Striking scene of heartbreak and inspiration as Palestinian musicians trapped in Yarmouk sing amid the rubble

The piano may be battered and covered in dust from the rubble, and the young musicians may be facing starvation as they are trapped in the ruins of the besieged Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, one of the worst sites of starvation in areas besieged by the Assad regime in Syria. But humanity and inspiration persist as the musicians sing to loved ones who have fled urging them to return and stand steadfast.  “Oh displaced people, your journey has taken too long” In another part they sing “Yarmouk you are the march to victory toward Jerusalem you shall not be broken”.  In a clear reference to Palestinian asylum seekers drowning at sea they sing “Pity those who fled, taking a risk at sea, dying on the way..”

Gaza hip hop duo Revolution Makers carve their music out of daily hardships

Palestinian youth in Gaza continue to send their message to the world in every way possible. This happens to be my favourite.  In this hip hop performance, Revolution Makers express a deep frustration with Palestinian division and the lack of leadership. They sing ‘What`s going on your Excellency? 
Our people forgot the occupation of their homeland and are preoccupied with electricity’. They remind us of how the pressing daily needs of people in Palestine especially in Gaza has reshaped their ambition and reduced their dreams to wanting electricity and clean water. The focus has shifted away from liberation and an end to occupation to wanting to improve the conditions of the world’s largest open air prison known as Gaza. The song is beautifully written and delivered and contains a message we all need to pay attention to.

[See English translation of Lyrics beneath the video]


We wish for a life

Where our blood

Is not the cheapest commodity

Where our days

Are better than our yesterdays

We want to live

Dream of our future

And be for one another

My brothers


(First Verse)

For years

I wished to speak up

When I finally did

I wronged my brother

I crushed him and kept on walking,

It wasn`t my intention

But he used to wrong me

Every day treat me like a criminal

He judged me

We are used to inventing patience

Turning ruins into paradise

See life so beautiful

Despite the degradation

We live in chaos

Go to the grave without a visa

We say that’s ok

So long as we have no scandals

We knead tragedy before the cameras

With no shame

We expose those in needs

So we can we can help them

But we exploit them

How many times we chatter

We lecture

How often we stop

We argue

How often we chant

We hold to account

How often we feel afraid

We turn a blind eye

You ask me how to resolve this,

Where do we start

Ask yourself

How precious is your soul

So pay attention

Put yourself in a refugee camp

So you know where to start

Let’s feel there is dignity

And never give up



We wish for a life

Where our blood

Is not the cheapest commodity

Where our days

Are better than our yesterdays

We want to live

Dream of our future

And be for one another

My brothers


(Second verse)

what`s going on

Your Excellency

This country’s sons

Are rushing to leave

When will we end this saga

They prefer to reside


To build a future

Away from this humiliation

What`s going on your Excellency,

Our people forgot the occupation

Of their homeland

They’re preoccupied

With electricity

When will it run

Our people are occupied

By daily routines,

Work, electricity, solar

All are diminishing

On a daily basis

They don`t like my art

Because I describe reality

While singing

In a different style

They believe

Criticism of the system

Is forbidden

They are in power

In the name of you excellency

The great

Your  Excellency:

I find myself regressing

We need to change the vision

When it comes to unity

We don’t need outside help

Brothers can sort out problems

But they (outsiders) magnify the issues

So let’s ignore outside powers

Don’t pay them attention



We wish for a life

Where our blood

Is not the cheapest commodity

Where our days

Are better than our yesterdays

We want to live

Dream of our future

And be for one another

My brothers

In a World of Chaos: Gaza’s Watar Band Seeking Love, Peace and Freedom

By Samah Sabawi
Palestine Chronicle
Gaza’s new music sensation Watar Band has just released their latest song and it is making a lot of noise!  The song Dawsha which literally translates to noise is a reminder to the world that creative rhythm and harmony still exist in Gaza despite the chaos and the depressive realities that prevail not only within the tiny strip but in the region as a whole.

