Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Palestinian Hip-Hop

What do you know about the Palestinian hip-hop scene? Me either. Or at least I didn't before I decided to check out this recent documentary on the subject, Slingshot Hip Hop.

Slingshot Hip Hop spends most of its time with the first and most influential hip-hop acts to come out of Palestine, DAM (Da Arab MCs), but also manages to be a pretty definitive look at the entire movement there. We hear how they first discovered hip-hop and get to see some preserved footage of their awkward first attempts at recording an English language rap song in the 90's. And it follows their career as they meet Chuck D, perform illegal rap shows, freestyle, meet with and inspire new groups... it's really everything you could want in that regard.

But more important than just being the story of this crew who persevere in an unfriendly environment is the insight into what the hip-hop scene, and modern life in general is like in Palestine - both inside and out of the Israel controlled areas. Interviews are stopped by police because they're speaking Arabic in public, or because gunfire breaks out. One of the most moving moments is when a Palestinian rapper is being interviewed on the radio, and a caller asks if he'd met any international rap stars, and he says he's really just hoping to meet a fellow Palestinian rap group, who live just 15 miles away, but it's been impossible because they're not allowed to cross borders within their own country. At another point, DAM teach a couple aspiring rappers how to write a rhyme about a friend of theirs who was killed... after their performance, DAM hears that those kids were arrested and their trial won't be for at least a year.

How are they as rappers? It's a little hard to judge since they're not rhyming in English. Production doesn't seem to be their strong point, as they're mostly just rhyming over jacked beats. Their biggest single, "Meen Erhabi" ("Who's the Terrorist?") just uses the instrumental to Atmosphere's "If I Was Santa Claus." Though, to be fair, I checked out the end credits, and they do credit "Music by: Atmosphere" for that song.

But this isn't your typical hip-hop mini-doc that's really just a dressed up DAM showcase; it's a surprisingly deep exploration of these peoples' lives. The filmmakers must've spent a lot of time there, because they cover everything you could hope to see, from struggling artists showing you the very first hip-hop CDs they were able to purchase to putting on major concerts and television appearances. We talk to their families. And while the occupied people cannot cross borders (although we do follow a few people making illegal crosses and going through checkpoints), the filmmakers seemingly manage it, so we see everything from different sides including the outbreak of breaking and graf (especially poignant when you realize they're writing on the giant walls constructed to oppress and isolate them) movements in Gaza to the first female rap group. They must've spent years filming this, and it pays off - it's a surprisingly rich film.

This film's available on DVD - though unfortunately with no extras. A small update or what happened to the artists since the film finished, extra interviews, or even a music video might've been nice. It's not carried by many mainstream outlets (i.e. it's listed but unavailable from amazon), but you can order it direct from the film's official website, slingshothiphop.com or from Invincible's site, emergencemedia.org.

1 comment:

  1. Yea this was a good documentary. A couple of other good ones about foreign hip hop scenes are East of Havana (Cuba) and Ghosts of Cite Soleil (Haiti)