DAM – Rap Resistance
Alaa Ashkar - 06/06/2007
The group is composed of Tamer Nafar, 28, his younger brother Suhell, 24, and Mahmoud Jreri, 25. They’ve been performing together since the late 90s and were all born and grew up in the slums of Lod, a mixed town of Arabs and Jews, 20 km from Jerusalem.
Since its creation in 1998, the group has gained a big popularity nationally, touring internationally in festivals and performing with other European hip hop groups such as the French-Algerian MBS, the French-Moroccan La Caution and Fermin Muguruza, a famous protest singer.
The members of DAM agree that they got their popularity “because DAM talked all the way about our reality and was true to our message. We also put West and East together in our music; this is how we got our respect nationally and internationally.”
How does the Arab audience in Israel react to DAM songs?
“Well, in Israel all is divided into Left wing and Right wing even when it comes to the music scene. Today the right wing is ruling so they don’t really play our music in the radio even if we have Israeli Jewish fans but they are few.” says Mahmoud Jreri.
DAM's debut album "Stop Selling Drugs" was released locally in 1998, followed by the second album called "Min Irhabi" (who's the terrorist?) which was released in 2001. The controversial title track of this album was released on the net and more than 1 million people downloaded it within one month from the website ArabRap.Net. The song was also distributed for free with Rolling Stone magazine in France and became a "street" anthem. It was also featured in a compilation in France with Manu Chao, Zebda, Noir Désir and many other artists.
The aggressive but painfully true lyrics of DAM, stimulates the young generation, they bring consciousness to their minds, urge them to become proud of their Arab roots, push them to think for themselves and to affront oppression and discrimination they daily face. The group is conscious that this could cause them troubles in Israel “We had some problems” says Mahmoud “ with the Israeli police who shut down our show several times and an Israeli reporter once said that the Israeli Mosad (Israeli secret service) was looking for us, but so far they didn’t do anything to us. We are having problems though with Israeli police.”
Not to mention that the political climate in Israel today is tensed especially after the exile of Palestinian deputy, member of the Israeli parliament, Azmi Bishara, because of security accusations against him. Israel recently accused him of collaborating with Hezbollah during the last war of Israel against Lebanon. To defend himself, Bishara said these accusations are a cover up in order to silence an Arab defending the rights of Palestinians in Israel. Bishara has been claiming since the first days of his political career that Israel should be the country of all its citizens, not only the state of Jews.
“It doesn’t surprise us much”, says the group, “because a lot of political people in Israel said that the Arabs within Israel are like a cancer, that’s why they keep on destroying our houses and take our lands. They don’t want us to expand and any 48 Palestinian (Palestine land inside Israel) knows that in the national anthem they are saying it’s a land for the Jews..We are not Jewish so we can’t believe in it because it’s racist. Plus, what happened to Bishara is intimidating. Now people are being scared to express their opinion like him. They silence us and this is not acceptable.”
In order to bring their message to the Jewish Israelis, DAM sings also in Hebrew. “We sing in Hebrew because we know the language and it’s important for us to deliver our message to the other side”. They have attracted Jewish Israeli artists and performed with some, such as Shoty ha Nevoa and the bad boy of Israeli rock, Aviv Gefen.
“Our Jewish Israeli crowd are mostly from the left wing and they are few, because we mainly sing in Arabic and naturally our crowd are mainly Arabic speakers in Palestine; they are boys, girls, old people, kids, just everyone who enjoys our music, our audience is very varied because we talk about subjects that touch everyone..They feel it and they live it with us”.
DAM believes also in self-criticism: “We do criticize ourselves in our albums, we criticize Arab leaders, we released a song about Women rights, we criticize the whole Arab generation who said they can’t do anything.. They’d rather sit and watch TV than stand up and fight for their rights. We do this because we disagree with it and we believe they can do a lot.” How does the media in Israel and abroad deals with this extraordinary phenomenon called DAM?
“Arab Medias in Palestine cover us largely and fairly, in the Arab world we are less covered except for Al Jazeerah and few others. As for the Israeli media, they only bring us as ‘news’ without speaking about our artistic side…They don’t play us in the radio, they would rather have a Jewish guy singing in Arabic than an Arab singer who sings in Arabic.”
After 8 years of songs stating that Arabs should be proud of our roots and fight for peace and justice, did you make your message heard? Is there any change in the young generation’s perception of itself and of the other in Israel?
“Yes there is. We never said that we’re going to change everything but we’ve been able to let people who listen to our music to be full of information about what is happening and what we see with our eyes, and we made kids stand up and say that they are proud Palestinians when at their age we were shy to say that or that we didn’t even know who we were.”
Are you unique in Israel? What is your relation to the Arab world?
“We are not the only people but you can count us on your fingers. There are people like Reem Banna who is quite successful too. It’s really hard here because 48 Arabs are in catch 22 (American peaceful Novel against the Vietnam war), Israel treats them as Palestinians and the Arab World treats them as Israelis, so the only way for them to make it is through Europe, but we have our art and we will continue to fight for letting it out to the people of the world and to break those political borders.”
DAM’s will soon release a new album and a documentary film called SlingShot Hip Hop that focuses on the daily life of Palestinian rappers living in Gaza, the West Bank and inside Israel. It aims to spotlight alternative voices of resistance within the Palestinian struggle and explores the role that music plays within their social, political and personal lives.