I interviewed Watar Band’s lyricist Hassan Nigim about the song, the band and the triumphs and tribulations of making music in Gaza:

Samah Sabawi: Thanks Hassan for talking with me. I understand this is a very busy time for you as you prepare to release your video clip for Dawsha.  Tell me how important is this work for you?

Hassan Nigim: Thanks for the interview Samah, we appreciate your support. I believe this work is very important even though it started as a hobby, I have worked hard to improve my skills and have been blessed with the support of my friends especially the Egyptian poet ( lyricist) Khaled Tag Al Deen who wrote many songs for super star singers like Amr diab, samira saed, Nawal Alzoghbi, Hamaki, and others.  His support has been instrumental and we’d like to thank him for being the first to share our song on his FB fans page.

SS: What inspired you to write Dawsha?

HN: I got my inspiration from people’s experiences and from my own personal experiences as well.  I wrote the lyrics for Dawsha when I came home to Gaza this year after completing my university degree in Egypt. I wanted to describe how we live and what we feel and do in a few simple words. The song is not just about us in Gaza but it is also about how we in most of the Arab World live these days…

SS: I noticed the song express both hope and despair at the same time.  Was this contradiction deliberate?   

HN: Yes.  It’s important to give people hope that one day they can find love and freedom and that they can reach their dreams.

SS: There are no women in your band.  What is it like for female artists in Gaza especially within the music scene?

HN: True, there are no women in our band but there is a female artist who sang with our band at the Centre Culturel Français (CCF) concert, Sara abu Ramadan, she sang a French song.  We also had five young girls singing a part of the song Dawsha and you can see them in the video clip.  There are more and more talented girls in Gaza who have started to learn music, but for sure there are still some people who hold on to old traditions and who are not supportive of women in music.

SS: What would you say is the biggest obstacle that stands in your way of making music in Gaza?

HN: The biggest obstacles that stand in our way at a personal level as well as an artistic one are daily problems everyone else encounters in Gaza like electricity shortages…but on top of that, I would say we don’t have much support from the media and we need that in order to publicize our work.  As it stands, we do our own publicity. We also don’t have professional producers here, we don’t have enough instruments for our band, and we don’t have advanced studios to do the recordings in.

SS: Describe how an average week in your life looks like?

HN: All of us in Watar Band are well educated. I’m a Biomedical Engineer, we have 2 doctors, an IT engineer and music teachers. We all have jobs even though as you know in Gaza it is hard to find employment, but we are hard workers and most of us have lived in different countries and were educated outside Gaza. An average day in a week is usually full.  First we go to work, then we play sport and after that we meet for coffee and discuss our plans, projects and music.  We would like to practice daily, but unfortunately we often face hurdles that get in the way. Some are personal problems with work and family commitments …etc. But the biggest hurdle is usually finding a place to practice. So whenever we get a chance to practice at the music school here in Gaza we make sure we don’t miss that chance.  Sometimes we have to wait a long time for the opportunity to come.  For example, when we worked on Dawsha, the melody came to us while we were sitting in a restaurant but we waited a long time to get access to the studio before we could record it.

SS: What message does your band want to send to the world?

HN: We want to say to the world that love, peace and freedom are in our thoughts and in our dreams.  We want the world to see the positive side of our people the beautiful side of our country and culture. We want them to know that we have the right as human beings to live in peace, love and freedom.  We also want to give hope to our people and to the whole world that this dream is possible.

Dawsha was composed by Alaa Shuplaq and Khamis Abushaban, arranged by Anas Alnajar, with lead singer Alaa Shuplaq on vocals. Solo Classic Guitar was performed by Dr. Mohanad El Hadad, solo Electric Guitar performed by Mohammed Lomani with Eyad Abulila on drums. The video clip was directed by Ahmed Nasr. Photo by Fawzi Aljafarawi

Scroll down for English Translation of Lyrics 

English Translation Lyrics:

Chaos, chaos, chaos, … chaos everywhere
confusing the minds … people are lost,
chaos everywhere … safety is no where,
time has changed people … they are left wondering,

Chaos chaos chaos … turned my sweat dreams into nightmares and kept it inside my soul … dreaming of freedom,
chaos chaos chaos … when will peace prevail
i am choking and longing … for freedom and love

I am wondering, day and night when everything will be alright,i want to live
no matter how much i am tired … I pray for Allah to help i am counting on him … I have no one but Allah

Chaos chaos chaos … turned my sweat dreams into nightmares and kept it inside my soul … dreaming of freedom,
chaos chaos chaos … when will peace prevail
i am choking and longing … for freedom and love

I still have hope inside … and will grow by working hard
no matter how long it takes … will I give up?? no no no
chaos chaos chaos … this isn’t just a song think deeply…you will find the message.

