Palestinian rap godfathers DAM represent for the '48ers

March 30 marks the annual Land Day (Youm Al-Ard) commemoration for Palestinians remembering the 1976 general strike in historic Palestine to oppose an Israeli government plan to confiscate land. Today, support for this movement “from the inside” takes on a number of different forms, including hiphop! Pioneer Palestinian rappers DAM sat with MENASSAT discussing what’s next in their music careers, and what is next for the Arab minority in Israel.
A picture from the Elliot M. documentary "DAM - Hip-Hop Palestinian Style - From Israel To The UK." © Elliot M.

AMMAN, March 30, 2009 (MENASSAT) - The godfathers of Palestinian hip-hop, DAM (Arabic for "eternity" or Da Arabian MC’s) rocked the mics in Amman, Jordan on Friday night (March 27) at an outdoor show that brought the Palestinian hip-hop group together with local Jordanian hip-hoppers, MC Maze, producer/DJ Sotusura and Palestinian rapper Ragtop from the Los Angeles-based hip-hop group The Philistines.

[Suhell Nafar performs last Friday in Amman. © Laith Majali]

DAM - brothers Tamer and Suhell Nafar and Mahmoud Jreri - performed on the eve of Land Day (Yoam al ‘Ard in Arabic), one of the most significant incidents of Palestinian uprising inside Israel.

On March 30, 1976 six Palestinians were killed and some 100 injured in confrontations with Israeli police forces during protests against the continuing expropriation of Arab land.

For young Palestinians living as second class citizens in the shadow of the 1976 protests, DAM has made a career educating listeners about the reality of the 1.3 million Arabs living in Israel.

DAM grew up in the city of Lod, a mixed town of Arabs and Jews that has become a ghetto inside Israel since the creation of the state in 1948.

“So this is reflecting our whole reality. This story of them trying to come in - we react - and the police come against us. This is our daily life,” Mahmoud Jreri told MENASSAT over the weekend.

The trio's message is even more relevant given Israel's political shift to the right in the recent elections. Example: newly appointed deputy prime minister, Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu nationalist party has called for the "transfer" of Palestinian citizens out of Israel.

Jreri said, “Israel will have to decide between carrying out a Holocaust on the Palestinians living in the ‘48 territories or agree societally to welcome ALL of its citizens. So this is the choice. And one day they are going to have to make it. For better or for worse." 

Lyrical masterminds, DAM members like Jreri say their second class status is ironic, and they actively confront this in their rhymes.

“I speak better Hebrew than most Israelis and they call to kick me out and we are the native people,” Jreri said.

DAM  released their debut album “Stop Selling Drugs” in 1998, but the group's biggest song to date was the 2001 release "Meen Irhabe" (Who’s the terrorist?) - album of  the same title - which is still the most downloaded Arabic hip-hop song with over one-million downloads and counting.

MENASSAT caught up with DAM after their March 27 show to discuss Land Day, life inside pre-1948 territories, their struggles with the music industry and the expansion of Rap 3arabi (Arabic rap).

Video for the DAM song "Letters" featuring Mahmoud Jreri on the mic. Directed by Suhell Nafar. © DAM

MENASSAT: You're considered by many to be the originators of Palestinian hip-hop (along with the now defunct group MWR) of the godfathers of this up-and-coming Rap 3arabi movement in a way...and you've been in the game for a you think your music is helping to bring Rap 3arabi to the masses and are people in the West ready to hear your messages?

Mahmoud Jreri: "Our music is bringing Arabic rap to the masses, as our album Dedication (2006-2007) is being sold in Europe and in the US. And we are also touring and spreading the message."

"There are also a lot of rappers coming out of the Middle East now doing Arabic hip-hop, so it is getting bigger and bigger."

"As for the West, if it will deliver the message to them, musically yes, lyrically, well unfortunately they have to translate it, which is a hard job and they won’t do it. But they can get the message. They don’t get the metaphors and everything we are saying, but they understand that we are singing for a cause."

"But it’s still not enough."
Jackie Salloum's documentary Slingshot Hip Hop, we learned that you first rapped in Hebrew. Your Hebrew lyrics are actually dope, and speak of realities for Arabs inside pre-1948 borders. Does your message reach the Israeli hip-hop scene? Is hip-hop a means of dealing with some big issues between Palestinian and Israeli youth?

Suhell Nafar:
"Well, first of all, we didn’t start with Hebrew. Tamer started rapping around 1998 in English and then we went into Arabic and Hebrew at the same time – the first song was Arabic and Hebrew mixed."

