Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Mohammed Annan: 'Goofing' in school paid off

Malak Hijazi | 13-05-2019

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In seventh-grade music class, when the other students were laughing, fidgeting and humming, Mohammed Annan sat off by himself and sang a Palestinian mawwal (words sung with no accompaniment before a song begins, called a capella in the West). When he finished, the teacher asked him to stand in front of the class. At first, he felt confused, wondering anxiously if he had done something wrong. He was surprised when his teacher asked him to sing again. He beat back his fear and started to sing the mawwal straight from his heart, to his beloved Palestine. His classmates loved his performance and when he finished, his teacher said, “You have a great talent.” From that moment, Mohammed has wanted to be a singer.

Now 17, Mohammed was raised in Gaza City in a family of one brother and two sisters; he is the youngest. His father works as an electrical engineer. His family members are his biggest fans; they encourage him to enter singing competitions, such as The Voice and Arab Idol.

“They tell me go, live your life and do all you dream of. They have never stopped me,” he says.

His parents also are urging him to learn how to play the oud [a pear-shaped, stringed instrument that is iconic in the Arab world].

“I feel there is a harmony between my voice and the sound of the oud because I love to sing classical songs, especially the lyrics of Umm Kalthum [a famous Egyptian singer]. I love her songs because they have such deep meaning.”

His music teacher also has put his stamp on Mohammed’s life. After “discovering” his talent, the teacher became Mohammed’s friend, mentor and supporter—playing a big role in helping him train and further develop.

Today, Mohammed`s relatives, friends and classmates frequently ask him to sing for them, at family gatherings, meetings, for morning announcements at school or between classes.  

“Living in Gaza means living in a place filled with challenges. I have never participated in concerts or other musical events because they are rare. However, I sing at my school for every special occasion. I dream of travelling outside Gaza to compete and sing professionally one day,” he says.

For Mohammed, music is a source of happiness and joy. He enjoys singing whenever he is happy but during war, he never sings or even listens to music.

“I feel guilty when I make music when people are suffering. I don’t want to disrespect the blood of the martyrs and those who are left homeless,” he explains. However, he says he is a believer in the power of music as resistance and to changing minds and hearts. Music, says Mohammed, can change the stereotyped image of Gaza in media and broader world.

“Many people think Gaza is only a place for war but, in fact, it is filled with life and many Gazans are seeking a life with freedom and security through music,” he says.

I met Mohammed just before he was videotaped to participate in the Gazavision song competition which We Are Not Numbers is organizing to showcase Gazans` talent and say no to the normalization of Eurovision. The song he planned to perform is called “Make Up with Me,” by Abdelhalim Hafez, a famous Egyptian singer. The romantic song is about a man who begs his beloved to forgive and not forget him. He bemoans his loneliness, saying he has no friend but the moon. “We used to be two hearts brought together by love. My eyes tell your eyes we're made for each other. I'll stay by your side. I don't know what you are you hiding, but my heart is happy, although I’m afraid love will go,” says the song. Most Arabs adore such pathos.

The song was his first professional performance, sung in 1955. Hafez went on to become so popular that when he died, virtual shock waves rippled throughout the Arab world. His funeral in Cairo was attended by millions—more so than at any other funeral in the history of the Middle East. It was reported that four women committed suicide by jumping off a balcony during his funeral march! Mohammed Assaf, the Gazan Palestinian who won the Arab Idol competition, sang this same song for his first audition.

Annan was so annoyed that Israel is hosting this year’s Eurovision during the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe), he jumped at the chance to participate in Gazavision. Music is universal, after all, and is the highest form of resistance.


Posted: May 12, 2019

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