Chaos chaos chaos … turned my sweat dreams into nightmares and kept it inside my soul … dreaming of freedom,
chaos chaos chaos … when will peace prevail
i am choking and longing … for freedom and love

Contact Watar Band Public Relations & Ads: Dr. Ahmed Nigim 00970595580845
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Nigel Kennedy plays ‘Spring’ from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with Palestine Strings and Members of the Orchestra of Life

BBC Proms 2013 from the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Nigel Kennedy plays ‘Spring’ from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with Palestine Strings and Members of the Orchestra of Life as part of Prom 34.

This concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, scheduled for broadcast on BBC Four 7.30pm on 23 August 2013 and is available on-demand for seven days after broadcast. Radio 3 is streamed in HD sound online.

Also see on Mondoweiss Video: Stunning performance by young Palestinian violinist at Royal Albert Hall

Ma’an: Palestinian Arab Idol finalist says Issawi an inspiration

Published today (updated) 22/04/2013 21:09
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Muhammad Assaf, a Palestinian finalist in the TV singing contest Arab Idol, says he is inspired by long-term hunger striker Samer Issawi and would trade winning the competition for the prisoner’s freedom.

“I am conveying Palestine’s message to the world, and if I had to choose between winning the Arab Idol title and the freedom of Samer Issawi, I would choose freedom for the Palestinian hero whose steadfastness is peerless and I can’t compare myself to it,” Assaf told Ma’an.

Speaking from Beirut, the singer from Gaza City said that he considers himself an “ambassador of Palestinian art,” who wants to convey a positive image of Palestinians, despite Israeli occupation and oppression.

Arab audiences are happy to see a Palestinian singing different genres of music rather than just patriotic songs, he said, adding that he has been receiving support from his fans in the Arab world.

Assaf says he has been moved by the plight of Palestinian prisoners, especially Samer Issawi who has been on hunger strike in Israeli detention for 265 days.

“Issawi has provided a model in the struggle which is too great to be imitated by artists, despite the fact that art has an element of resistance as it can deliver the message of a people under occupation to the whole world.”

“I can’t differentiate between my art and my patriotic attitude,” he added.

Assaf qualified on Friday for the final of MBC’s popular singing competition Arab Idol.

This article appeared in Ma’an News

Palestinian-American composer and conductor George Bisharat and the Oakland East Bay Symphony in “Ya Way Li”

IMEU, APR 17, 2013 


The exile, fear and frustration of Palestinians expelled from their homeland will be brought to life through John Bisharat’s composed autobiography “Ya Way Li.” The piece, which is debuting April 20 with the Oakland East Bay Symphony in California, is part of the program, “Notes from the Middle East,” which brings together viewpoints of Palestinians, Egyptians and Israelis through music.

According to Bisharat, a Palestinian-American composer and conductor, “The piece tells the story of the fear and heartbreak my father, uncles and aunt endured during their struggle of being expelled from their homeland.” Bisharat’s uncle Emile wrote the poem “Ya Way Li” in Arabic and Bisharat composed the music with singers, percussionists and instrumentalists. “The text specifically reveals the Palestinian perspective. One of the lines is ‘and here I am a stranger in exile with no hope of ever returning to my origin,'” explains Bisharat. “This speaks to the issues of the right to return and the military occupation.”

The zourna, a woodwind instrument that plays three notes, is featured in the piece and was used by Bisharat’s father and uncles to gather their children. “It was a calling together of the family. It’s a personal note, and I decided to start and end the piece with it. It’s kind of the bookends to the piece.”