"We tried to work on Arabic hip-hop but we didn’t know how to do it, we didn’t have the influences so it took us time to become stronger in it."

"And about the conflict with Palestinians and Israelis, it definitely won’t solve the problem. The people who already know the situation listen to it. There is kind of a fan club for Dam including Jewish refusniks (people who refuse to serve in the army) and people who are against the occupation.  So these are the people who support our music."

"About changing the situation, I don’t think so. All of these things take time. But we should connect one step at a time."

Mahmoud Jreri: "You can deliver the message but the problem with the Israeli audience is that they are right-wing, so it’s very hard to deliver the message to them."

"And if you do deliver the message it’s a minority not a majority who are listening. It’s a problem that we are living in, because it is a racist country however you want to look at it."

MENASSAT: What advice would you give to young Palestinian rappers in the Territories and in the refugee camps in the Middle East who are trying to get their music heard?

Mahmoud Jreri: "They should keep on doing what they love and what their passionate about and to keep on, not to just do one song and that’s it. To keep on going and try to make new stuff. That will help them in the future. Telling the reality, and not becoming mainstream."

"I hope that Arabic rap won’t start talking about cars and bitches, which is what we don’t have – we have occupation and we struggle for our freedom."

MENASSAT: There are rifts in Palestinian society between those in the pre-48 Territories and the West Bank and Gaza Strip - are those divisions mirrored in the Palestinian hip-hop scene?

Mahmoud Jreri: "Not really. I don’t think so."

"There are different subjects being discussed in '48 and in '67, but we never disrespect each other. We don’t even want to get into this thing of, oh I’m dissing people from '67 and they are dissing me, it’s not the purpose for why we are doing hip-hop."

"We are still building the industry, we are still building Arabic hip-hop. So we don’t want to begin from the end, I think. So until now, no, there are no beefs (arguments).

[DAM performs in Amman, Jordan. March, 27, 2008
© Laith Majali

MENASSAT: Dutch-Moroccan MC, Sala7 Edin, has linked up as fellow Dutch-Moroccan producer/MC Cilvaringz for his upcoming album release - Horr ("Free" in Arabic). The duo has the backing of the Wu Tang Clan and has secured distribution through Universal in the Middle-East, North Africa and Europe. Is it even possible for such distribution and big hip-hop backing to have a pan-Arab effect with the Arab youth? Is a pan-Arab hip hop movement some Nasser-hip-hop type of movement?

Mahmoud Jreri:  "It’s already happening. I don’t know if it’s big enough to call it that, but you have people like DJ Khaled, who is Palestinian, and is doing beats for every famous hip-hop artist that you can name."

"You have people like FredWreck (best known for producing for Snoop Doggy Dogg) who is also affecting the Arabic hip-hop industry (FredWreck is the host for MTV Arabia's flagship show "Hip-Hop Na/(Our Hip-Hop in translation)." I don’t know if it will affect the movement, we are still a minority in the industry." 

MENASSAT: Who in the up-coming Arabic or Palestinian hip-hop movement should we be looking out for?

Suhell Nafar: "There’s a lot of major moves being made by artists throughout the whole pan-Arab hip-hop scene."

"You can talk about the Algerians who started doing hip-hop in the early stages of the world hip-hop movement because it was part of the influence from France."

"You have Tunisian hip-hop, Morrocan hip-hop, which is really huge. You have a big movement that is starting in Amman too. You have hip-hop all around."

"I can mention a lot of names. Here in Jordan you have Taj, the 962 crew, Ragtop who is also here, Narcy ("The Narcicyst") who is Iraqi living in Montreal, PR (Palestinian Rapperz - pictured below) from Gaza, Safa from Akka, Far3an from Egypt."

A shot from the documentary "Slingshot Hip Hop" © Jackie Salloum

"The movement is really getting bigger and bigger. Compare it to the attempts by the international community in trying to get dialog and cooperation between countries - something these governments are failing to do...And then we see we are bridging the gap between conflicting groups.

"We see we are doing it in hip-hop, which is a good feeling, after all the conquering that we had for all these years." 

MENASSAT: After Slingshot Hip-Hop, people in the hip-hop world are expecting something great from DAM. What's next? What are you working on with your music? Any collaborations we should be aware of?

