Listen: Rafeef Ziadah on why “it’s difficult to separate politics from poetry”

“I think there’s something extremely powerful about the role of art in sustaining us as human beings,” says London-based poet and activist Rafeef Ziadah in a recent interview with The Electronic Intifada.

“And if you look at social movements generally, what we remember of them is the poetry, the music, the art, the theater — those moments generate a specific art form.”

Ziadah’s new album, We Teach Life, combines poetry and music and makes a deliberate connection between activism and art.

“It’s difficult to me to separate out the politics [from poetry] because it’s ingrained in my entire history — being born into a war and invasion in Lebanon, growing up undocumented as a Palestinian refugee, seeing the first intifada, the second intifada, the current popular uprising that’s going on on the ground — it speaks to me,” Ziadah explains to interviewer Hazem Jamjoum.

A video of Ziadah performing her poem “We Teach Life” has gained almost 900,000 views on YouTube since 2011.

Under siege

Central to the theme of We Teach Life are the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the sieges of Beirut in 1982 and on Gaza now, Ziadah says, adding, “I often say that we Palestinians have been under siege since Israel’s settler-colonial project began. It’s just different forms of sieges on different parts of us.”

Ziadah worked with musician and composer Phil Monsour, who produced the album and most of the music it features. “We really wanted to try and make music that highlighted the words,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that there’s an Arab sound and a contemporary sound and that you could still feel the words very strongly.”

Her first album, Hadeel, was “widely beloved,” says Jamjoum, “and something tells me this one is going to be even more beloved.”

More information on Ziadah’s album can be found on her website. The album is available through CDbaby. She hopes to start a tour in 2016.

Listen to the interview with Rafeef Ziadah via the media player above.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).