Dabke on the Moon (Nudbok al Amar)’s eleven tracks span critical political issues and complex musical expressions; DAM incorporates rich talent from an array of international instrumentalists while, as they’ve always done, telling stories of local and universal struggles for justice and equality.
The song and video for one of the new album’s tracks, “If I Could Go Back In Time,” which targets violence against women, was highlighted on The Electronic Intifada back in November.
Already, the song and video has climbed to number 4 on the World Music Network chart for January.
I interviewed Tamer Nafar last week, who I’ve known as a friend for years, to discuss the group’s new album and the political issues it illuminates. He spoke to me on the phone from his home in Lydd, a town in an area of historic Palestine captured by Israel in 1948.
The Electronic Intifada: It’s been nearly six years since your last album [Dedication] came out, and now you have this new album, Dabke on the Moon. Talk about what’s changed from your first album until now, including the growth of DAM and the growth of hip-hop in Palestine throughout the last six years.
Tamer Nafar: Six years have passed. We’ve grown up artistically and personally — in Palestine, we grow up fast. During these six years, we’ve been all over the world. We’ve been exposed to a lot of cultures, we’ve been exposed to a lot of people with different stories. So suddenly, the world is not Palestine. Palestine became part of the world. And the struggle became part of the international struggle.
Musically, we’ve been performing and we’ve been listening to blues, jazz, Arabic [music], so we wanted something else this time. We’ve been more open-minded, musically. As for artistically, I always say that it would be easier for me if we were cinema students. I would have said that the first album was more of a documentary, and the second one is our first feature.
Even the titles on the album — you have to listen to the songs to understand the title. It’s beyond talking what’s happening in Palestine. It’s creating, not just taking one on one, but creating characters, creating stories which reflect reality, but of course, we are not just sitting and documenting like [the] news. We are certainly inspired from the tours, from the people we meet, and from our lives, and we are creating stories, creating characters — this album has a lot of characters in it.
EI: Tamer, the stories that you do dive into on this album, and on your last for that matter, are very political, they’re very powerfully symbolic — but at the same time they reflect a reality in Palestine. But not just in Palestine, universal realities for people struggling under occupation, under repressive governments. Can you talk about the universal message that especially this album brings forth?
TN: Well, it speaks about freedom in general. When you talk about freedom, when you talk about equality, people in the Arab world can feel it. African Americans can feel it. … So maybe somehow the message is uniting minorities around the world, and it is showing them that they are 90 percent of this earth. … I would say that also, when we speak about women’s rights — we just saw what happened in India, for example, the girl who was raped, and suddenly there is a “women’s spring” coming on.
So I would say, yes, it is an international album, and any person who is asking to have fun, to live, to fall in love, to feel free to travel, it should somehow connect to most of the people around the world.
EI: Can you speak about some of the influences of this album? Not just some of the stories involved, like as you said, women’s rights, political prisoners, but musically — the influences that you have discovered and picked up and have played with for this album?
TN: What we did on this album — somehow with the first album, we were hardcore. Which is amazing, and I like that period of my life, but in a way, we were always listening to commercial music as well. Even if it didn’t have a message, but musically we liked that catchy melody. So we felt confident enough to just be us, and just do a lot of melodies. To sing also — to use a lot of parts that have no lyrics, but there are instruments playing.
Somehow we discovered that it’s not just about the words, it’s also about the music itself, and about the power to create and the power to deliver the message without saying the message sometimes. Although we have a lot of direct — the messages are so clear in the album, lyrically.
So on this album we connected with a lot of musicians all around the world. Most of the album was produced by a pop producer from Denmark. We bought him tickets, we brought him here, and he stayed in Lydd for three weeks and he [was introduced to] a lot of Arab music instrumentals, and we recorded at the studio and we combined these two worlds — his pop and our Arabic music.
We also worked with Trio Joubran and Bachar Khalifa … Bachar is coming from alternative music, and is playing with [Lebanese composer and oud player] Marcel Khalife most of his time, his father. And Trio Joubran are classical oud players, and suddenly we created something that is hip-hop.
We worked with Mark Antoine, who’s the producer of Cheb Khaled and Cheb Mami and all the raï world, and we created something that’s between reggae, raï and hip-hop as well. So as I said, we’ve been open-minded to work with a lot of people.
EI: Tamer, talk about the title of the album, Dabke on the Moon. What’s in that title, what’s the story behind it?
TN: Well, once I read an article about some NASA experiment on the moon, or in space, I don’t know, but they created some kind of a spaceship that goes to outer space to do something. And on the same day, I read an article about the people in Gaza digging tunnels. I didn’t feel comfortable with these two opposites. They are exploring the galaxies outside of Earth, and the Palestinians are digging tunnels — it’s the opposite direction.
Of course we want to go to the moon, but we cannot do it with the occupation. And who’s responsible for the occupation as well? America, the USA. They are sponsoring billions of dollars every year to make us dig under tunnels. I didn’t like it, and it was a sad song at the beginning. How come we are digging tunnels and they are reaching outer space?
But at the same time, the Arab Spring happened, and somehow the song became very optimistic and you can dance to it. It has a techno sound. [During our] shows, people always ask us to do it twice at least, because they dance to it the whole time. So the Arab Spring gave us power — that we as people, we believe that we can reach the moon.
In the song we say, we are in the spaceship, the spaceship is ready and we are trying to fly, but somehow the screens on the spaceship are telling us that we are overweight. So the Arab Spring taught us that to do so, we have to drop some of the weight. And we do — we open the window, and we throw out all the Arab leaders, all the dictatorships, all the corrupted money, and we are ready to fly.