Playlist #35: Freedom for Palestine

Click here for the full playlist on YouTube and Spotify.

Every struggle for liberation is accompanied by music to strengthen the spirits of its people and uplift them. With the escalating and excessive violence waged by Israel on the indigenous Palestinian population, Palestinians have been taking to the streets in protest against the violent expulsions of Jersualem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, where citizens displaced during the 1948 Nakba are facing a yet another displacement, and the inhumane bombing of Gaza. The scenes from these protests show Palestinians taking up space, expressing solidarity through communal meals at vigils and during Ramadan, and through popular chants and songs. 

We have put together a playlist that showcases the Palestinian identity and fight for liberation, and international solidarity with the Palestinian people through music. This selection of music highlights the songs that have been played and replayed through social media, as well as the latest releases from Palestinian artists, and songs from the past that reflect the ongoing evolution of the struggle. From solidarity anthems by Marcel Khalife to popular songs of the first Intifada up to the latest works of contemporary artists like Bashar Murad and Terez Sliman, this playlist is an example of how the sound of the Palestinian struggle is as colourful and varied as the Palestinian identity. These diverse voices are accompanied by the sounds of the masses demanding  the right to live free, with dignity.

Kicking off with one of Palestine’s most successful artists who recently signed with Palestine’s independent record label BLTNM, Daboor is recognised for his sharp lyricism that reflects the violence and brutal reality of the Israeli occupation. Jerusalemite to the bone, he was quick to release a song that reflects the situation in his hometown. “There’s the sound of bullets ululating in Sheikh Jarrah” he says, “I’m the son of Jerusalem, and these are my gang, the shabab (guys) of ward (flowers)” referring to the BLTNM crew and their roots in the ancient city. 

The singer, composer and ney player Nai Barghouti was also raised her voice through song to capture the general sentiment on the Palestinian streets. Sending a message of love and solidarity with the oppressed indigenous Palestinian people “Raj’een” is. The song is currently being blocked by YouTube, as the platform demands viewers to verify their age in order to view it. 

Adding a throwback to the 1980s with Ahmad Kaabour’s “Ya Nabada Al-Daffa” (The Pulse of the Riverbank), the song was written by poet Hassan Daher for Lina Hassan Al-Nabulsi, who was persecuted by the Israeli occupation in the 1970s due to leading a school girls’ protest. A bright and active student, Lina wanted to become a neuro-surgeon. Her innocent young life was taken by an Israeli soldier in 1976 at the tender age of 15, when he shot her straight in the chest. This inhumane death resulted in the whole of historic Palestine showing up on the streets in protest. 

From a more recent era, take a listen to ‘The First Lady of Arabic Hip-Hop’, Shadia Mansour. The London-born Palestinian rapper appeared on the scene in 2003 during the second intifada, and her popular “Al Kufiya Arabiya”, featuring M-1 and Dead Prez, reaffirms and praises the kuffiye as a symbol of the Palestinian identity.

In celebration of Gaza’s beauty, the warmth of its people and the richness of its culture, Sol Band continue to release traditional songs from the Palestinian heritage, with a modern twist. In their song “Jafra” they sing of love for Palestine despite the distance and separation. The origins of the song go back to 1935,when poet Ahmad Aziz Ali Al-Hassan wrote it as a love poem to his beloved from whom he was separated.

Haifa-based musician, singer and composer Terez Sliman’s “When Tables Will Turn” was released in 2020, however the lyrics indicate how Palestinians have been feeling for a long time. “And tables turn – you that have broken our backs with your might …And fortunes change – so crave less the feathers that put birds in flight And time will tell – so fold your ignorance from the thoughts that create light” Terez sings to a dark and heavy percussive beat.

Solidarity songs from the Arabic-speaking countries and the global north include the works of ardent and outspoken ally of every struggle for liberation, British Iraqi rapper Lowkey. An equally vocal supporter of Palestinians is Lebanese acclaimed oud player, singer and composer Marcel Khalife. Although his “Nasheed Al-Intifada” (The Anthem of the Intifada) was released in 1989, its words ring true especially today, as Palestians announce their third Unified uprising.

A staple of every household is Fayrouz’s “Zahrat Al Mada’en”, the legendary near anthem to Jerusalem, the historic capital of Palestine. The song draws on Jerusalem’s ancient history and religious diversity, lamenting the loss over the city following the 1967 War and expressing a yearning to return.

London-based Egyptian singer Hamza Namira rearranged the music to the Palestinian folklore song “Yamma Mwel El Hawa”. The song which is dated back to the early 20th century expresses the desire of living in dignity and without oppression. 

From that period we have also included songs by Jerusalemite oud player, singer and composer Mustafa Al-Kurd, whose resistance songs spanned several decades from the 1970s. “Ya Hala” (Welcome) was written to welcome those who have returned. His songs were especially prolific during the first Intifada when he returned from exile.

This playlist also contains music from the iconic band collective Sabreen and a/their spectacular performance in Jerusalem from 1990. The band’s innovative music in the 1980s and poetic lyrics played a huge role in bringing new sounds into the Palestinian musical heritage. Its main members, Kamilya Jubran, Said Murad, Issa Freij, Odeh Turjman and Yacoub Abu Arafeh, produced many songs reflecting the daily struggle of the Palestinians; meanwhile Kamilya Jubran’s contemporary solo and collaborative works are always a delight to listen to. 

Said Murad’s son, Bashar Murad, is carrying the torch of his father’s legacy through his own modern take on Palestinian music embedding it with elements of pop and electronica. His song “Samed” cuased some controversies during the 2019 Eurovision, which was hosted within Jaffa’s ethically cleansed Palestinian villagee. Bashar’s song “Samed” (Steadfast) in collaboration with an Icelandic rock band drew attention to the Palestinian struggle.

The last song on the playlist is Walid Abdel Salam’s “Nzilna Alshaware – نزلنا عالشوارع” (We Took to the Streets). A prominent song during the first Intifada, Walid talks about Palestinians taking to the streets, raising their flags and banners and singing to their land. This image can be seen today as Palestinians all over historic Palestine are reclaiming the space that they are being denied, fighting for justice, equality and liberation.“Rejoice my country”, he says, “our case is clear, as the sun will shine through and a thousand daylights will arise.” 

In war and peace, turmoil and tranquility, music is a means to channel and produce emotions and events. Palestine and Palestinians, portrayed in songs manifest the daily events around them, and this playlist is here to amplify their voices and stories. 

Whether through the classical modal repertoire, electro-pop, shamstep or jazz, there’s a Palestinian sound calling for freedom within. 


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.