Record with the mobile sounds of bombs, refugee camps or what is heard in the checkpoints between Palestine and the West Bank, controlled by Israeli soldiers. And then turn all that into music. Using the technique of sampling, the Palestinian producer Muqata’a turns what for many are noises into songs. Always, according to him, with the aim of raising awareness among the Palestinian people and empowering their culture, “which has been almost erased and they want it to disappear.”
Some keys about Israel and Palestine
Muqata’a, his stage name, comes from Arabic and means boycott. For him, “this action is one of the most powerful tools we have.” “It also has a meaning of rupture, for wanting to break with the current situation. But at the same time I believe that any situation can always be changed”, he explains by video call with elDiario.es from Oslo, where he gave the last Show of his tour after having passed through La Casa Encendida in Madrid.
This musician represents the third Palestinian generation since the Israeli occupation began in 1948. As can be seen in the documentary Palestine Underground, theirs is a promotion that is fed up and looking for changes in its reality.
He has experienced a whole evolution in his artistic career. Muqata’a is considered the godfather of hip-hop in Palestine. He was the founder of the group Ramallah Underground in 2003, taking advantage of the directness and explicitness of this style, mixing it with sarcasm and rhetorical questions.
It is very important to connect with our roots when our history wants to be erased from the map
— palestinian musician
Although he considers that he has never abandoned the roots of urban music, now he makes more experimental, poetic and unconventional music. He considers it “a musical learning process” and assures that he is working on more lyrical songs in his next works.
His music does not have a simple categorization, but it catches those who search beyond the norm of mainstream. In addition to the sounds of everyday life in Palestine, she uses folk and traditional rhythms from her country. As happens in Galicia with Baiuca or in Asturias with Rodrigo Cuevas, Muqata’a recovers the old to the present. “I’m trying to give it a makeover and claim it as my own. Adapt identity sounds so that Palestinians do not forget their origins”
In this case, vindicating the Palestinian culture takes on special importance. According to some historians, Israel has practiced “ethnic cleansing” with the Palestinian population, expelling thousands of Palestinians of their origin. “The Israeli state even appropriates our culture. It is very important to connect with our roots when our history wants to be erased from the map”, he defends.
Listening to bombs or the cries of people on a daily basis is a psychological weapon of the occupation
— palestinian musician
“They are very political sounds,” he says about his songs. “It’s not just that they’re cold or serious, they’re emotional. They are sounds that psychologically affect all Palestinians because hearing bombs or screams on a daily basis is one more weapon of the occupation,” she explains. Its objective? “That people question everything that is happening in Palestine.”
The impossibility of creating a Palestinian scene of its own
The Israeli State, in its Basic Law, maintains that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State is exclusive to the Jewish people”, excluding thousands of Palestinian citizens living in the country from the country project. In addition, international organizations have denounced the oppression, discrimination and dispossession of Palestinians living in the occupied territory. For all these reasons, NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have denounced that Israel has implemented a system of apartheid on the Arab population.
Such discrimination and restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians also make it difficult to create a joint Palestinian scene. “If you live in Ramallah and want to go to another city you have to go through the checkpoints, where you can not always pass. We have walls between the locations and we do not have permission to move to other sites. I can’t go, for example, to Haifa or Jafa, territories considered to be Israeli that are a very short distance away,” Muqata’a explains.
This situation often makes it impossible for Palestinian artists from different occupied territories to collaborate with each other. They are isolated from each other. “We have to be grateful that the internet exists, but it is not the same. We feel silenced and this situation has to change now”. The number of styles of the musicians also stands out: “We have people who do techno, pop, hip-hop, punk… It’s something that we must claim as positive.”
The artist from Ramallah explains that everything is organized by the artists themselves, “as DIY” (do it yourself). “If we want to organize an event to show our music, we have to act as promoters, sound engineers, bring the equipment and even make the poster”, he laments. This problem joins that of the few establishments adapted to give concerts in Palestine.
Tokenism and the need to create bridges
Muqata’a has just toured Europe. She has been to the MOMA in New York and the Café Oto in London and has been seen in a few Boiler Rooms on the internet. He has also been the first Palestinian artist to play at the Sónar festival in Barcelona, in 2019.
He assumes that it is rare to see a Palestinian artist on festival posters. However, he criticizes the tokenism, the practice of symbolically including a discriminated group, because they see it as a business strategy that does not really help: “We want to be important, not to be invited to festivals to fulfill and that they can say that they are very inclusive and are very supportive with our problems for having a Palestinian artist”. “In general, I would like to see more Arab and African artists playing in the world,” he claims.
It is convenient for the mainstream media to perpetuate this situation because they obtain economic benefits from it
— palestinian musician
In this sense, it demands that there be greater cultural interconnection. “There is a lot of Eurocentrism. I also give shows in Indonesia or the Philippine Islands. We should connect more with each other and learn from all cultures.” “We have to build bridges and not only with Europe. It helps to empathize with each other.”
On the media’s treatment of the war in Ukraine and the so-called affinity bias, the musician considers that there is “certain racism”. “We must ask ourselves who controls the speech that is told and why they prioritize each other,” he declares. And, regarding the media’s approach to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the musician believes that “the media mainstream they are anti-Palestinian, they want Israel to win and they wash their face of it, it is convenient for them to perpetuate this situation because they obtain economic benefits from it”.
Before returning to his hometown, he assures that he is working on new projects. Asked about his expectations for the future in his country, he says that it is difficult to be optimistic, but he is clear about what he wants: “The end of the colonial system. It is one of the reasons why I move, why I make music”.