For the first time: support our rap project by downloading a song written, produced and recorded by the young rappers and the teenagers who participated in their workshops.
It is somewhat incongruous in a country where a conservative dress code rules and women’s voices are often ignored, to walk into a room where a group of young girls are learning to rap. Yet this is the case. Today I am at an after school group where teenagers come to learn rap in workshops run by young Palestinian rappers. As I arrive to photograph the session I am confronted with a tableful of Palestinian pre-hipsters all working on their beats. These are kids with serious attitude! All of the five girls and two boys meet my eye assertively, and welcome me with broad smiles.
These seven are one of four top teams chosen from a set of workshops bringing together groups of 20 or more to learn about rhythm, beats and creating lyrics. Apparently when they began the workshops very few of the kids had come across rap music but they were soon converts. As Nadim, one of the project volunteers tells me; rap holds a greater affinity with the youths than music they have come across before. Where most of the music they were listening to focuses on patriotism and love – themes which the kids have little experience of – rap is often about individual feeling and expression.
The project brief is for the teens and tweens to create music about what it feels like to be a Palestinian child. Many (who are from Dheisheh Refugee Camp) write about their experience of being a refugee. Most write about the wall. The phrases “I wanna be” and “I wanna do” form a regular relief throughout the lyrics. And that is one of the things that makes rap appeal so much to these youngsters. As a form of self-expression favoured by disenfranchised groups the world over, it is natural that Palestinian youths should gravitate towards rap music as a voice for their feeling.
I wander round taking pictures as the young people work on their raps, there is a general air of concentration and much pencil chewing. The beat they have been asked to put their lyrics to plays in the background. In front of them are sheets of paper with beautifully calligraphed Arabic script forming refrains. The volunteers go from group to group helping out with lyrics though they are keen not to direct the rap itself. Occasionally one of the little huddles breaks out into song as they test out their newly formed artistry.
After about an hour, raps are finished and rappers are starting to get bored of being snapped so it is time to show the group what they have come up with. From the performances it is evident that the rappers are very confident young men and women. Nadim tells me afterwards that this has not always been the case; he has seen the confidence of his protégés grow exponentially throughout the project. He notes with some sense of regret that their confidence has maybe grown a little too much now.
Early evaluations of the rap workshops have shown the same terrific changes in the teens that we have seen in the younger children who have been effected by the Sounds of Palestine workshops. The rappers all report an increased feeling of self-esteem, better teamwork, healthier interaction between boys and girls, improved reading and writing skills, increased musical skills, and increased ability to express their feelings and thoughts positively.
The rappers are very keen to become self-sufficient and continue to run workshops. Last year Music Bus Goes Middle East was lucky enough to receive enough backing and the invaluable voluntary assistance of Joel Tarman to create and build a studio in Dheisheh refugee camp for the rappers to use. One fundraising strategy could be to rent out the studio to other Palestinian groups for a small fee. Another is to start selling the music they produce. They are particularly keen on this route because it gives Palestinian youths a voice which can be heard the world over. You can support the rappers by following the project on this
page. All proceeds from song sales go to the rap workshops via Musicians without Borders.
As I leave I come across two of the students with extremely guilty looks on their faces. A fine column of smoke emanates from their back as they giggle, thinking they are undiscovered, with all the arrogance of youth. It seems teenagers the world over are the same.
Text and photographs by the volunteer Heather. Thank you Heather and thank you all the Palestinian rappers that coach the kids!