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Gaza Palestinians Vent Frustrations Through Rap

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Gaza Palestinians Vent Frustrations Through Rap

Middle East

Gaza Palestinians Vent Frustrations Through Rap

Gaza Palestinians Vent Frustrations Through Rap

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Young Arab hip-hop artists are borrowing the sounds and styles of American rappers in order to express their experiences. But the message of the songs is strictly their own.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Some Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are into a new way of expressing themselves: rap. Young Arab hip-hop artists are borrowing the sound, styles and attitudes of American rappers and using them to vent their own frustrations. NPR's Ivan Watson traveled to Gaza recently and filed this report.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

At first glance, it looks like a poor imitation of American hip-hop culture.

(Soundbite of rap song)

EMINEM: (Singing) ...and that's when Daddy went to California with his CD and met Dr. Dre and flew you and mama out to see me. But Daddy had to...

WATSON: About 50 relatively affluent kids, ranging from 12 to their 20s, sit in a youth center with their backs to the Mediterranean Sea, listening to Eminem on loudspeakers. They've self-segregated with girls on one side, dressed in pink tube tops with dangling earrings; on the other, boys in baggy jeans, gold chains and baseball caps. An emcee warms them up for the show in English.

(Soundbite of show)

Unidentified Man: Let me hear you scream!

(Soundbite of cheering)

WATSON: Then the first of the night's rappers hits the stage, and it quickly becomes clear that these young Palestinians have turned American hip-hop into their own very Palestinian form of expression.

(Soundbite of show)

WATSON: Young men take turns at the microphone, spitting out rapid-fire Arabic lyrics that are angry and sarcastic and often punctuated by the call, `Yao la(ph),' which means, `Let's go.'

(Soundbite of show)

Unidentified Rapper: Yao la! Yao la! Yao la! Yao la! Oh!

WATSON: Rami Bakhit is a dark-skinned 19-year-old member of the trio R.F.M. His hyperactive performance makes him a crowd favorite.

(Soundbite of show)

Mr. RAMI BAKHIT (Rapper): (Performing in foreign language)

WATSON: Though Bakhit worships artists like Tupac Shakur and Kanye West, he says he does not identify with some of the common themes in American rap.

Mr. BAKHIT: And I can't write a song that I'm talking that I'm proud of my car or how I'm smoking weed or my girl's--you know what I'm saying? What are they saying, talking about these things? We are different.

WATSON: Instead, Bakhit's lyrics focus on the dangers and frustrations of growing up under Israeli occupation. A song called "Hell to You Arabs(ph)" starts with a prayer to liberate Palestine from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whom Bakhit calls a criminal and a killer. But the song also denounces cigar-smoking sports car-driving Arabs, whom Bakhit says have forgotten about wounded and imprisoned and martyred Palestinians.

Mr. BAKHIT: Oh, what's the name of the show, that big show? And I have a soldier making them so they're protecting this show, but they're killing us, and people don't know these things.

WATSON: For these teen-agers, rap has become a form of protest.

Mr. BAKHIT: It's also like a weapon to tell other people out of Gaza how we feel in here.

WATSON: Fourteen-year-old Fayek Bisesin(ph) is a Houston-born Palestinian and aspiring rapper who dresses in a Carolina Tarheels baseball cap and Houston Rockets jersey. He is scornful of the Israelis but also of hard-line Palestinian militant groups like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

FAYEK BISESIN (Rapper): They're not heroes. The feels themselves like they're gangs.

WATSON: Despite their enthusiasm for this art form, these young Palestinians all seem to agree that the rest of Gaza isn't ready for their music yet. Again, Fayek Bisesin.

BISESIN: They don't appreciate it in Gaza, to tell you the truth.

WATSON: As the teen-agers perform late into the humid Gaza night, the club's white-haired manager, Abdul Mutalabo Hussein(ph), sits outside in silence, patiently waiting for the kids to finish up and finally go home.

Mr. ABDUL MUTALABO HUSSEIN (Club Manager): (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: `This music,' he says, `it gives me a headache.'

(Soundbite of show)

Unidentified Man: Go like this! Put your hands up in the air!

Unidentified Rappers: (Rapping, in unison, in foreign language)

WATSON: Ivan Watson, NPR News.

Unidentified Rappers: (Rapping, in unison, in foreign language)

Unidentified Rapper: Yao la!

Unidentified Rappers: (Rapping, in unison, in foreign language)

Unidentified Rappers: Yao la! Yao la! Yao la!

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne in Washington with Steve Inskeep in New Orleans.

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