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Using Music To Express the Plight of the Palestinians

posted on: Nov 13, 2020

By: Ala Abed-Rabbo/Arab America Contributing Writer

Music and musicians have played a considerable role in Palestinian nationalism. Songs explain the country’s dilemma or the occupation since the Nakba, or the “catastrophe.” Nakba is the Arabic word for the 1948 loss of Palestine and the formation of the state of Israel.

Musical styles and their sociopolitical ties with other Arab musical centers, particularly Cairo and Beirut, have had an essential impact on Palestinian music of struggle.

Umm Kulthum Sings for Palestine

In the mid-twentieth century, popular Egyptian songs of the legendary Arab singers, Abd al-Wahhab and Umm Kulthūm, were deeply inspired by European functional harmony, orchestral setting, and other non-ethnic styles and practices. They have had a substantial impact on the post-1948 political conflict in Palestine, and are explicitly associated with notions of Arab unity and the liberation of Palestine.

Christian Poche’s Viewpoints About Music and the Palestinian Dilemma

AMAR Foundation for Arab Music Archiving and Research

Christian Poché, a musicologist, separates the political music history of modern-day Palestine into three periods. After the Six-Day War in 1967, the first period began, which was the Arab-Israel war that resulted in Israel’s domination of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. It was during that time when the people witnessed the expansion of the genre of political songs, defined around songs that promote the spirit of opposition and battle.

According to Poché, the second era started with the Lebanese War in 1975, which is portrayed by the support of Palestine by non-Palestinian musicians. The early works of Marcel Khalifé (b.1950), belonged to this period. As Poché notes, for many people, the celebration of Palestine in songs became a sign of deliverance and devotion, signaling a modernist state of mind, especially as the change went beyond the solely Palestinian perspective, extending to the Arab world and influencing Arab scholars, thinkers, and philosophers.

In 1985, the third period began, when there was a turning away from the musical depiction of political struggles to pieces that focus on “land and its richness, romance and ambitions.” The repertoire of songs links with the “intifada” revolutions, defined as the violent Palestinian uprisings for national freedom from the Israeli conquer.

Fairuz Sings for Old Jerusalem

Two of Lebanon’s most prominent, innovative, and prolific composers are the Lebanese Rahbani Brothers, Asi (1923 – 1986), and Mansour (b. 1925). “The brothers’ work became more political after the defeat of Arab armies by Israel in 1967.” They composed songs which were performed by the legendary and influential Lebanese singer Fairuz (b. 1935); they deliberated nationalistic messages with frequent references to Palestinian places and the people under occupation – with the most famous song, “Zahrat al-Mada’in,” which means, “The Flower of Cities.” Today, the song remains at the heart of the repertoire of the Palestinian dilemma musical representation.

The Intifada Period

Moreover, 1987 is when the first intifada began and ended (temporarily) in 1993 with the Oslo Accords. The second intifada, known as the “al-Aqsa intifada,” took place in 2000, starting at a mosque in Jerusalem.

Popular songs for political struggle have played an essential role in these intifadas. Demonstration songs came to be known to activate the Palestinian people for revolts against the Israeli state. It circulated quickly through mass media and audiotapes.

Popular songs for political struggle have played an essential role in these intifadas.

The musical devices and practices that are international were consciously implemented by Palestinian musicians as artistic weapons as a nonviolent way in the fight against the struggle and conflict. The “music as a weapon” metaphor is hardly ever recognized without question.

To many Arab musicians, a more critical role of music is constructing under war and occupation. It remains their hope that music serves as an opening for emotional support and offers an alternate path for young adults and children as a way to direct interest away from ordinary life under occupation.

Sabreen Band in Jerusalem

Many Palestinian musicians work together. Such musical cooperation indicates a recap of one failed “peace process,” which left Palestinians with hopelessness. Some musicians help to innovate the means of music-producing. They try to cast a revived understanding of the role of music in the nationalist battle.

Over the last twenty years, one substantial force of such music was sung by a Jerusalem-based modern-day musical group called Sabreen. Lately, it has become better known universally after its latest bid to enter the Eurovision Song Contest. Established in the early 1980s, Sabreen presents to the world a modern face of Palestinian music through an innovative blend of musical styles from traditional Arab categories: Palestinian traditions, and modern Western backgrounds like rock-and-roll, jazz, and pop.

Also, themes of Palestinian individuality and political struggle continue at the base of their musical compositions and concerts. Nevertheless, many people believe that Sabreen’s artistic modernization and expertise are illustrative of the Palestinian musical future.

Most Palestinian musicians want to become accomplished through their relentless search for newer and more effective means of musical representation, not alter the status quo of the present conflict, or to affect a settlement. However, they want to convey to the world an image of Palestine that is not different from other nations and individuals universally.

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