Playlist #23: Palestine Solidarity Songs

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For the Palestinian struggle, like many anti-colonial struggles, song and music have undeniably been a key catalyst in supporting and driving resistance movements. From facilitating mass-mobilization, to overcoming centralized forms of regulated media and chronicling historical moments, music has proven to be one of the most potent avenues for expressing criticism, pain, anger and pride, filling the gaps when neither words nor action alone suffice.

The Palestinian struggle, characterized through its unfathomable resilience and resistance has inspired solidarity worldwide. As the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people approaches, we have compiled an international playlist from around the world dedicated to songs that voice their solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Up until the ‘Nakba’ in 1948, when Palestine was occupied by Israel, Palestinian cities such as Jaffa were renowned regional cultural hubs that attracted musicians from all corners of the Arab world. The destruction of Jaffa and the creation of Tel-Aviv on parts of its neighborhoods would leave a stark gap in the Palestinian cultural production. As a result, many musicians from neighboring countries have taken passionately to document the catastrophe and loss through song, immortalizing history in rhythm. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Nakba we find Egyptian composer and singer Muhammad ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s “Falastin”  dating back to 1949. During a time when Western orchestration was being adopted into Arabic music, Egypt remained a key cultural hub and a fascinating example where the blending of post-colonial legacies manifested spearheading cultural creation.

Prolific Lebanese composers and musicians Rahbani brothers and Lebanese singer Fayrouz would further incorporate the topic of Palestine into the wider conscience of the Arabic public. They performed “Sayfun fal-yushhar” in early 1967, calling for the right of return of Palestinians to their homeland, a year in which Israel expelled another estimated 325,000 Palestinians from their land. 

One of the most heralded musical icons in Arabic music, Om Kolthoum declares her desire to join the revolution in “Asbaha al-Ana ‘indi Bunduqiyyah” (I’ve now got me a rifle), from her 1969 repertoire, and incorporates lyrics by the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani set to music by ‘Abd alWahhab.

Sheikh Imam, who is a legendary figure reflecting the voice of the Egyptian streets was vocal in his support for all struggles against oppressive regimes and injustices. Often teaming with poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, the duo’s work landed them in and out of prison for their critical lyrics. 

Alongside his musical innovation, Lebanese composer and political icon Marcel Khalife sang about freedom and nationalism by weaving poetry into song. His performances during the Lebanese civil war in the 1980s remain a memorable moment documenting the pain and desires of a people striving for freedom. “Bil Akhdar Kaffanahu” (Enshrouded) takes the lyrics of Palestinian poet Izz El-Din Manasra and wraps them in an unforgettable hymn commemorating the story of a Jordanian freedom fighter who was killed during the Lebanese Civil War. 

Solidarity songs formed also around Arabic-speaking communities in exile. The song “Long live Palestine and Crush Zionism” was a collaborative work of Arabic and Swedish musicians and activists in the ‘70s and ‘80s who formed a band called Kofia to aid the Palestinian struggle. 

The turn of the century saw a strong rise in support and solidarity movements from the Global North. Fueled by increased availability of digital media and coupled by an empowered 2nd and 3rd generation of Arabic-speaking musicians abroad, the Palestinians struggle for equality gave rise to a multitude of songs in solidarity with the ongoing plights of Palestinians. 

Outspoken Birmingham poetic icon Benjamin Zephaniah lent his voice and words to Palestine not only through his song “Palestine”, but also through numerous stances supporting the Palestinians and equating their struggle with that of fellow South Africans under the apartheid regime. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd has been an ardent supporter as well, manifesting his solidarity in “Sing for Palestine” and British-Iraqi activist and rapper Lowkey has worked tirelessly to highlight the daily plight and injustice of the Palestinian people.

French-Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux teamed up with Palestinian rapper Shadia Mansour to talk about the parallels of resistance movements between Latin America and the Middle East while World renowned Brazilian heavy metal band shot their song “Territory” on the lands of historic Palestine and addressed the social and political issues faced by Palestinians and the postcolonial struggles for equality and justice. 

Songs of solidarity come from near and far and this is certainly not an exhaustive playlist of solidarity, yet the message is loud and clear. 

What are MARSM Playlists?

Marsm’s bi-weekly playlists take on the musical history, trends and upcoming productions from the music scene in the Arabic-speaking countries. Each playlist focuses on a new theme, showcasing both underground and established artists – from the more dance-able to the most experimental – and everything in between.