DAM Palestinian hip hop band builds reputation in Israel
By Evert-Jan Grit
July 22, 2005

WEST BANK: The town of Lid is an industrial pauperized city, not far from Israel's Ben Gurion airport and not a likely place for visitors and tourists to pass by. Lid faces the same problems as most urban centers all over the world: drugs, pollution, unemployment, gangs, racism and violence.

This is the dark side of Israel, the "only democracy in the Middle East," with its own equivalent of a black minority: the Palestinians or Israeli Arabs who stayed after the forced exodus of their brethren in 1948.

Lid is also the home base of Israel's first and best known Palestinian Hip Hop band DAM ("Da Arabic Microphone Controllers"). DAM, made up of Tamar Nafar, Suheil Nafar and Mahmoud Jreiri, began performing in 1998 and have since steadily built a reputation in Israel and abroad, playing in Europe and releasing a song with the French-Algerian group MBS.

DAM's frontman, Tamar Nafar explains: "It started after listening to 2PAC. I realized that what he sang about was in fact about our reality. You can see the s**t around you here in places like the ghettos of Lid en Ramleh. We are the blacks of Israel. Though here it's not a matter of race or color, but a matter of religion. Which doesn't mean that we want to go along with this religious thing. We are the Palestinians of 1948 and we want equality. That's it."

Nafar, like any true rapper, pulls no punches in what he says.

"We live under a physical and mental occupation. People have internalized the situation and have become apathetic. They don't resist, they've given up even to think about that. The generation of our parents is full of fear and apathy. They are afraid and want to stay away from politics.

"We do not accept this. We want to shake things up. We sing about what we see, about the violence, the humiliation we face, and so on. We think this is educational in a true sense; we don't want to tell people what to do, we know that stuff and we have seen it too much. We want people to start thinking for themselves by offering them a mirror. We want people to develop their own potential."

DAM performs in Arabic and in Hebrew, something that Nafar feels is vital to getting their message across.

"We have to educate ourselves, but also the other side. They do not know or want to know what's happening here. We sing about '48, about being refugees in our own country. This is stuff they do not want to hear about.

"You know some people said in an Israeli newspaper that they should send the Shabak (secret police) after us. They even called us terrorists. In a way this is good, publicity-wise, but on the other hand it is a sad story that people are after you just because you're telling the truth."

My question is who here is the terrorist? We the people who fight for our freedom, or the ones who have taken all of us, making us to live in this mess and finally wanting to make us disappear?"

DAM believes that they belong to the same tradition as earlier resistance music, but it's much bigger. According to them Hip Hop is international. It is everywhere, in the West and more and more in Africa and finally in the Arabic speaking world. It started with the Algerians in France and it's taking over in the Middle East.

"Here it started among Palestinians in Israel, but you see now rappers and hip-hoppers in Jabalya, Ramallah, Khan Yunis, Jenin ... everywhere! It is becoming big and I dare to say that in every village you can find young people taking up a mike and performing," Nafar says. "We even heard about bands in Syria, and we've been on tour with a band from Lebanon, and in the coming weeks we will perform in Ramallah and Deheishe."

"To older people here it may seem odd to listen to a Western and American form of music, but you see that they start to appreciate it because of our lyrics. The other way round sees young people get into our lyrics through our music. So we are talking here about a win-win situation"

For Nafar and DAM all their work so far is merely the beginning of something much bigger in their push to promote the Palestinian cause through music. Next they will release their first album, they will start a much-needed record label entitled '48 Records to promote Palestinian rap and act as a platform for the music connecting rappers all over Israel, the Occupied Territories and the Arab world.

For more information on DAM go to www.dam3rap.com. This article was first printed in the

Electronic Intifada independent publication online. EI provides news, comment, analysis and information on the question of Palestine. It is reprinted in The Daily Star with permission.