In addition to the instruments used in this piece, foot-stomping is also incorporated. The entire orchestra stomps their feet in unison to symbolize the frustration of the Palestinians. “There’s so much frustration, resentment and fear in the piece. It’s kind of a dark piece because it’s not a happy situation by any means. But it speaks to the fear and insecurity faced by Palestinian families, including my own.”

Bisharat created this music specifically for the program. He has written other Arabic music and enjoys working with other composers and musicians. “I love the idea of someone else improvising in a framework I have worked out as a composer and leaving a slot open for improvisation. You’ll also end up with something that is bigger and greater than what you would be able to do as your own. These musicians are bringing their own life experiences in every note they play.”

Born in Los Angeles, Bisharat’s mother introduced him to music. He attended UCLA’s Professional Designation in Film Scoring program and graduated in 1986, and has been making music ever since.

Bisharat has conducted The London Symphony Orchestra and The National Symphony Orchestra, among other international engagements.

Bisharat derives from a musically savvy family. Several of his family members are different types of artists. His brother and sister are both professional musicians and one of his uncles, aside from being a psychiatrist, was a violin crafter and another uncle played the flute. Bisharat’s wife is world-renowned concert pianist Louise Thomas. “I was lucky, I guess, to be born into a family of such talented, educated and artistic people, very warm and loving people.”

Read this article and much more on The Institute for Middle East Understanding website which offers journalists and editors quick access to information about Palestine and the Palestinians, as well as expert sources — both in the U.S. and in the Middle East. Read the IMEU Background Briefings. Contact IMEU for story assistance. Sign up for IMEU e-briefings.

Classical music moves into the camps of Palestine

Published March 23rd, 2013 – 07:00 GMT on AlBawaba
How often does one see pictures of brave Palestinian children facing up to Israeli soldiers and tanks, armed only with stones in their hands and often paying with their lives for daring to do so?

Ramzi Aburedwan was one such child, who grew up in the refugee camp of Al Amari near Ramallah. At the tender age of 8, he witnessed his best friend being killed during an Israeli military operation. He then found himself throwing stones during the first Intifada and as a street combatant Aburedwan seemed destined for an Israeli prison or a Palestinian martyr’s poster. But fate decided to intervene.

At 17, he was invited to a music workshop in Al Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah, where he fell in love with the art and started to learn to play the viola. Replacing stones with a musical instrument led to a journey of channelling his anger into creativity and of personal transformation.

After studying for a year at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM) in Ramallah and thereafter attending a summer workshop in the United States — at the Apple Hill Centre for Chamber Music of New Hampshire — he enrolled at the Conservatoire National de Region d’Angers.

In 2000 Ramzi created the ensemble “Dal’Ouna”, music that symbolised the link between East and West. It flowed from an encounter between Palestine and France, from the melting of pure traditional Middle Eastern songs with mixed jazzy compositions, played on Western classical musical instruments (viola, violin, clarinet, flute, guitar, piano), and traditional Eastern instruments (bouzouk, oud, darbouka, bendir, etc).

In 2005, he was awarded the “DEM” gold medal for viola, chamber music and music theory. While in France, he also learnt to play the piano.

Yearning to share his knowledge and experience, and inspire a new generation of Palestinians, by helping their anger and frustrations find musical expression, Aburedwan established Al Kamandjâti (The Violin) in October 2002. It was to be the place where Palestinian children and youth could learn music and develop their culture.

In August 2005, Riwaq, the Palestinian architectural organisation engaged in conservation and rehabilitation, completed the renovation of the Al Kamandjâti Music Centre in the old city of Ramallah and it was here that Aburedwan launched his nonprofit musical enterprise, funded mainly by European donors.

Taking music to the people, Al Kamandjâti set up music schools for Palestinian children in various cities, villages and refugee camps. These music schools offer children the opportunity to learn to play music, to discover their cultural heritage as well as other musical cultures, but above all to explore their creative potential.

In addition, Al Kamandjâti produces numerous concerts and several music festivals throughout the year as part of its mission to bring music to all Palestinians.

