Wrapping the Rap in Gaza

Af Rasmus Hage Dalland

Back in 2011 Khaled was working on a mixtape containing 23 minutes of ‘pure political shit’ with a great number of underground rappers in the Middle East. When Khaled’s contribution to the mixtape was ready, the studio refused to let Khaled record it.

“I rewrote it in the studio five times, because the studio refused to record the verse. If we recorded the verse we would be in a bigger trouble, because it was directly against the government without metaphors,” Khaled explains. Khaled’s verse ended up being more metaphorical after the rewritings. “I tried to put in more metaphors, like get out from the corner of Hamas to be more general. I don’t think it’s a good thing, but sometimes you should do that.”

Ways of expression

Khaled’s experience in the studio touches on a general issue concerning the possibilities for expressing oneself or the political situation in Palestine or in Middle East in general within the discipline of rapping. The way of expression. According to Khaled there is a fine balance between using metaphors to express your opinion in a less explicit way and vocalizing your critique directly in a rap song. Both ways have their strengths, but they are also referring to techniques used in different rap styles. Khaled uses both.

“In the underground rap, when I do it, it’s like… You are attacking in this kind of music. Attacking the government, attacking the situation, you talk about all the shit you don’t like there.” In Palestinian Unit, which is the ‘family’ consisting of different artists that Khaled is a part of, the messages are more likely to be wrapped in metaphors, which make the critique more subtle.

“In Palestinian Unit we make songs about politics and those stuff. A lot of times we let the music speak, not only words.”

However, Khaled finds it problematic if one generally has to restrict oneself when rapping. The way of rapping should be a question of choice rather than of necessity. But as he explains, referring to his edited verse in the studio: “Anyone who hears the verse, they are going to know that I’m talking about the government.”

Directly or metaphorically speaking, the messages are set free and the specific way of rapping is not an obstacle that can keep Khaled from doing what he loves. “Me and Ayman are making music and releasing it on the radio, Facebook and those stuff. We don’t stop. We don’t stop ever.”

Freaks or artists?

Being a rapper in Gaza also entails problems of a more social nature, given that rapping as a way of responding to different issues in the society is not widely accepted. “We pay for this music,” Khaled explains referring to his own and other rappers’ struggle to obtain recognition and acceptance from their community. “We are some kind of freaks in the community, because the community thinks that we brought something from outside. But lately they started to kind of accept us, as some kind of artists.”

While in Denmark, Khaled is encouraging Danish youth to be equally persistent, even though they might encounter obstacles along the way.

“What I’m trying to tell the youth and those kids, is don’t give up. Don’t give up, just follow your dreams and fight for the things you really believe in. And make it a part of your life.”

Since their arrival in the end of February, Khaled and Ayman have been travelling around the country doing various workshops and presentations, sharing their stories and telling Danish youth how rap can be used as a way of expressing your political views and advocating for change.

In the encounters with the Danish youth, Khaled is experiencing a lack of appreciation with what they have already got with regards of political, social and economic stability. But this impression does not lead him to consider political rap in Denmark as being irrelevant. It is always important to stress the political concerns and to raise the critical voice.

“Every area has special styles, special situations. You know in Denmark, you can rap about racism… You can talk about racism inside this community, because I hear there is a lot sometimes. You can talk about what you want the government to do more. (…) Maybe it’s not like Gaza, but the youth here also have problems inside the community. Here you can talk about them.”

When Khaled and Ayman perfomed on Operaen at Christiania the 14th of March they were neither freaks nor strangers. Despite the Arabic glossary with direct and metaphoric punchlines, they were rappers speaking the universal language of music, sharing messages that everyone present could understand.

About the blogger: Rasmus Hage Dalland is a communication volunteer in RAPOLITICS. He studies Journalism and Social Science at Roskilde University and is a part of the network SPRAEK.