JENIN, March 9 (JMCC) - The road to success was filled with obstacles for Mahmood Jrere, Tamer Nafar and his brother Suheil Nafar, the members behind the first and most famous Palestinian hip-hop group, DAM.
But the trio says that worldwide fame hasn’t necessarily brought an easy life for these Palestinian citizens of the Israeli city, Lod
“It’s like a sunny day and a stormy day in the same week,” said Tamer Nafar, 30, about how the group’s success mixes with the daily realities of being what he calls “second-class citizens” in Israel
The performers were speaking before a concert at the Jenin Freedom Theater on March 6, part of a day of events held in the refugee camp for “Gaza Graffiti,” a photography exhibit by children in Gaza
It was their fourth time performing in the Jenin refugee camp
. This is how they bridge borders between scattered Palestinians in the West Bank
, Israel, Gaza, and abroad, the group says.
“In the end, we all belong to the same people. We all have the same history, the same Nakba, the same disasters,” said 27-year-old Jrere. “This is something strong that bonds us.”
The band’s popularity extends to Europe and the United States, where it has toured. But part of the difficulties of their life as Arab-Israelis means they lost their entire last US tour in October 2009 because their visas didn’t come through.
Things aren’t looking better for their upcoming US tour, planned for the beginning of April 2010. The visas have been delayed, and Nafar isn’t optimistic about them making it.
“We talk about the police, so the police are against us. We talk about the drug dealers, so the drug dealers are against us,” he said.
The young men still live near the neighborhood where they grew up in the mixed city of Lod
, near Tel Aviv
. There are frequently tensions between the Israeli police and the Arab citizens of the city, and drug-related violence.
That scene is the backdrop for much of DAM’s music and where they met. Tamer and his brother were among the only young people interested in hip hop in the 1990s, and started DAM when they found Jrere shared their love of Tupac, Biggie Smalls and other American rappers.
They built a following among Palestinians and Israelis that soon extended around the world.
DAM also names traditional Palestinian influences in their work, such as the late poet Mahmoud Darwish and musician Nizar Kabbani. The music fuses American-style rap, mostly in Arabic peppered with Hebrew, with Eastern beats and traditional Palestinian folk songs.
“Mali Huriye,” one track from their first album in 2006, “Dedication,” which DAM performed at the Freedom Theater concert, samples a song from the documentary “Arna’s Children.”
In the film, kids from the Jenin refugee camp ask in song “Why are the world’s children free, while I don’t have freedom?”
Some 300 people packed the Freedom Theater for the events and to see DAM perform, including many teenagers in fashionable hip-hop attire who bounced, sang along, and waved their arms to the familiar DAM tracks.
The three men engaged the audience, coaxing them to sing along to Palestinian folk songs and holding up letters of the Arabic alphabet. After each letter, one of the rappers artfully dropped fast-paced rhymes, each starting with that letter.
The young men say they hope to bring an idea of hip hop to the kids in the camp.
But more than that, they seek to bring a social message to their Palestinian audiences.
“These kids probably know more about politics than I do,” Tamer Nafar said. “We try to talk about social realities. They may not talk about women’s rights for example, and that’s something we want them to think about.
“The message is not just ‘hope,’” Jrere said. “It’s courage. We want to encourage them to have courage to say what they want without fear, criticize without fear.”