Interview with Sabreena Da Witch & DAM
Pioneers of Palestinian Hip Hop
By Alison Bodine
Since its birth in the United States, hip hop has
become an international form of resistance to
war, racism and oppression. Emerging out of
the black and Latino struggle, hip hop soon
spread to all corners of the globe. From Latin
America to Africa to the Middle East, hip hop
is the voice of young people fighting for justice.
the hip hop movement has exploded over
the last few years. What began as only a few
groups is now a phenomenon all over occupied
Palestine. Fire This Time was lucky enough to
be able to interview some of the pioneers of
Palestinian hip hop this spring. They were in San Francisco performing at a music festival
in commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of
Al Nakba- “The Catastrophe,” when the occupation
of Palestine by Israel began, displacing
millions of Palestinians from their homes and
DAM- Da Arab MC’s as they are known in the
United States, and MC Sabreena Da Witch are
some of the first Palestinians to use hip hop
as a tool for resistance and opposition to the
Israeli occupation of Palestine. They continue
to be part of the social justice and anti-occupation
movement in Palestine, and have also
been able to travel internationally to share
their message and their struggle. For more information
about their music, go to www.dampalestine.
com, or www.myspace.com/sdwitch.
Interview with Sabreena Da Witch
FTT: Can you please introduce yourself?
ABEER: My name is Abeer A-B-E-E-R and
my stage name is Sabreena the Witch, double
“ee”, it’s not Sabrina the blond teenager witch.
Sabreena in Arabic means patient, and Palestinians
are a strong, patient people
who have been suffering for
60 years and still have not
given up, and that it why we
are witches. I believe that
all women are witches. The
women’s struggle started
a long time ago with the
witches in Salem and to
me all women’s struggle is one, and that is why I see myself as a witch.
FTT: What brought you to hip-hop and
ABEER: There is a cliché saying that hip
hop came to me, but it is true that it found
me. I was singing always like songs in
R&B and I never knew
what it was. I was told
“you sound like Mary J
Blige” and “you sound
like Lauryn Hill”, and
I started looking - like
I know them, but what
does it mean “sounds like”
them? Then I figured out it’s
R&B, Rhythm and Blues,
and I decided that I would
do it in Arabic and see how it
would go. I started officially
working in the Palestinian
hip hop scene with DAM
in the video “Born Here”,
which you can find on
Youtube. Since then I
didn’t stop – 2002 - still
FTT: So you met DAM in Palestine. Did you
grow up in Palestine?
ABEER: I grew up with them. We were all
born in Lod, a city in the center of Palestine,
20 minutes from Tel Aviv, 40 minutes from
Jerusalem. It’s horrible there, as soon as you get into Lod you can see the Arab neighborhoods
and the Jewish neighborhoods. The
Jewish neighborhoods are beautiful and European.
The Arab neighborhoods are just refugee
camps in Israel. Mahmoud from DAM is
my cousin and Tamer and Suhell are my best
friends. We grew up together, so it was natural
that we work together right away.
FTT: How have you seen hip hop grow since
you got involved in Palestine?
ABEER: I mean, oh my God! It is so big I
cannot even explain or describe it to you. It is
really huge in all ages, women, thank God, in
all regions. In Gaza today, there are hundreds
of crews, thousands of crews, there are so
many people doing this you can’t even tell. It
is huge and it is the real hip hop, what hip hop
used to be in the Bronx a few decades ago.
FTT: What do you think it is about hip hop,
why now hip hop in Palestine?
ABEER: First of all, why not? Second of all,
hip hop is the universal revolution music. If
you don’t use it… it’s like rock n’ roll in the
60’s. You want to talk about something, you
want to express your feelings, you have to use
it. It is so tough, sometimes I feel that just the
beats get your anger right out, you know they
love it. It’s not violent. A lot of people describe
hip hop as a violent music, but I think hip hop
is a tool for Palestinians. It is a tool for us to
get to the world, express ourselves and burn
the system. ‘Cuz it’s hip hop, that what it is.
It’s doing things. When you are hip hopper, a
hip hop artist, people are going to know right
away you do stuff in the streets. You work with
people, you talk with people, you help people,
ya know, it’s not just another form of art, it’s
bigger than that.
