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Global Ear: Ramallah

February 2019

Wire contributor Courtney Yusuf selects his favourite tracks from the current Palestinian hiphop scene

Twenty years ago, the hiphop trio DAM kickstarted the homegrown scene from the Palestinian ghetto of Lyd in Israel. Today, the centre of gravity has shifted to Ramallah, the de facto capital and site of the roaring live party captured in Boiler Room’s recent documentary Palestine Underground. The broad church of Palestinian hiphop is a sound as diverse as the lives and landscapes of its people, from hard hitting bars to jumped-up party tracks, sugary synths to twitching loops, split between the West Bank and Gaza, Israel, the region, and beyond.

DAM
“Meen Erhabi?”

The song that started it all. Capturing a generation in the wake of 9/11, this straight talking track offers a punchy retort to Islamophobia.

DAM
“Emta Njawzak Yamma”
From Ben Haana Wa Maana
(Cooking Vinyl)

This first single from new album Ben Haana Wa Maana tears apart the pressure to marry with a tabla beat. Carried on a parade of flutes and sirens, this is one for the dance floor.

Al Nather
“Abu Bakr”
(BLTNM)

A production wizard lying behind a great range of beats coming out of Ramallah, this stand-out track from Al Nather is made for bouncing. With sweeping strings, a trap beat, and an enchanting melody, just wait for the reload with that trademark Al-Nather “ugh”.

Muqata’a
“Marj Ibn Amer”
From Inkanakuntu
(Souk)

A building whirlwind of strings, tick-tocking, and faded samples, you can hear echoes of Berlin in this hypnotising track from the ‘Godfather' of the Ramallah scene.

Ramallah Underground
“970”

Formed of rappers and producers Boikutt (now Muqata'a), Stormtrap (now Asifeh), and Aswatt, this group laid the foundations for today’s thriving Ramallah scene.

Makimakkuk & Al Nather
“Suhbae”
From Ghara'
(BLTNM)

With a voice that can jump from folk to funky, Ramallah based vocalist, singer, and DJ Makimakkuk is one to watch. Vocals skate over a sweet synthesiser beat in this first track from new EP Ghara'.

Shadia Mansour
“El Keffiyeh Arabeyye” (feat. M-1 of Dead Prez)
(Shadia Mansour Music Group)

With strength in every syllable and a rousing refrain, Shadia Mansour from the UK diaspora flows over a big MTV Bass beat on the power of the Keffiyeh (the chequered black and white scarf that has come to symbolise Palestinian solidarity).

Straight Outta Palestine
“Feek Tekhtfi”

Inspired by the feeling of being alone in a crowd, this straight-talking track from up-and-coming Ramallah four piece Straight Outta Palestine is driven by guitar licks and the crash of a drum kit. Their new album, D. C: District C, is set to be released in July.

Maqdesi
“Parasite (‘Aleh)
From Khat Thaleth: Arab Rap In The Wake Of The Revolutions
(Mostakell)

Maqdesi’s gravelly tones build a tension over samples, scratches, and wooden drums – all carried on the mesmerising strum of an Oud. This track was released by Cairo based label Mostakell on Khat Thaleth: a compilation of sharp political critique and social commentary by hip hop artists from around the Arab world. Khat Thaleth or ‘Third Track’ refers to an alternative to the polarised political landscape, as well as the Ottoman-era Hijaz railway that once connected much of the region.

Shab Jdeed & Al Nather
“Shufni”
From JDEED VOLUME TWO
(BLTNM)

Best enjoyed at 4am, listen out for the hook ‘Shufni’ (‘See me’) as Shab Jdeed swings with swag over a tight bouncing trap beat. Don’t miss the his set from Ramallah’s 2018 Boiler Room broadcast.

El Far31 & El Rass
“Heaven Heaven (Janna Janna)”
From Idarat Al Tawahosh
(حاء ميم)

Dark distorted voices, dreamy chants, and industrial smacks create a powerful soundscape for the vocal punches of Amman-based El Far31 and Lebanese Al Rass.

Read Yusuf's full Global Ear report on Ramallah in The Wire 421. Subscribers can access the article via the digital archive.

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