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    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.

    In Palestine, 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 livelihoods. 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?

    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 music?

    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 going.

    FTT: So you met DAM in Palestine. Did you grow up in Palestine?

    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?

    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?

    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 develop?

    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?

    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 - DAM FTT: Can you introduce yourself?

    My name is Tamer Nafar, I am part of DAM.

    FTT: Can you tell me about the emergence of DAM, how you came to hip hop and how DAM started?

    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 grown?

    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?

    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 Palestine.

    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 the occupation?

    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?

    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 over there.

    FTT: Thank you Tamer.

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