Palestinian Rappers Bring World Stage to Drom

Su HaifaCourtesy DAM

Straight outta Lod, Israel: a trio that’s often hailed as the first Palestinian hip-hop group will kick off a U.S. tour promoting its new album, “Dabke on the Moon,” at Drom this Sunday.

DAM was formed in 1998 by Mahmoud Jreri and brothers Suhell and Tamer Nafar. Suhell grew up loving the “fast lyrics and the beat” of hip-hop; his older brother Tamer at first hated the music but changed his mind when he heard Tupac Shakur’s “Holler If Ya Hear Me.” After they cut an album, “Stop Selling Drugs,” as The Untouchables, a classmate told them her brother wanted to meet them. They didn’t know anyone else who liked hip-hop, so they agreed. Mahmoud Jreri joined the band and DAM was born. (The name means “immortal” in Arabic and “blood” in Hebrew; Suhell takes it to signify the idea that “our blood will be eternal.”)

The project started as fun, but later Suhell realized that “the lyrics we were writing were actually protests,” he said. “We were actually fighting racism, fighting problematic circumstances without knowing that we’re fighting it.”

Take, for example, the 2001 single, “Min Irhabi” (“Who’s the terrorist?”). When Israel raided Jenin and the world stayed silent, he said, some Palestinians bombed a club in Israel in retaliation. “Then the whole world jumped and said, ‘You’re the terrorist. Why’d you do that?’ We just said, ‘Let’s just tell the world who’s the real terrorist.'”

“While we were writing to teach people, we were teaching our own selves,” Suhell said. “It was all a kind of boomerang thing. We loved that feeling and we wanted to keep fighting. And then we were so mad about what’s happening, so mad, for example, about me being beaten up from a cop, me being locked inside a police station having three cops stepping on my face. I was just so mad. That kept us moving.”

Su YaffaCourtesy DAM Suhell Nafar

While Suhell cites politics as part of the band’s motivation to write and record music, he doesn’t doesn’t like calling his music political. “I would consider it just about life, because that is hip-hop,” he insisted. “Hip-hop is bringing your life, your culture into the music. This is what I want the world to know, that we’re not just people with war on our mind. Palestinian people didn’t start existing just after the occupation; Palestinian people have been around.”

Those who come to Drom on Sunday will hear something along the lines of the outfit’s 2005 visit to Alphabet City, i.e. songs influenced not only by Biggie and Tupac (as well as French and North African hip-hop), but also by traditional Arabic and Palestinian artists like Marcel Khalife, the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and Ghassan Kanafani, and even the famous Lebanese songstress, Fairuz.

“At the same time, they’ll hear some comedy,” Suhell promised, an example of which is the new single, “Mama I Fell in Love With a Jew”: “Boom! I will take you to heaven / All she heard was boom! and heaven / I said 69, she heard ’67.”

“So come, have fun, and hear the message,” Suhell said.