Syria conflict finds a voice in hip-hop
Published: 4th Aug 2012 00:08:08
As the conflict in Syria rages, the violence and chaos is finding expression among writers and musicians, including one hip-hop act from Damascus, write Samer Mohajer and Fay Rajput in Beirut.
"To be honest, I don't really like hip hop. I don't like the music."
My apparently unenthusiastic neighbour at a concert given by Syrian hip hop group LaTlateh in Beirut seemed to be in good company.
Crammed into a tiny, smoky concert hall, most of the unsmiling crowd was sitting at tables, and not a single person was dancing.
This was not a typical hip-hop concert.
A Western observer might put the limp atmosphere down to the fact that the culture of hip-hop is still fledgling in the Arab world, its development stunted by its incompatibility with some Arab regimes.
In fact, hip-hop has never been so popular in the Middle East.
Music and revolution have always gone hand-in-hand and the Arab Spring is no exception.
The Syrian uprising is providing optimum conditions for straight-talking rap to flourish, and one particular Syrian band, LaTlateh, are articulating the feelings of a nation.
"I don't like the music, but I like the words. I am Syrian. I feel the words. The lyrics really express my feelings. We aren't dancing because we are listening to the lyrics," my neighbour said.
LaTlateh is a Damascus-based three-piece hip-hop outfit comprising Al Sayyed Darwish, Watar and Abu Koulthoum. They perform alongside producer Dab Snakkr, whose music documents the day-to-day struggle of the Syrian uprising.
"The situation in Syria is what motivates us to write. How can we sit by and watch all the pain and suffering that is going on around us and not speak out?"
In the first few months of the revolution, so much of Syria's cultural elite left the country, either hounded by the regime or in search of better working conditions.
LaTlateh has garnered a huge following across the region because they remained in their base in Damascus, travelling between the embattled capital and Lebanon. They write lyrics about Syrians, for a Syrian audience.
The boys, along with a wider group of Arab musicians, are contributing peacefully to the popular uprising through a movement called The Third Line.
Of course there are always problems with cultural activities in Syria. The regime was afraid of cultural expression”
The Third Line advocates a third alternative to the existing pro- and anti-regime dichotomy, and aims to uphold the truth and serve Syria's national interests.
"Everybody has a view but there is hypocrisy on all sides. We are trying to find the truth. The third line is about breaking down divisions because each party is only benefiting from its own side," Dab Snakkr said.
The group want to promote freedom of expression and democracy and are against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Each member brings to the table his own interpretation of the situation in Syria, reflecting the conflicting opinions which exist in Syrian society.
The crisis in Syria has afforded LaTlateh a voice, but the group faced many obstacles before arriving at this point - and they are far from having overcome them all.
Al Sayyed Darwish's critique of early Arab hip-hop is nothing short of disparaging, and the group are keenly aware of the fact that real exposure for the Arab hip-hop scene has come with the revolution. Watar describes the pre-revolution hip-hop scene as weak.
Prior to the uprisings, trying to make music in Syria's political and financial climate was not easy.
"Our problems were pretty simple. There was simply no support. We did our first concert by paying for it ourselves," Watar says.
"We did other concerts with money from the US embassy and French cultural centre - but it was only really symbolic funding. Of course there are always problems with cultural activities in Syria. The regime was afraid of cultural expression," he adds.
The development of hip-hop in Syria has not just been limited by the political situation. Most Syrians' experience of rap has been through mainstream US or British artists, rapping about issues alien to most of Syrian society.
Buried at home, like a statue in a wall
I stretched out my hand waiting for sustenance and pleasure
I've become like a bird chained to the wall
Tomorrow when I travel and the homeland grows old, the new generation, the extinct generation, will understand that we really had no choice
I have a desire to walk naturally along my road
My name has become that of the free who remains incarcerated
Its ironic, the regime got stuck in a street called Syria
The atmosphere of the city is one of incurable faces
The sky is squeezed, but there will be no revolutionary rain without stones
We've started to bury the cities and soon Qatar's turn will come
And we've eaten so much death just so that you can stand on your feet again on Homs
But there are some aspects of rap which parallel oral traditions in the Middle East - from the 1,000-year old Levantine tradition of Zajal, semi-sung, semi-spoken poetry battles akin to modern day rap battles, to the revered oral story-telling tradition of the Hakawati.
The situation in Syria has forced Syrian hip-hop onto the international stage. Political oppression means they can no longer perform in Syria and now LaTlateh is forced to widen its audience and travels the Middle East to perform.
"Syrian music is no longer cut off from the world. We can now contribute as Syrians to the creative world in a way we couldn't before," explains Abu Koulthoum.
For Dab Snakkr so far the uprising has meant that LaTlateh can express itself in a way they hope can be preserved, whatever the future holds for Syria.
"The most important thing right now is to create a space for free expression - a freedom of expression that was stifled to the point that two or three years ago we could not even imagine that a revolution would even happen."
"Whatever happens - whether the regime falls or not - we need to create this space and enlarge it."
At 07:02:20 in SportEngland manager Roy Hodgson has given encouragement to Jonjo Shelvey and his Swansea City team-mates that they remain in contention for a call-up.
At 06:53:10 in WalesBarack Obama will become the first serving US president to visit Wales when he arrives in Newport for the Nato summit later.
At 06:51:24 in Northern IrelandHe demands a great performance, an exciting ear, a good pair of legs and, above all, likes a mesmerising mover. And there's not a pair of high-waisted trousers in sight!
At 06:45:31 in SportRobert Dunlop didn't get away with it. Not this time. So here he is, dying on the side of a road. Just like older brother Joey, eight years earlier. Local heroes - united by blood, glory on two wheels and the violence of their endings.
At 06:43:40 in Northern IrelandA man has been left shaken after a shooting incident at a house in Ballymoney in County Antrim on Tuesday evening.
At 06:35:30 in EnglandA new memorial is to be created in Guernsey to honour soldiers who lost their lives in World War One.
At 06:23:24 in Northern IrelandPat Gallagher is preparing to welcome visitors to Ireland, but he has no plans to dress up for the occasion.
At 06:17:57 in Northern IrelandThe Northern Ireland health minister, Edwin Poots, has given dire warnings about what could happen to services if his department does not get another £160m.
At 06:12:31 in Northern IrelandSecretary of State Theresa Villiers will give evidence later in front of MPs investigating the issuing of letters to "on the run" paramilitaries.
At 06:08:23 in Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland's health minister and chief medical officer are expected to appear before an emergency meeting of the health committee later.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Syria conflict finds a voice in hip-hop [Online] (Updated 4th Aug 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1444452/Syria-conflict-finds-a-voice-in-hip-hop [Accessed 3rd Sep 2014]
News In Other Categories
You may not realise it, but every time you open up your laptop or switch on your phone, you are at the heart of one of the greatest battles now taking place in our midst - what shape will the internet take in the future, and what role will anonymity play in deciding it?
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has urged both sides in the referendum debate to treat each other with respect.
The Toronto International Film Festival is set to kick off on Thursday - one of the largest and most prestigious events in the annual film festival calendar.
The mayor of the northern French city of Calais has threatened to block the port unless Britain does more to control the number of illegal migrants.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
A new memorial is to be created in Guernsey to honour soldiers who lost their lives in World War One.