Palestinian rap group DAM reach for the moon

The acclaimed rappers are back with a new album, Dabke on the Moon, featuring a song with Amal Murkus and their first recorded track in English.

Regarded as the first Palestinian rappers and the first to sing rap in Arabic since they burst on to the music scene more than a decade ago, the Palestinian hip-hoppers DAM have something on their new album that you won't have heard on one of their records before: a song in English.

Although the pioneering rappers, based in Lydd in Israel, regularly perform in English - and even Hebrew - on their international tours, Dabke on the Moon is the first album to actually feature a recorded song.

"We do a lot of shows in the US - two tours a year - and I always thought that people were liking the message of our songs, but not noticing the punchlines, the metaphors," says Tamer Nafar, who performs alongside his younger brother Suhell and Mahmoud Jreri. "Sometimes we felt we were being respected because we were Palestinians, but I want to be respected as an individual artist, not a geographical product. That's why I decided to do something in English."

The song in question - Mama I Fell in Love with a Jew - has actually already proved a hit when sung live over the past couple of years.

"It's a love story, about me getting stuck in the elevator with a beautiful girl and we get to talk and fall in love," explains Nafar. "It's a metaphor. The elevator is the Middle East. We're both stuck, both me and the Jew, but the difference is that she was going up and me - as a Palestinian - was going down."

Any non-Arabic speaker who has enjoyed DAM previously but not been able to fully understand their humour should have a chance with the track.

"It's a sarcastic way to make fun of the occupation and coexistence," says Nafar. "There are political messages, but in a funny, sexy, romantic way."

But while Mama I Fell in Love with a Jew might provide the politics, the album's first single had a far more powerful social message.

For the song If I Could Go Back in Time, a melodic outing featuring the acclaimed Palestinian singer Amal Murkus's impressive vocals on the chorus, DAM teamed up with UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, to raise awareness on the subject of so-called "honour" killings.

"We live in Lydd and ever since I can remember, I would say every one or two months, a girl would get killed," says Nafar. "Actually, when I see politicians talking about the subject in the Knesset, they always refer to Lydd, so it's a notorious place for these things."

The bold, colourful video, which was funded with assistance from the UN, shows DAM rapping a young women's life story backwards, from death at the hands of her own family for refusing to marry, to birth. Directed by both Suhell Nafar and Jacqueline Reem Salloum, who was behind the acclaimed 2008 documentary Slingshot Hip Hop that helped boost DAM on to the world stage, the video was released with an accompanying statement noting that in the first eight months of 2012, 12 women and girls had been killed in "honour" crimes.

"The song was actually recorded a long time before the UN stepped in, but it was written emotionally and we needed someone to give us some solid facts," says Nafar, adding that, as part of the UN deal, they plan to give a tour of workshops discussing the issue in schools.

The album's title track, Dabke on the Moon, says Nafar, is the most optimistic song DAM have written, and came about after he watched two TV news stories one day, one about a Nasa research study on the moon and another about people in Gaza digging tunnels.

"I didn't like these opposites. The only reason why these people are digging tunnels is because America - which is reaching the moon - is sponsoring Israel," says the musician. "So we wrote a sad song about these opposites, but then the Arab Spring happened and we raised the emotion and thought that now we are ready to dance Dabke [a traditional Arab folk dance performed in a line] on the moon."

Dabke on the Moon is available to download now. Visit www.damrap.com for details