Thursday evening was a big evening in Ramallah. There was a premiere of the film ‘Slingshot Hiphop’, a film about the hip-hop scene in Palestine (http://slingshothiphop.com). Rumour had it that several of the artists featured in the film were going to come and play at the premiere. The opening of the film was hosted by the Ramallah Cultural Palace and when I arrived with Suhad and Pola there were already many people and plenty of cameras. These types of events are covered by media from all over the Middle East as well as the many Western documentary filmmakers that flock down here too. There is a lot of culture in Ramallah, but I hadn’t yet witnessed such enthusiasm as I saw tonight. There were many very young boys with caps and large T-shirts with prints on them, but the fashion style wasn’t very baggy indicating that the scene is young and that there’s also not much money for new fashionable clothes from the West.
The Ramallah Cultural Palace is, as I’ve mentioned, a huge building that lies high up on one of Ramallah’s hill tops. The concert hall can probably fit about 1,500 to 2,000 people and this evening it was almost packed. The film had been made by a local Palestinian filmmaker, Jackie Salloum. She had been working on the film for the past five years and many people were saying that it had been very hard for her to finish the film, but now it was here and the expectations were soaring.
It is a historically oriented film and tells the history of Palestinian hip-hop. The main players of the early acts were the 1948 Palestinians, especially DAM who are the godfathers of the scene (http://www.myspace.com/damrap). The main focus was on Tamer from DAM who is the film’s starring personality. He is also one of the main personalities of Palestinian hip-hop. To set the scene, the film opens with images of children confronting military vehicles and Israeli bulldozers that destroy houses and dig up olive trees. In this way, it is immediately established that hip-hop here, as in the rest of the world, is the art of the oppressed. “Hip-hop is our CNN”, Tamer comments at one point. DAM come from Lod in Israel, and the three person crew walked through fairly bombed out and destroyed areas of the city talking about their everyday problems as Palestinians in Israel. They had started in 1990 and had actually begun rapping to become rich and famous. That motivation changed when the second Intifada exploded in 2000. From then on, hip-hop became a political instrument for the Palestinian Israelis and they started rapping in Arabic. The most touching and jarring story was the portrait of PR (Palestinian Rapperz) (http://www.myspace.com/palestinianrapperz), who had tried to establish themselves in Gaza. They had no possibility whatsoever of getting out of Gaza and they had had to build everything up from scratch themselves. Their biggest wish was to meet DAM and the other Palestinian hip-hop artists, which simply wasn’t possible due to the occupation. The film crew arranged for them to speak with Tamer over the phone, which was very touching; but their dream was, as they put it, to actually meet DAM and to give them a hug. Even for a big hip-hop event in Ramallah where PR were headlining together with DAM, the boys had been stopped at the border despite having got a permit, and had been sent home with no explanation. So the only way DAM could see and hear PR was through the recordings by the film crew that had been able to visit them in Gaza. Everyone was very impressed by the fearlessness of the three PR rappers: “But they’re also used to standing in front of tanks in the streets”, as one of the 1948 Palestinians said, and teased the other rappers that they’d probably shit themselves if they had to face a tank. So the film talked a lot about the three groups of Palestinians in Palestine: 1948, Gaza and the West Bank, and about how the three groups are almost entirely separated because of the occupation.
The film was rich with good music and a well produced sound, and the audience in the auditorium cheered every time someone came out with a sharp line. Before the last credits had passed, three energetic and gesticulating rappers invaded the stage; it was DAM. Their most popular tune is ‘Who is the Terrorist?’, and they did a medley in which bits of the controversial text was thrown in. The entire audience got out of their seats and it was really moving to see all the hand gestures from the very young girls and boys. Lighters and mobile phones where waving in the air and Palestinian scarves were thrown onto the stage.
The concert, though, got even bigger as almost all of the acts from the film turned out to be there (Arapeyat, Mahmoud Shalabi and WE7). PR hadn’t, of course, got permission to leave Gaza which you could almost cry about after having witnessed their totally fucked-up lives and everyday reality in that place. At the end a very young girl got up on stage. She was from the duo Arapeyat, who were also in the film (http://www.myspace.com/safaa3arapeye). Slightly nervous but smiling in a challenging way, she gave several lectures to the audience (in Arabic). When tracks ran out and she hadn’t any more beats to rap to, she carried on improvising without backing until DAM got on stage and said ‘enough’ and ‘thank you’. Another hip-hop act who were also missing were the local darlings from Ramallah Underground (http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=6209211).
Suhad told me afterwards that there were probably a lot of 1948 Palestinians that had sneaked across the Wall tonight. The Israelis don’t allow people with Israeli passports to go to Zone A areas, but people usually find ways of sneaking across. They risk getting a huge fine if they are caught. “Hip-hop is not dead — it lives in Palestine”, as it was said on several t-shirts worn that night.