Aburedwan explains the rationale: “Perhaps the least recognised effect of the violent Israeli occupation on the lives of Palestinian people is the undermining of culture, art and leisure. When a regime wants to weaken a people, it uses psychological, cultural and physical means. It attempts to erase tangible evidence of that people’s unique cultural heritage. Our struggle must be cultural and militant, artistic and political, and economic. But on no account should we forget the primary reason behind the projects and activities led by Al Kamandjâti, which is to educate children, who suffer most from the unjust politico-economic situation.

“We cannot afford to sit back and wait for favourable political decisions which would establish a Palestinian State,” he says. “We must proactively work on galvanising Palestinian cultural life. We must give our children the opportunity to think beyond soldiers and tanks. They must think creatively, not about the destruction of their country, but about rebuilding their way of life and future.”

In the West Bank, Al Kamandjâti today provides music training to around 500 students in places such as the Al Amari, Jalazon, Qalandiah and Qaddura refugee camps, the village of Deir Ghassana, the old cities of Ramallah and Jenin, and in Tulkarem.

Since 2005, Al Kamandjâti, with ten French musicians, has also organised annual music workshops in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon, where, today, they have 60 students at Bourj el Barajneh and Shatilla.

In Palestine, Al Kamandjâti employs 22 musicians who teach violin, viola, cello, guitar, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, piano, accordion, oud, nay, Arabic percussion, orchestra, singing, harmony, choir, improvisation and music theory.

“Music is a universal language,” Aburedwan says. “We encourage Palestinians to use this artistic tool to harmonise and enrich their cultural life, promoting international awareness and recognition of the Palestinian nation.

“Through music, Al Kamandjâti seeks to show that education and culture can transcend and overcome the Israeli violence from which Palestinians suffer,” he adds. “Learning music provides children with a form of expression to channel their energy creatively and constructively. Are not today’s children tomorrow’s adults? Classical music is, for the children, a discovery. We introduce each one to an instrument. Moreover, these workshops enable children to gather in a disciplined setting, whether as neighbours or friends or new acquaintances”.

Many young international musicians have been working at Al Kamandjâti, discovering music and a practical approach to mastering various instruments with Palestinian children. Jason Crompton came from New Jersey four years ago to visit his sister in occupied Jerusalem and after learning about Al Kamandjâti, he stayed on to teach piano and conduct the orchestra. He learnt Arabic to communicate with the children and eventually married a fellow teacher from Italy, Madeleine, who teaches the flute and also works with UNRWA schools in the refugee camps around Ramallah. They have a child and now live in Ramallah.

“The feeling of sharing in the musical experience with anyone who wishes to indulge is special and we believe that we belong here,” Crompton says.

Their story lends credence to the oft-held belief that music transcends both borders and barriers. At Al Kamandjâti, it has been an enriching experience for both the Palestinian children and the teachers of many nationalities.

Not only does Al Kamandjâti teach Palestinian children how to play music, it also teaches some of them how to repair, maintain and tune instruments.

Shehadeh, a young man who has been involved in setting up a local lute-making workshop, spent three months in Italy with stringed-instrument makers who had previously been to Palestine, learning to repair and make instruments. Today his workshop adjoins the Al Kamandjâti building in Ramallah.

Al Kamandjâti organises The Music Days Festival in June, in partnership with the French Cultural Centres Network. The festival lasts 12 days and takes place in more than ten Palestinian cities. A Baroque Music Festival follows in December and various churches in the cities of the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem host it.

Al Kamandjâti also engages in exchange programmes abroad with partner organisations. Some students have been given the opportunity to take part in music workshops abroad to improve their technical skills. Khalil, the coordinator, explains, “We had nine students who completed their scholarships in France last year — in violin, percussion, bass, clarinet and guitar, and two of them learnt how to fix string-section instruments.

“We have two blind brothers, Mohammad and Jihad, who today teach percussion and oud at the Helen Keller Centre in [occupied] Jerusalem,” he adds.

Today, Al Kamandjâti stands for Aburedwan’s transformation from a stone-pelter to a viola player and his dream of sharing his knowledge and experience with his people, bringing joy to the children growing up in refugee camps and under occupation.

This article appeared on