To the Sandstone Streets of Palestine



As I expressed in my last review on Kyiv’s well known club Closer, I’m itching to see how the club scene will emerge post-pandemic. The impossibility of racking up more air miles this year has meant visiting fewer cities than I would have liked. That being said, it has by no means stopped me from delving down the online rabbit holes of international music scenes. I’ve swapped hostels for headphones and maps for search engines in an effort to feed my musically driven appetite for travel.

The discovery of Brasil’s grime movement, suitably named Brime has been a personal favourite. The even more niche genre known up in the North East of England as Makina originating from Spanish Euro Electronic music of the 90’s, not quite. I’ve also finally found time to read up on Bassiani; Tbilisi’s musical monastery in the depths of Dinamo Tbilisi’s stadium that provides a sanctuary for Georgia’s upcoming generation of ravers possessing new liberal and western values. This week though, after revisiting Muqata’a’s hair-raising album Inkanakutu, I’ve found myself on a digital journey to the sandstone streets of Palestine.

Muqata’a first grabbed my attention while flicking through the artists who were scheduled to perform at Meakusma last September. His 2018 LP Inkanakutu is nothing short of revolutionary in Levantine experimental electronic music. You can therefore imagine how gutted I was to hear he was pulling out of the festival days before I packed my tent and set across the channel. So this week, inspired by the Palestinian, I decided to take a virtual trip back across the channel and all the way to the Levant in search of local music, new and old.

We as humans, listeners, ravers, are a product of our surroundings, of our history, our culture; there’s no hiding it. These things mould us into the people we are today, and it’s therefore no surprise that the Palestinian underground music scene which has come on leaps and bounds over the past decade is tied to its socio-political history by the hip. Muqata’a means boycot, interfere, disrupt. However, it is not only in Muqata’a’s music where a sense of rebellion and strife can be felt. Palestinians have become refugees in their own homeland. They’ve felt worldwide oppression since the end of the second world war, and these fiery, rebellious emotions are being channelled through the music of the younger generations and projected across the Mediterranean, the English Channel and (I hope) beyond.

While Palestine may have been lucky to put together a home-based lineup of resident DJ’s ten years ago, it can now proudly say it has well over a handful of internationally respected DJ’s and electronic artists. The likes of Sama’, Muqata’a and Jazar Crew are just to name a few. The independent digital record label BLTNM is a firm favourite among the locals of Ramallah, and seems to be making moves internationally. Not bothered about making nationwide radio-playable setlists, the label releases its fair share of drill, trap, hip hop and bass heavy electronic music. And with a quick turnover no less - they had already put out four releases halfway into the strangest year of their (and my) lives.

BLTNM’s releases may vary in genre, but the same environment all those who have helped produce them are subject to can be felt throughout. Strong percussive Middle Eastern beats on instrumentals such as Al Nather’s Abu Baker, and raw, passionately spoken lyrics like those on the label’s second most recent release, Ma6a6 by Fawzi, are core to the label’s charm. The bars recited by these MC’s are not mumbled into a microphone like many a big-time hip hop artist has done to the reception of rave reviews. Lyrics here are strong. They’re pronounced and emphasised in a manner I’m not used to. I sadly can’t count past five in Arabic, but the way the lyrics on their tracks are conveyed goes through me like a knife through butter in the height of summer.

Now then, I’m a big advocate of online radio, and it’d rude to go on about Palestinian gems without mentioning Radio Nard. Rooted in Bethlehem, this station spreads positive and loving vibes across the airways as it aims to find cohesion between Palestinian and Arabic artists. While many of us in the Western World are facing travel restrictions for the first time, those living in the West Bank are all too used to them. The UK have just this week imposed a 10pm curfew on all establishments (much to the dismay of all us 20-somethings), yet Palestinians have been reluctantly obeying a midnight club curfew for years. Oppression is always rebelled against, and so it’s no surprise to see these projects spring up as the desire to break free from imposed restrictions and interact with others overcomes the frustration and anguish felt by many. Scrolling through Radio Nard’s extensive archive on Mixcloud will open up your mind to widely unknown talents such as Anita Kirppis mixing flawless footwork with some delicious dembow for the best 90 minutes June 20th had on offer.

The new generation of Palestinians are making headlines not for bullets and skirmishes, but through beats and bars. They possess culture, style, optimism, and a bloody well good taste in music. I cannot encourage you enough to take a look at the country’s electric music scene. Hopefully my next visit to the West Bank won’t be so virtual. But until then, we can always support BLTNM and other talented labels by adding those all important records into our Bandcamp shopping carts - there’s always a Bandcamp Friday just around the corner. As-salamu alaykum.