Palestinian hip-hop message for the world

The Palestinian hip-hop trio DAM talk about getting their music out in the face of financial and geographical restrictions.
The Palestinian rappers DAM, who are getting their music out by using IndieGoGo.
The Palestinian rappers DAM, who are getting their music out by using IndieGoGo.

What do you do if you're an independent band looking to fund your next album? Arrange a few gigs and go on tour? Turn to a record label for help? Perhaps look for a bit of corporate sponsorship? While these might be tactics for many, the situation for the Palestinian hip-hop three-piece DAM is somewhat more complicated.

Widely regarded as the first Palestinian rappers, DAM - made up of Mahmoud Jreri and the brothers Tamer and Suhell Nafar - burst on to the stage in the late 1990s with powerful, politically charged lyrics in English, Arabic and occasionally Hebrew laid over a fusion of breakbeats and Arabic rhythms.

Their song Min Irhabi (Who's the Terrorist) was downloaded more than one million times after it was released online in 2001, while their debut 2006 album Ihda (Dedication) gathered further international acclaim. Based in Lyd, just 15km from Tel Aviv and considered one of Israel's most deprived towns, DAM gave musical voice to a message about the ongoing struggles of Palestinians living within Israel (Lyd was captured in the 1948 Nakba, and much of the minority Arab population are Bedouin, and therefore aren't recognised by the municipality). And this was a message heard the world over, with invitations from numerous festivals, along with appearances in the critically acclaimed documentaries Slingshot Hip Hop and Checkpoint Rock.

But almost six years have passed since Ihda and the second album hasn't yet emerged. The issue, however, isn't a lack of material, but the financing, a problem faced by any Palestinian group working in Israel.

"We're in a catch-22 situation," says Suhell Nafar. "We're Palestinians carrying Israeli passports, so we can can't travel across the Arab world to play for fans, say, in Lebanon. But also Israeli companies don't want to sign with us, and we don't really want to sign with them."

Stuck in this financial trap, the band stumbled across the online global funding platform IndieGoGo, which allows people to post projects to which anyone from across the world can donate. After doing the necessary research, Suhell set up an account and DAM were away. However, it was important that DAM's campaign wasn't a simple charity case.

"We didn't want it to just be a 'poor artists, let's donate to them' thing," says Suhell. Instead, the band offered a range of perks depending on the size of the contribution (which start at US$1). Anyone donating $10 (Dh36.7) will get a digital download of Ihda, the first album. For $50, a link to downloadable videos plus a copy of the new album, when released, is thrown in. Should someone give $250, they'll even get a thank you in sleeve notes. At $500 it gets even more interesting, with the band giving a Skype performance of five songs to the donator "and whoever you can fit in front of your screen".

The tactic has seemed to work so far, with more than $3,000 raised in little more than two weeks. But it's not going to be plain sailing. DAM have set a target of $23,000, which they must raise by the end of October. "If we hit the goal, IndieGoGo takes four per cent, but if we don't it gets nine per cent," says Suhell, who has been on a frantic marketing drive across various social media sites. "We made some statistics before and made the plan that we had to get $200 every day."

Some might suggest that the figure of $23,000 is quite high, but Suhell claims it's only half of what they actually need. "If you consider that it's $40 for an hour in a studio, and that we're combining cultures, with hip-hop and Arabic music, it becomes very expensive. You've got the beat, then the vinyl scratching, the Arabic instruments, the vocals and then the mix."

And this is before the mastering, album artwork and any distribution. "We want it to be just the way we imagined. Our last album cost us even more."

Sound-wise, Suhell says the next album is "feature-length", compared with the "documentary" of Ihda. "In this album we cut deeper, it's more personal. For example, there's a song about Palestinian political prisoners. We didn't want to be general and simply give statistics, so we told the story of three people in prison. When we talk about women's rights, we took a real story and talked about a real girl."

DAM are also attempting to package their message in a more listenable, pop-like package, rather than delivering it in the fierce manner that Suhell calls "teachy preachy", which he says quickly turns people off. "We want it to be something you would listen to in the club or the car. This way people can bang their head while at the same time getting the awareness through the lyrics."

Should everything go to plan with the funding campaign, Suhell says the album should be out by the end of the year. But the platform is something that can help fans connect with the band afterwards, either to simply buy the new album or perhaps arrange a gig.

"Imagine a bar in Lebanon who want DAM to perform in the middle of Beirut. We can't go, because of our passports. If we go, we come back and we'll go to jail. But someone in Beirut could connect to Skype, put up a big screen and pay the $500 via IndieGoGo."

To donate to DAM's next album visit for more information

Published: August 22, 2011 04:00 AM


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