of Resistance

Rola Milad Azar has recorded and released a stirring new anthem of solidarity. (Design: Palestine Chronicle)

By Louis Brehony

Seven months into the genocide on Gaza, vocalist Rola Milad Azar has recorded and released a stirring new anthem of solidarity.

With poetry and music by Lebanese songwriter and leftist Fadi Zaraket, Ikhla’ Na’lak Ya Moussa (“Cast off your sandals, Moses”) was provoked by events in Palestine and influenced by the eyewitness experiences of the composer in South Lebanon.

Nazareth-based Azar vocalizes the struggle of her people at a time when the intifada breaks through colonial borders, into international spacess. Invoking the bitterness of imprisonment and martyrdom endured by the Palestinian masses at this critical moment, the song derives optimism and strength from those who continue to place hope in liberation.

Hailing from Tyre (Sour) Zaraket reveals that the initial inspiration for the song came from watching Israel’s bloody operations from afar from southern Lebanon. He describes one massacre as particularly haunting, centering on the image of a young martyr in Gaza: “they shot him, ran him over with a tractor and then hung him like a piece of garbage from its claw. Seeing this drove me crazy and made me write this song.”

Composing in a guerrilla home studio and music archive in a crisis-hit Lebanon where power cuts are a frequency, Zaraket spent the best part of a decade on this song, sometimes “waking up to grab my guitar and fix the melody or modify the lyrics.”

Musicians often “suffocate” from writers’ block, or unfavorable living conditions but the current resistance and genocide gave urgency to this mission. “I kept telling myself, as a musician, that I had to contribute something to the people and the nation.”

Though coming from the Lebanese socialist tradition that had assassinated Marxist Mahdi Amel as its leading light, Zaraket chose a biblical metaphor for this song, traversing shared Palestinian and Lebanese histories of war and revolution. During historic interventions in the South, “the armed groups introduced by Israel were really barbaric – and this was before Daesh and these forces – using religion as a weapon.”

At the same time, Zionism weaponizes mythologized roots, exploiting imagery of Moses and Jewish oppression during biblical times. Approaching the lyrics, Zaraket imagined what Moses would have thought if he stood on Mount Sinai today and saw the oppression of the Palestinians: “He would hurl the jasmine flowers. He would not simply walk on his sandals but remove them and pummel the Israelis. Because they leave nothing and attack everything, even the coffins and cemeteries.”

Drawing on listening habits that include Victor Jara and other internationalist protest singers, the songwriter built a comradeship with Rola Azar, “who has the most beautiful voice and is one of the few whose artistry matches such a deserving subject, through her belief in the cause.” Azar was involved in street movements, including the Unity Intifada of May 2021, and has built a following through timely release of political songs.

She was both singer and producer for Joseph Demerjian’s arrangement of Zaraket’s song, recording vocals reminiscent of fellow Nazarene vocalist, the late Rim Banna, using subtle harmonies over Demerjian’s nylon-strung guitar. The recording also features Maen Ghoul (percussion), Khalil Khoury (qanoun) and Qusay Srour (nai). Resemblances to Banna – a comrade of the composer – transcend the music itself. Indeed, when the situation has seemed more subdued in the heartlands of historic Palestine, singers and poets have been almost vanguardist in their vocal commitment to the cause.

In this mission, Azar follows Banna, Shafiq Kabha, Reem Talhami and Kamilya Jubran in a tradition of singing out against a wave of silence and erasure.

As in many poetic contributions to musical Palestine, “Cast off your sandals, Moses” places the land center stage, wreathed to the bodies of those who stand for its livelihood and liberation. In contrast to Zionism’s barbarous aggression on Gaza, Zaraket sees those fighting back as reminiscent of a previous frontline of Palestinian resistance in Lebanon: “The standpoint of the resistance was clear and true, and they fought with everything they had left. The people did not sell the cause but fought through their mothers, children, martyrs and their remains. Is there a miracle greater than this?”

Cast off your sandals, Moses (إخلع نعلك يا موسى)

Cast off your sandals, Moses
And scale Mount Sinai
Toss the jasmine flowers
On the plains of Palestine
Even her roses resist
As do her olives and figs

Cast off your sandals, Moses
And strike the face of the occupiers
Comfort the mother of the fighters
And relieve the hunger striking prisoners
Where even their intestines resist
As do their torn off limbs and unborn children

Cast off your sandals, Moses
Console the child prisoner
Honor to shrines defiled
And coffins shamed
Even the casket resists
That very casket, that of Shireen

– Louis Brehony is a musician, activist, researcher and educator. He is author of the book Palestinian Music in Exile: Voices of Resistance (2023), editor of Ghassan Kanafani: Selected Political Writings (2024), and director of the award-winning film Kofia: A Revolution Through Music (2021). He writes regularly on Palestine and political culture and performs internationally as a buzuq player and guitarist. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.