Art amplifies voices on the margins–the views and opinions that power silences. But while money and influence can control editorial boards and network TV, they cannot stop the individual’s creative process. As long as the powerful breed disparity, their victims will find ways to express themselves.
Last month, the Palestinian-American hip-hop crew The Philistines announced the release of a CD dedicated to the youth of Palestine. The compilation CD, titled “Free the P,” brings together over 20 hip-hop and spoken word artists. Its aim is to promote awareness about the Palestinian struggle for freedom while raising funds to support an upcoming documentary film–SlingShot Hip Hop–about hip-hop in Palestine.
This is likely the first musical collaboration of its kind. “Free the P,” shows the cool side of globalization–the grassroots version that undermines corporate power. Conscious American MC’s and poets of diverse backgrounds put down verses exposing the plight of the Palestinians and showing solidarity with Palestinian artists. According to executive producer Ragtop, while dedicated to Palestine, the CD was inspired by “the global struggle for peace and justice.”
The CD cover represents just how international this project is. It features Handala, the icon originated by the famous Palestinian cartoonist, Naji Al-Ali. According to Al-Ali, Handala was at first a Palestinian child, but came to represent the consciousness of a “global and human horizon.” The artists on this CD do the same. The focus is on Palestine, but the songs touch on the war on Iraq, discrimination against minorities, the disproportionate power of the Neo-Cons, the so-called war on terrorism, the theft of Native America, and other subjects.
The artists come from all walks of life. Immortal Technique, a rising star of the musical underground, hails from Harlem, New York. Explicitly political, he draws inspiration from having been wrongfully imprisoned for fighting racists. Originally of Peruvian descent, he demonstrates a native’s knowledge of the Middle East and Islam in his attack on the media, “The 4th Branch.”
Suheir Hammad, one of the most prominent artists on the CD, is a published poet and spoken word artist. She is hip-hop to the bone, breathes Palestine, but her tongue is from New York. Fans of Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam recognize her instantly. Hammad is courageously vocal about numerous political and social issues affecting Arabs and Arab-Americans. Significantly, she discusses openly some of the problems with sexual abuse and harassment the Arab-American community faces.
Other contributors, such as Head-Roc, also champion progressive causes with a local element. Being a D.C. native, Head-Roc knows a little about having no political representation under a dominant power. Although D.C. citizens pay taxes, they have no Congressmen or Senators to advocate on their behalf in the halls of Congress. Palestinians might feel especially at home in the nation’s capitol, its police force having received training in minority intimidation techniques from their Israeli counterparts. Among these borrowed tactics is the D.C. police’s habit of running sirens randomly through certain neighborhoods-to remind residents who’s in charge.
One of the most talented MC’s on this mix-tape is Detroit’s own Invincible, who has already disavowed potentially lucrative record contracts to work directly with youth. In addition to teaching local youngsters art as a form of community activism, she also works on projects opposing police brutality and the prison-industrial system and is a staunch advocate of Palestinian rights. Invincible’s connection to the Holy Land is personal. She was born in Israel, which she calls “occupied Palestine.” In her song “No Compromises,” she rips critically into Israel’s current strategy in the West Bank:
A fortress is built, 25 feet tall
It’s 5 feet in concrete, Apartheid wall
It’s called a security fence
but all I seeis our superiority complex
Euphrates, an Iraqi-Canadian group, struggled last year with the loss of a key member, a producer and family member, Nofy Fannan, age 26. Their track “I.R.A.Q.” is one of the most poignant and musically fulfilling on the CD. The bass-heavy song features dark organs, violins, piano and a rich sample from an old Spanish ballad.
P.R. and DAM represent Palestine on “Free the P.” This gives the CD’s American listeners a chance to hear two of the documentary’s featured groups. Fitting, since all proceeds from sales of the CD will help fund the post-production and distribution of SlingShot Hip-Hop.
P.R. (Palestinian Rappers) are straight out of Gaza. In the SlingShot Hip-Hop trailer, they prepare for their first big gig–an auditorium packed with Palestinian youth. DAM, which has toured internationally, put together the charged anthem “Born Here,” about their town of Lid, to remind Zionists who the original inhabitants are. As Tamer Nafar raps in Arabic: “I was born here, my grandparents were also born here, you will not sever me from my roots.”
Though the film is due for a 2006 release, Slingshot Hip-Hop has already generated global attention. Most of the media buzz has centered on the novelty of Palestinian rappers-“Free the P” shows them to be part of a global solidarity movement. It connects the Palestinian struggle to the ground-level push for freedom and rights around the world, proving again the potential for strength and unity in art.
WILL YOUMANS is a writer with a blog: www.kabobfest.com.
He contributes frequently to the Arab-American News.
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.
As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
We are pleased to clarify the position.
August 17, 2005