FTT: What can you say about the role of
women in the Palestinian hip hop scene
right now? Have you seen that grow and
ABEER: I am always being asked that. Where
are the Arab women, and the Palestinian women in the hip hop scene well, I am here
to tell you first of all, I am not the first one
and I am not the last one. There are so many
there struggling to do it and they are making
it thank God.
FTT: What is the main thing that you try
and express when you are on tour in the US
or Canada, countries that play a major role in
supporting the Israeli occupation?
ABEER: I feel like my responsibility is to
come and change all of the stereotypes people
have about Arab women and Muslim women.
Cuz it’s really wrong. I know that there are a
lot of people out there that try to break the stereotypes
against Arabs and Muslims . My role
is to come and say that women are stronger
then you think, you know, it’s not what you see on TV, what the system and the media try to
feed you. Today you have seen me and another
two women on stage, Noura Erakat and Maysoon
Ziyad, and we are just a small example
of the huge women’s movement in Palestine.
Maysoon, she is right here, is a walking community
saver. She helps kids in Palestine face
to face, she goes there and helps the people
there, giving them stuff in their hand, the real
help that they need, not clichés on TV. These
are the real women. We are here to show, we
are good, we are Palestinian, we’re amazing
and we’re strong, we are actually doing it. We
don’t care as much about being famous and
getting known and being paid, we actually
care about dong things in the street, and this is
what women are all about. This is what women
are all about, always and forever.
FTT: Thank you Abeer.
Interview with Tamer of Da Arabian MCs -
FTT: Can you introduce yourself?
TAMER: My name is Tamer Nafar, I am part
FTT: Can you tell me about the emergence
of DAM, how you came to hip hop and how
TAMER: I didn’t understand English personally.
It was the footage from the hip hop clips. I
am talking about Tupac basically. Even though
it was in English, it spoke to me more than
Arab love songs. So I started writing rhymes
and rap. One day, I just decided to do that and
record it, my brother came to the studio and
did the hook. Then we released a small album,
like five or six songs, and we became DAM.
FTT: What has been the development of
Palestinian hip hop over the last few years,
when did it first emerge and how has it
TAMER: I was alone, and then we became
three. Then we became two groups. Now it
is everywhere, we have Arabic film festivals,
besides that DAM is doing a lot of Palestinian
festivals. DAM is one of the icons over there,
we are the big ones. The big Palestinian icons,
we are getting bigger and bigger and now it is
all around the world.
FTT: What is the popularity of hip hop in
Palestine today? What is the difference in
music or popularity between the West Bank
and Gaza, inside Israel and in the Palestinian
Diaspora? Is hip hop as popular in Gaza
as it is in other parts of occupied Palestine?
TAMER: It is very popular in Gaza. And you
have a lot of groups over there as well, most
of them. In the West Bank, like Ramallah, itis so developed, people love it. It is all over
FTT: What is the connection of hip hop and
the Palestinian struggle? What do you think
the role of hip hop is in the struggle against
TAMER: I can only talk about me. If I was
drawing, I would draw about Palestine. I am
doing hip hop, so I do it about Palestine. Connection,
if you want to take it to the way that
hip hop started here, then there is a minority,
occupation, slavery, they resemble. It is a tool
for people who want to say something and
don’t have TV channels. People who want to
say something, people who want to initiate
something, they don’t have the government
for that. That’s hip hop for me.
FTT: Is there anything you want to say to
people fighting against the occupation in
the United States or in Canada? Is there
anything that you are trying to bring to the
stage when you perform outside of Palestine?
TAMER: Get the album, that’s what I can say.
Go to DAMPalestine.com and get the album.
There is a lot of messages. I cannot be like,
“Free Palestine”! It is deeper than that. It is
free Palestine, free ourselves from occupation,
we have occupied ourselves. We have gotten
ourselves into this…we like being victims. We
talk about change, changing the world, like
change needed for women’s rights. We are
talking about initiations, not only in America
festivals for us, but Arab countries have to do
something for us. Enough of doing 80% for
European shows and only 10% for Arabs. Initiate,
start to be more of an activist. There are
a lot of messages, it cannot just be Free Palestine
and that’s it. Even if you are a Palestinian,
it does not mean that that’s it, you are a good
rapper. In the album, you have the whole thing
FTT: Thank you Tamer.
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