Suhell Nafar: "Let’s first start with after Slingshot, DAM, who started the production company called 48 records, produced a soundtrack for the movie, which is out now.  You can get it on"

"We are going to do a tour in a week in the USA with over 20 shows, then are going to Canada. I’m also going to Spain because there is a movie covering Palestinian art, which DAM is part of."

"There are a few songs that we recorded for the next album that will out soon, in the summer probably. And there are a lot of big people in it."

MENASSAT: Like who?

"We can’t tell."

MENASSAT: When is the next album coming out?

Mahmoud Jreri: "At the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010. It will be ready in the summer but will take some time to be released."

MENASSAT:  Hip-Hop Arabia(dot)com is featuring your brand new video on their main page. The song "Letters" is by Mahmoud and it's directed by Suhell Nafar. It's a great video!  Can we expect more videos? Is there a chance for TV broadcasts? What's next for DAM?

Suhell Nafar: The next project will be the second letters song for Tamer. We started the alphabet song from alif to yaa and then Tamer is doing it backwards from yaa to alif. And there is going to be another video, which is going to be released in a week."

"And there is a video coming out soon with Invincible from Detroit (USA) and Abeer Sabrina da Witch and me doing one song. Also there's the music video for our song "Flow Like That," which is being broadcast by VideoMix TV."

MENASSAT: Tell us about what is happening now in the '48 Territories - the fact that things politically, culturally are moving to the right in Israel, how is this affecting your work, your lives?

Mahmoud Jreri:  "Well our lives are hard and have been hard since 1948. We were occupied and we are still occupied people."

"Nowadays Israel is starting to be more obvious and they have people saying they should transfer us and kick us out. And those people just came to Palestine, maybe 10 years ago, 20 years ago, they still have a Russian accent in Hebrew." (Editors note: Jreri is referring to Avignor Lieberman here).

"I speak better Hebrew than them and they call to kick me out and we are the native people. So this is a problem."

"They always had the plan to kick us out, it just didn’t work for them in '48. They tried it in '67 and it also didn’t work. And we hope that we can keep on struggling for our resistance to stay as Palestinians on our historical land."

"What will happen, what could happen, I don’t know."

'I don’t expect what is going to happen to be very good. I think it is going to get worst and worst. Israel will have to decide between carrying out a Holocaust on the Palestinian people in '48 or agreeing to be a country for all of its citizens."

"So this is the choice. And one day they are going to have to make it. For better or for worst."

MENASSAT: Monday is Land Day (Youm al Ard)? What is happening on the ground?

Suhell Nafar: "Well I can tell you what is happening right now. Just a few days ago in Umm al-Fahm (in Israel) we had the events of the extremist Zionist right-wing who wanted to march into Umm al-Fahm to spark another fire. This is what they do all the time."

"They (right-wingers) didn’t plan it, they didn’t even sms each other, they made it a secret so that when they would go into the city no one would know."

"So what happened inside Umm al-Fahm was that people were on their roofs and suddenly saw all of these right-wing people just coming in, and their reaction was to kick them out, they clearly wanted to cause the residents problems."

"But the police started protecting the right-wing Zionists. So this is reflecting our whole reality. This small story of them trying to come in, we react, and the police come against us. This is our daily life."

"They spark the fire and we have to get angry and react and everything becomes bigger. This is what is happening these days."

"You have a lot of projects in '48 to minimize us, to make us more and more small in a demographic way. They have big projects. For example Yehud Lod, which is to make Lod more Jewish - our city."

"You can see it in their actions when they demolish houses. There were more than 70 houses demolished in the last two years in our city."

Mohmoud Jreri:  "Not only Lod, all of the '48ers are living under this racist system, for example, house demolitions, Israel forbidding us from learning several subjects…it’s not clear racism like where they say you are not allowed to go to a club because you are an Arab, which is really not important actually."

"The more important racism is when you are not allowed to, say, be a doctor until you are 21. Why? Because an Israeli is only finishing their service in the army at 21, so they want to make it “equal.”

"They don’t want Arabs to be doctors at an early age. So it’s a much deeper racism, where you don’t have jobs and if you study in university you can only hang your degree on the wall but you don’t have nothing to do with it."

"All of the jobs ask for people who served in the army. And none of us served in the army and none of us will. This is a very big problem for us, and we are facing a very racist society."

"You can only imagine how they can treat you. A lot of politicians say that we are the cancer inside Israel. And you imagine how people treat cancer."

To check out more from DAM

Check out the trailer for Jackie Salloum's 2008 documentary "Slingshot Hip Hop"featuring DAM: