16 Jun

Lost in music: How Palestine’s forgotten songs got rebooted

Electronica mixed with folk? Arab rock fused with classical? Welcome to Palestine 2019

They gathered in an apartment in Ramallah for two weeks – a diverse group of musicians and DJs brought together for a unique project.

They included DJ and producer Sama Abdulhadi, Nasser Halahlih, a pioneer of 2000s electronic music, and Muqata’a, the godfather of Ramallah’s hip hop scene.

Their task? To compose and record Electrosteen, an album based on a huge, painstakingly collected audio archive of Palestinian folklore.​

“The experience was very unique for me,” says Halahlih, 37, who lives in Haifa, Israel and stayed in Ramallah for the sessions. “I knew all the people there but never worked with them on music. It was also very special because we shared the house for two weeks.”

“I knew about these recordings but never thought they would be available.”

Electrosteen is intended to celebrate Palestine’s rich musical heritage, giving a new lease of life to rarely heard traditional music while celebrating the burgeoning electronic scene.

The artists use songs made available by the El Funoun Dance Troupe, a cultural organisation which has preserved and revived Palestinian folk music since the 1970s.

Through the workshop, Halahlih and six other Palestinian musicians collaborated on 18 tracks, some of which were performed at the Paris Institute du Monde Arabe in March.

Heritage scattered

Music is central to Palestinian life and heritage. But during the past 70 years, due to the Israeli occupation and conflict, much of that cultural history has been lost and neglected. Yet it can still be found in villages and towns across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and among Palestinians living in Israel.

There are no official institutions dedicated to archiving music in Palestine, which makes information and documents scarce. The closest official effort were the archives of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), but these were destroyed or looted during the conflict with Israel or scattered across that several countries that the Palestinians found themselves in during the past half-century.

During the 1990s, some NGOs and Palestinian grassroots organisations tried to collect the lost music of Palestine. One of them was the Popular Art Centre (PAC), a leading cultural body in Palestine. Founded in 1987, it is a sister organisaton of El Funoun, and soon began to amass a sound archive.

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Author: Pierre France
Image: Raymond Haddad, PMX2019
Publication date: June 14, 2019

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