Where There’s the Ghetto, There’s Hip Hop

DAM plays at the 2005 activism festival in Lid. (Evert-JanGrit)

Lid, an industrial pauperized city, not far from Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. Not a likely place for vistors and tourists to pass by. Lid faces the same problems as most metropoles and cities all over this world: drugs, pollution, unemployment, gangs, racism and violence. This is the dark side of Israel, the “only democracy in the Middle East,” with its own black minority: the Palestinians who stayed after the Nakba in 1948. Lid is the home base of Israel’s first and best Palestinian Hip Hop band DAM (“Da Arabic Microphone Controllers”). DAM started to perform in 1998 and steadily built a reputation in Israel and abroad. They played in Europe and released a song with the French Algerian group MBS.

The frontman of DAM, Tamar Nafar explains: “It started after listening to 2PAC. I realized that what he sang about was in fact about our reality. You can see the shit around you here in places like the ghettos of Lid en Ramleh. We are the blacks of Israel. Though here it’s not a matter of race or color, but a matter of religion. Which doesn’t mean that we want to go along with this religious thing. We are the Palestinians of 1948 and we want equality. That’s it”.

Tamar continues: “You see we live under a physical and mental occupation. People have internalised the situation and have become apathetic. They don’t resist, they’ve given up even to think about that. The generation of our parents is full of fear and apathy. They are afraid for the Shabak and want to stay away from politics. We do not accept this. We want to shake things up. We sing about what we see, about the violence, the humiliation we face, and so on. We think this is educational in a true sense; we don’t want to tell people what to do, we know that stuff and we’ve seen it too much. We want people to start thinking for themselves by offering them a mirror. We want people to develop their own potential”.

DAM performs in Arabic and in Hebrew. This is important. Tamar says, “We have to educate ourselves, but also the other side. They do not know or want to know what’s happening here. We sing about ‘48, about being refugees in our own country. This is stuff they do not want to hear about. You know some people said in an Israeli newspaper that they should send the Shabak after us, they even called us terrorists. In a way this is good, publicity-wise, but on the other hand it is a sad story that people are after you just because you’re telling the truth. My question is who here is the terrorist? We the people who fight for our freedom, or the ones who have taken all of us, making us to live in this mess and finally wanting to make us disappear?”

DAM believes that they belong to the same tradition as earlier resistance music, but it’s much bigger. Hip Hop is international. It is everywhere, in the West and more and more in Africa and finally in the Arabic speaking world. It started with the Algerians in France and it’s taking over in the Middle East. “Here it started among Palestinians in Israel, but you see now rappers and Hip Hoppers in Jabalya, Ramallah, Khan Yunis, Jenin … everywhere! It is becoming big and I dare to say that in every village you can find young people taking up a mike and performing. We even heard about bands in Syria, and we’ve been on tour with a band from Lebanon, and in the coming weeks we will perform in Ramallah and Deheishe”.

“To older people it may seem odd to listen to ‘Western and American music’, but you see that they start to appreciate because of our lyrics. The other way round young people get into our lyrics through our music. So we are talking here about a win-win situation”

According to DAM this is only the beginning of something much bigger. DAM will soon release their first album, they will start ’48 records, a much needed label and platform for Palestinian Hip Hoppers and rappers, and finally a long awaited film about the Palestinian Hip Hop scene is about to be released. Hip Hop is here to stay!

DAM are: Tamar Nafar, Suheil Nafar and Mahmoud Jreiri

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