The SILA Connection: Recalling the 2019 Tour

Inspired by David Mancuso, the creator of New York’s infamous “invitation only” party The Loft, the London equivalent audiophiles from Beauty and The Beat and Brilliant Corners  alongside our MARSM team set out on a musical exchange tour in 2019 in the footsteps and spirit of these great party creators.

Exchanging musical encounters with music peers and space-shapers from London to Palestine, the collaboration united the forces of 25 music DJ’s, producers and organisers and one tour bus through 4 cities. Starting in Haifa, the tour moved through Jerusalem, Ramallah and back to London, where the tour culminated in a vibrant finale party. Join us one year on as we recall the details, spotlighting the music and spaces that were part of this unique musical movement.

Running their London party since 2005, London audiophile collective Beauty and the Beat were originally inspired by David Mancuso’s long running disco parties, with roots in spiritual jazz, trance-rhythms and as always – quality analogue audio. The catalyst to their success, as with Mancuso’s, was that their love of good quality sound combined with an ethos of inclusion and safe spaces.

With East London’s Giant Steps or The Yard being key venues for their monthly nights, the aim was to share their vibes, connect with likeminded audiophiles  and strengthen ties with the local scene in Palestine. That’s where London-based Palestinian film director and producer Mazen Zoabi, who has been a valuable member of the MARSM team for the past few years, came in. As a member of the Beauty and the Beat family, he saw that in order to make the tour materialize, they’d have to connect with the larger international peer networks. MARSM’s deep knowledge of the scene and excellent relationships with relevant local and global musical actors enabled us to operate as the driver and connective tissue to the backbone of this unique endeavour.  The aim of the MARSM tour was to bring the party ethos of the main shakers and movers in London, Haifa, Jerusalem and Ramallah together to allow for a creative spark and musical inspiration through music. 

Space plays a pivotal role in enabling the creation of a party scene and has long been a contested issue for Palestinians residing under Israeli occupation. The creation and establishment of Palestinian-owned venues, let alone music venues, is a phenomenon that has only accelarated over the past twenty years. It wasn’t until the past decade that Palestinian-run or owned venues like Kabareet in Haifa or Radio in Ramallah have been able to carve themselves a space within the live music sphere. The growth of these venues also came hand in hand with the radical increase of music production and the need to both display music and interact with it, liberating the physical restraints imposed on bodies and enabling the free flow of joy through performance, music and community. This is coupled by the liberation of the body in all shapes, colours, genders and sizes within the flow of music.

Raymond Haddad on modular synth

The tour kicked off in Haifa’s Kabareet, one of the first Palestinian run music venues in the city. The space is infamous for its Thursday electronic nights that hosts an array of local and international musicians from Swiss-Turkish  collector and DJ Mehmet Aslan, Japanese techno producer Takaaki Itoh, Nazareth based Ghazall Band, Berlin based Rasha Nahas and the electronic and underground Palestinian crew of Shab Jdid and Al Nather. Hosted by the resident Kabareet DJ’s Riyad Sliman, Tamer Qais, and Hilal Jabarine, the party kicked off with the rhythmic beats played by Jeremy Gilbert from the Beauty and the Beat followed by Amit, one of the founding members of East London audiophile and sushi restaurant Brilliant Corners. A special highlight of the night was the performance of the synth master and renowned musical collaborator on the local Palestinian scene Raymond Haddad. His manipulation of the modular synth reverberated with innovative electronic sounds and resonated deep within the old walls defining the space in Kabareet.

Kabareet’s outdoor courtyard, from above

Within this tour, it was vital to us to have a musical encounter in Jerusalem, where the battle over space is a fundamental part of the daily reality of its inhabitants. While venues like Al-Ma’mal or Yabous Cultral Center have put their space at the center of Jerusalem’s cultural production, there hasn’t been (and currently still isn’t) a venue that caters for regular music events that involve clubbing for Palestinians in the city. Through the amazing hospitality and in collaboration with founder of Sabreen Organisation, Said Murad (who is, by the way, also an amazing oud player and founding member of music band Sabreen) the MARSM team put on a party like no other in the outdoor space of the organisation’s studio.

The main stage at Sabreen

The organisation, established in 1987 in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, has its own recording studio and has been a fundamental hub for musical activities and creativity since its evolution into an NGO for artistic development. Charismatic singer, songwriter and social activist Bashar Murad, son of founder Said Murad, has been recording and performing at the family studio since a young age. Bashar’s unique style of alternative pop, blended with his artistic video production and lyrics shattering stereotypes, has made him a shooting star rising to global awareness as he campaigns through his music activism for gender equality and LGBTQ++ rights. The venue’s abundant character and creative vibes brought together the main music and arts aficionados of Jerusalem and neighbouring areas, to witness the hybrid marriage of audiophile global gems alongside Barshar Murad’s iconic performance, appearing on stage in a wedding gown and singing his well known “Elkol 3am Betjawaz/الكل عم بتجوز” (Everyone’s getting married) to the joy of friends and colleagues. 

The audience was thrilled about being able to dance freely outdoors on an occasion not related to a social event, such as a wedding or a graduation ceremony. The fact that most were able to mingle and move freely to the sound of music in one of the Middle East’s most tense and contested spaces, was a great achievement sparking the potential for the creation of local scenes where those who speak the language of music can come together and enjoy time on their own terms.

