Hip-hop for Palestine represents in New Orleans

On 14 June 2008, a wide coalition of grassroots organizations — including NOLAPS (New Orleans, Louisiana Palestine Solidarity); INCITE Women of Color Against Violence; New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival; and the Third World Coalition of the American Friends Service Committee — held a historic event called “Liberation Hip-Hop,” which commemorated the 60th year of the Nakba, the dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts center was filled that day with folks from different backgrounds, ages and religions. Speakers and audience members from around the US and across the world got together to link their struggles and build an alliance against the injustice they all face. Addressing the standing-room-only crowd, local spoken word artist PoeticOne introduced Jordan Flaherty from Left Turn Magazine and Darryl Jordan from the Third World Coalition of the American Friends Service Committee. They opened the event with a welcome that highlighted brief examples of how the struggles faced by the people of New Orleans are related to the situation in occupied Palestine.

It has been almost three years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and New Orleans is still struggling to get back up. Many New Orleanians aren’t able to get back to their homes because they have been demolished. Racist laws and structures are oppressing people in both places, the denial of entry to our homes, and denying the right to travel and the ongoing racism in Palestine and New Orleans.

However, one thing sustaining and strengthening both New Orleans and Palestine is the rich culture of both. While New Orleans is proud of its heritage of jazz, hip-hop and second line, Palestine takes pride in our own music, food, clothing and traditional debka dances. Both cultures are rich and and show the world that we exist and will not surrender.

Starting the performances, this writer presented a poem by Shatha Odeh (a Chicagoan Palestinian) called “I am Palestine.” This remarkable poem describes the land, the struggle for Palestine and the undeniable fact that Palestinians exist. Afterwards, Stuart LeBlanc played the oud peacefully while Andy Young and Khaled Hegazi of Meena Magazine recited poems — in Arabic and English — written by the legendary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

Right after the poetry, the hip-hop began, and the crowd rose to its feet. Local hip hop artists Shaheed and Arabian Outlaw represented for New Orleans and Palestine. These artists, raised in New Orleans but with Palestine flowing through their blood, showed that hip-hop is a universal language of hope and resistance. They rapped a mixture of Palestinian and New Orleanian lyrics, while the crowd cheered on and chanted, “Viva Palestine,” and “Free the P!” Their message, through art, called for the right of return to New Orleans and Palestine, and the right of freedom and respect to all humans.

Truth Universal and Sess 4-5 — local African American hip-hop superstars — performed songs about self-determination for African-Americans, the fight for housing, and their determination for justice against racist laws, home demolitions and oppressive police. These artists, in words and actions, showed that all of our struggles are linked. In performing together, they took the first step towards all of our movements standing together.

Lamis Deek, an activist and organizer from the New York chapter of Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, and a lawyer in the field of political asylum, spoke to the audience about the Palestinian dispossession begun in 1948 and how the Nakba isn’t an anniversary but an ongoing formulation of understanding our present. She explained that we will not forget Palestine and what has happened in the last 60 years, and we will keep fighting until victory, freedom and liberation.

Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for: two artists who came straight from Palestine took over the show. Mohammed al-Farra, from the group Palestinian Rapperz — the first hip hop group from Gaza — took the stage and demonstrated skills that show he is clearly one of the world’s most talented up-and-coming artists. His flow, the music, and the content all came together to form a breathtaking show.

Abeer, whose stage name is Sabreena Da Witch, has such intense skills, she has become known as the undisputed queen of Palestine R&B. She took the stage and, with strength and sharp intelligence, explained that she would proceed to demonstrate that she could both sing and rap, in Arabic and English, better than anyone else who had taken the stage that day. These were bold words, but in a spectacular show, she showed that this was no idle boast. With her powerful lyrics, her inspiring hope, and her dedication to women’s rights, human rights and the right of return to Palestine, she touched everyone’s heart, and made everyone in the room rise up and dance.

As the spectacular show ended, the diverse crowd filtered out on to New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood, a heart of the city’s culture. Inspired to stand and struggle together, audience members knew they had witnessed something unique and important. The show — “Liberation Hip-Hop” — was tremendous and demonstrated with art and action how local folks of New Orleans and Palestine can stand in one room together and one movement together, speaking and bringing justice for all.

Mai Bader is a New Orleanian and a Palestinian — two different worlds that have so much in common — and a journalism student at Loyola University of New Orleans.