Commercially successful rock and pop stars have tended to be silent about the oppression of Palestinians.
The summer of 2014 might be remembered as the time when the music industry started to wake up.
Two weeks after Israel’s latest offensive against Gaza began in July, Massive Attack used a festival in Dublin to convey a simple and poignant message. A graphics and lighting display during the band’s performance emphasized that more than 400 Palestinians had been killed.
As that death toll rose further, several celebrities expressed their solidarity with the people of Gaza.
Zayn Malik from the boy band One Direction tweeted “#FreePalestine,” receiving a hostile response from many Israelis. The Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams denounced the Ottawa government for supporting Israel. Nick Cave, an Australian musician living in the UK, declared his support for activists who broke into an Israeli-owned weapons factory in the English county of Staffordshire.
Despite these big steps, we still have a long way to go. Brian Eno referred to an “unwritten rule” when he wrote his “letter to America,” published on fellow musician David Byrne’s website: criticizing Israel remains something of a taboo in the entertainment business, especially in the US.
Fortunately, we have hip-hop music, where this reticence is far less pervasive. A striking number of songs for Palestine have come from hip-hop artists.
Hip-hop is more of an attitude than a genre with strict rules. KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions stressed this point when he said: “Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live.”
Rap, by definition, disseminates knowledge through rhyme. In the words of Tamer Nafar of DAM, Palestine’s best-known rap group: “Real rap criticizes anyone who denies freedom.”
Hip-hop has long been an international art-form. So it’s fitting that hip-hop artists from Bosnia, Chile and South Africa have all recorded tracks in solidarity with Palestine.
Here, then, is a ten-song soundtrack of struggle.
Ana Tijoux, featuring Shadia Mansour — “Somos Sur”
“Hip-hop is the land of the people that don’t have a land,” Chilean hip-hop artist and musician Ana Tijoux recently told the news program Democracy Now!
Tijoux was born in France and raised in Chile, which hosts one of the largest Palestinian communities in the world. “Somos Sur” draws parallels between acts of resistance in Chile and in Palestine. The song is about the importance of resistance around the world.
“Somos Sur” is a collaboration with Shadia Mansour, a British-born Palestinian rapper, and is performed in Spanish and Arabic.
Genocide — “Free Palestine”
Genocide (Jusuf Dzilic), now based in New Zealand, is originally from a small town in Bosnia. As a kid in Bosnia, he witnessed the ethnic cleansing of Muslims. His song “Free Palestine” references the massacres of civilians during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.
Free Radicals, featuring The Niyat and H.I.S.D. — “Every Wall”
Texas-based band Free Radicals team up with two hip-hop ensembles: The Niyat and H.I.S.D. The lyrics discuss apartheid, separation walls and the ruinous economic policies of the International Monetary Fund.
Shadia Mansour, featuring M-1 — “El Kofeyye Arabeyyeh”
Known as the “first lady of Arab hip-hop,” British-Palestinian Mansour chooses to rap in Arabic. Her single “El Kofeyye Arabeyyeh” (“The Keffiyeh is Arab”) refers to the traditional Palestinian checkered scarf, the kuffiyeh. She sings about protecting the kuffiyeh as a symbol of the Palestinian struggle and Arab identity.
Guest vocalist M-1 from New York City, one half of Dead Prez, spits: “The kuffiyeh ain’t no scarf/it’s a part of the movement/the symbolism is resistance.”
Don Martin, featuring Immortal Technique, Tumi, Eltipo Este, Tonto Noiza — “Boycott Israel”
Don Martin, a Norwegian hip-hop star from the group Gatas Parlament, recently teamed up with artists from Cuba, South Africa, the US and France in a brilliant show of support for the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
DAM — “Meen Irhabi?” (Who’s the Terrorist?)
DAM, reputedly Palestine’s first rap group, formed in 1998. The trio, based in Lydd (Lod) — approximately twenty kilometers from Jerusalem — know first hand what it’s like to live as Palestinians in present-day Israel.
They rap mostly in Arabic, but sometimes in English and occasionally in Hebrew. The name DAM is an acronym for Da Arab MCs in English.
Ragtop/The Philistines — “Free the P”
Palestinian-American rapper Ragtop and his band The Philistines perform the title track from Free the P, a CD compilation of hip-hop and spoken word, dedicated to the youth of Palestine. The song “Free the P” features handclaps and a sing-along chorus.
Lowkey, featuring DAM, The Narcicyst, Hasan Salaam, Shadia Mansour — “Long Live Palestine (Part II)”
This is the second outing for 2009’s “Long Live Palestine” by London-based British-Iraqi rapper Lowkey. Here, Lowkey enlists help from members of DAM, Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcicyst, Lebanese-Syrian Eslam Jawwad, Hasan Salaam from New York, Hich-Kas from Tehran and British-Iranian Reveal.
Invincible — “No Compromises”
Invincible (Ilana Weaver) is a Detroit-based MC. They spent their early childhood in present-day Israel and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1988.
At age seven, they taught themself English by listening to hip-hop records. Within two years, Invincible started writing their own lyrics. They were fluent in English by the time they were ten, having dropped their first language, Hebrew.
Here they rap about the need for resistance until “the day when you don’t even gotta fight no more.”
Mic Righteous — “Don’t it make you wonder?”
Carrie Giunta is a philosophy lecturer in London. Follow her on Twitter: @CarrieGiunta.