Photo wall in Sabreen showcasing past events, including a photo of iconic Palestinian musician Kamilya Jubran (seen middle right)

For the last night of the tour, the musical bus headed from Occupied Jerusalem to Ramallah.  Ramallah’s transformation into a cultural centre and seat of government after the Oslo Accords in the early 90’s, came hand in hand with the NGOs and various other funding that flooded the area to create a feeling of comfort amongst the middle-class inhabitants of the city. Ramallah’s nightlife has become a major attraction for Palestinians from all across the country making it a vibrant and influential home for many artists, musicians and cultural centers. One of the most prominent and long established venues is Radio  (also formerly known as Beit Aniseh) which has been running for almost two decades. Boasting an incredible indoor and outdoor space, the venue’s crowds have been treated to an impressive  selection of artists and genres. From Chilean American (of Palestinian heritage) Nicholas Jaar to the now- infamous Palestinian Boiler Room sets, to local artists including Synaptik, Bethlehem based Radio NRD crew, Zenobia, Julmud, Asifeh who  have all contributed to the venue’s international reputation. This SILA night brought together a unique selection of Ramallah’s finest underground musicians to the Radio, including the powerful producer and hip-hop artist Makimakkuk, a producer, MC and vocalist, who has been a figurehead on the scene for a decade now with her fast-flowing lyrics and her electrifying beats. Her powerful lyrics, trancy raps, fresh flows, thunderous vocal texture and multi-dimensionality of sounds have carved her an unparalelled position on the Palestinian music scene. The night was also embellished with the presence of Ramallah based DJ and hip-hop hero Dakn who got all the audience to do some fierce footwork under the sky of the summer night. Some audiences had travelled all the way from Haifa, Nazareth and Bethlehem, to be present at this party, having to go through checkpoints, the Segregation Wall and other obstacles imposed by the Occupation that fragments the geographic continuity of the land. Due to the bantustanization of Palestinian areas by the Israeli government, Palestinians are required to request special permits from Israeli military governors, that allow them entry into Israeli controlled aread. Those are rare and hard to obtain, resulting in a stark physical disconnect between families, friends and neighbouring regions. The effort involved in bringing everyone together to enjoy a unique and original experience was adorned with feelings of unification and joy. 

Bringing together musicians, creators, listeners and dancers in one space, specifically a space that suffers from restrictions on movement, expression and thought, required a massive effort and great good will on the part of all those involved. The result, however, was the creation of a set of shared experiences through both space and sound, that enable the forging of stronger human ties and deepening the understanding of varying experiences and contexts. These moments are not temporary, as they remain in the memory and resurface in the future as part of shared experiences that are called upon in similar situations or when sharing with others.

Mood Kablawi on the decks at East London’s Yard

To enable an exchange of experiences, we were adamant to invite several members of the Palestinian music scene back to London. This was no easy task in light of the limitations on the freedom of movement imposed on especially West Bank (and Gaza) residents. Despite the difficulties, we were able to host three members of the Kabareet Dj’s: DJ’s Riyad Sliman, Tamer Qais, and Hilal Jabarine, in addition to now Berlin based producer and musician Moody Kablawi, whose love for funk and disco is so infectious that having his musical contribution to the London finale was the cherry on top. 

Setting up in the popular East-London venue The Yard, the night was packed with music and film, including  the eager early-bird audience who came for the Boiler Room’s Palestine Underground documentary screening. It was pure joy to see London friends and family of all the collectives involved, in addition to new faces and sonic explorers sampling a rich motley of sounds and exchanges. It was difficult not to see the stark difference between the experiences, transportation home at the end of the night, a smooth road without checkpoints and no sound restrictions on when music should be turned off. Sound restrictions are also part of the battle over space in Palestine, as religious or party sounds are contested and restricted. 

The SILA Festival closing night program on 27th July 2019

There was no way any of us knew back then, that events would come to a standstill, each one confined within their space as a result of the global pandemic. Most of the venues mentioned  (if not all) are currently closed down, especially that concerts and music events rank high on the risk scale for Covid infections. Music has been confined to the private sphere, except recently to the outdoors, while dancefloors and the movement of the body have become luxuries enjoyed with the select few. There is no doubt that music and its effect on the body and mind are an essential part of our everyday lives. While it is treated as a luxury for certain social groups, music has always been the structure of noise and also community. In Jacques Attali’s words music “…explores, much faster than material reality can, the entire range of possibilities in a given code”. 

We live in hope, that the range of possibilities for music and all its actors will be jointly enjoyed by everyone once again soon and that the musical creations produced within the days of lockdown will result in an boom of musical richness that we can all celebrate in the near future in our loved venues and with our loved ones. 

One year on, still inspired by the whole tour, Begg brought back to London field recordings from the places the team visited. As he was practicing for a performance, the evocation of place and memory of the tour conjured a new tune, solidified with the field recordings and made as an ode to the SILA experience. He will be releasing a full EP next month which will close with this special piece inspired by the tour. For now, you can listen to his “SILA” piece on our Mixtape recorded on the night of 27th July 2019 on Soundcloud and Mixcloud.