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

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

Rapper tells it like it is in Gaza

Doaa Mohaisen | 18-06-2016

Telling a story was Scheherazade's way of avoiding death at the hands of the oppressive king, but Ayman Mghamis’ way—unusual for a conservative society like Gaza—is rap.  Through this art form—part poetry, part music, all feeling—he tackles even the most difficult of subjects, from endless war, to political corruption, to the male domination of society.

Ayman Mghamis, now 31, started rapping his frustration and hopes in the aftermath of the Second Intifada—becoming cofounder of Palestinian Rapperz. "I was too young to die while throwing stones at Israeli forces, but then I discovered rap, a nonviolent way of resistance."

Although inspired by DAM, the first Palestinian rappers in Israel, that group’s rap was more fierce, driven as it was by daily clashes with soldiers and home destructions.

The Palestinian Rapperz now are scattered, each in a different country. Ayman is the only one who ultimately chose to return to Gaza after their tours abroad. Why? He says it is first due to the fact that he is the eldest in his family and must provide for his siblings after the murder of their father, and second because his rap wouldn't be as genuine coming from abroad, disconnected from the fear and pain of his people. Ayman believes that if the borders were open, Gaza would be known throughout the world not for its victimization but for its many talented residents.

"Rap to me is no longer a way of resistance, although it was for the 18-year-old Ayman; today, it's my way to avoid abuse of drugs like Tramadol to dull the pain of a never-ending oppression," he says. 

From death comes inspiration

During the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, the struggle for freedom became personal when Ayman’s father was killed in his home, when the house was hit by four missiles. He says this made his rap more exquisite. (In the video, Ayman talks about the death of hs father.)

A new inspiration: fatherhood

Once Ayman married and had a daughter, his rap transitioned to focus on how to protect her from the patriarchal Gazan society.

Ayman dedicated one of his most recent songs, “Bedtime Story,” to 3-year-old Joury (see the video at the top).

One verse says:

My girl, be yourself … don’t be afraid
Don’t stop and look back .. keep challenging.
Don’t hide behind anyone’s shade or wing,
Be the daughter of Al-Quds, the hope for tomorrow.

And the chorus:

Come closer, my baby. It’s bedtime
I will now tell you your bedtime story.
Once upon a long time ago,
A cute girl like you had many dreams.

Ayman would like Joury to grow up to become an independent woman, responsible for her own decisions: "Women in Gaza aren’t actually aware of their rights. Those who are informed find it too difficult to oppose the patriarchal society," he says.

Fighting obstacles

Mon'im Awad, one of his rapper friends, says he couldn't sleep for days after three children from the El-Hindi family burned to death because they were forced to rely on candles for light when the power was out. As a release for his grief, he wrote and produced a video honoring their memory and the role all of the different parties played. 

"They [the government] want us to talk about hope and love, but we have neither," comments Mon'im, who views rap as the “fourth authority” since it exposes truth in the face of the corrupt media. Mon'im, who uses YouTube as his platform, says he doesn't care about the number of views his videos get, but rather what the general public thinks. He often asks random taxi drivers to listen to his songs. "Their reaction, seeing them moving their heads in pleasure, is what I'm truly interested in."

Ayman observes, "Gaza is a land of contradictions and creativity.” He believes all art in Gaza is marginalized, rap not more than any other form. The Ministry of Culture has no tangible role in the advancement of art. "If you want support, you either support yourself or find a foreign agency to help you."

In fact, he and Mon’em believe it is the government that is the biggest obstacle to the nourishment of rap music in Gaza. Mon'em laughs while recalling the first time he performed in the streets; his friend urged him to run away once they finished. Mon'em didn't ask why until they were hundreds of meters away and his friend told him Hamas would imprison or at least torture them.

People in Gaza who oppose rap think it is all about drugs, women and booze because that's what they see on TV. But if they listen to Ayman’s and Mon'em’s songs, their view will differ because they are just like those of the first African-Americans: They express the anger and frustration every Gazan feels.

Ayman is about to finish his first album, consisting of 10 songs—each dealing with a different topic. For instance, Safar [Travel] is about a young man who is having an internal conflict in which he lives in a refugee camp abroad with his beloved, but he also longs for Palestine. Bin Elshawai [Between Streets] deals with child labor, and another song titled El'alm Lithnin [The World is for Two] is about women's rights.

Ayman's story doesn't only prove the fact that art is universal, but also that it is a powerful form of empowerment for youth, especially those who come of age in a war zone. With more than 30 professional rappers in Gaza today, rap is thriving.

Note: Jackie Salloum directed a documentary that followed five years of rap's development in both Gaza and the West Bank. Titled "Slingshot Hip Hop," it is available on YouTube.

Posted: June 17, 2016

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