Why was Mohammed Assaf’s song Dammi Falastini removed from Spotify?

Fans are demanding to know why a pro-Palestinian track was suddenly removed online

Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf. Photo: Dubai Festivals and Retail Est
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Major music streaming platforms have been accused of censorship after the removal of one of Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf's most patriotic songs.

Released in 2015, Dammi Falastini (My Blood is Palestinian) became one of the Gaza artist’s biggest hits with more than 40 million views on YouTube.

A fan favourite, the track is a mainstay of Assaf concerts and until Saturday was available for streaming online.

This changed when platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music acquiesced to an official request from Dammi Falastini's digital music distributor to remove the song.

With no forewarning of the move — indeed Assaf himself expressed surprise on social media regarding the song’s deletion — fans railed against the platforms, with pro-Palestinian support groups and blogs criticising the removal of the song.

Spotify responded to the accusations by stating the song’s removal from its services “was not determined by Spotify, but rather by the distributor”.

So is this a case of tech giants censoring the voice of a Palestinian singer? Who is the organisation behind the song’s takedown notice? And has Assaf made any official comment regarding the matter?

Who pulled the plug on the song?

Dammi Falastini is an ode to Palestinian resistance in the face of Israeli military occupation.

The thumping folk song speaks of Assaf’s affection for and desire to preserve his homeland: “Keeping my oath, following my religion/ You will find me on my land. I belong to my people, I sacrifice my soul for them/ My blood is Palestinian.”

It is one of many powerful and forthright tracks Assaf has released which refer to the Palestinian struggle.

Others include Falasteen Enty El Rouh and Mawtini, which are both still available on Spotify and Apple.

This contradicts the argument being circulated by some fans that streaming services muted Assaf's Dammi Falastini in response to pro-Israeli lobbying. That no such organisation has taken credit for the song’s removal also points to this not being the case.

More credence is lent to the view that the song was removed due to an issue surrounding its distribution arrangement. Spotify alluded to this with a statement regarding Dammi Falastini: “The removal of some of Mohammed Assaf’s content was not determined by Spotify, but rather by the distributor. We anticipate its return in the near future and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

What is a music distributor?

They are organisations and agencies used by artists or their record labels that distribute songs across streaming platforms and online stores.

To ensure the legal provenance of these recordings, music platforms such as Spotify require songs to be released through a digital music distributor.

Some of these agreements are so technical that artists often don’t know their precise details, hence Assaf’s surprise at Dammi Falastini’s removal.

With the song released three years before Assaf signed to Warner Music Middle East, it also appears highly unlikely the label is behind the decision to remove the song from music platforms.

Assaf and Warner Music Middle East were not available for comment, while Spotify could not reveal to The National the name of the song’s official distributor, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Despite some of the mystery surrounding the Dammi Falastini absence, chances are it will appear again online once Assaf’s team resolves the matter.

When that happens, Spotify at least will welcome the song with open arms.

“We have been and continue to support the works and art of the beloved Arab artist Mohamed Assaf,” the company posted on Instagram, alongside an image of its official Assaf playlist.

“We look forward to getting his missing content back on our platform soon.”

Assaf is working on more songs dedicated to his homeland. In 2021, he shared a video on Instagram to announce his next album will be titled Stories About Palestine.

Updated: May 23, 2023, 2:15 PM