Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Palestinian women make music: an interview with Ayeda Ayed


In these unfortunate times, the word “Palestinian” often conjure up a spectrum of negative associations, from terrorists age and suicide bombers to dispossessed victims and supplicants living in rubble and political violence.

Of course some of these are accurate descriptions but they do not tell the whole story. Palestinians are also a creative, talented people, proud of their heritage, determined to preserve their culture and to join the international music community.

Ayeda Ayed tells us the other story as she paints the landscape of Palestinian music history against which we can appreciate three of its leading women musicians today.

Displaced in 1948 to refugee camps in Jordan and West Bank, Ayeda’s parents came to Canada in 1965. She was born in Winnipeg, becoming politically active after the first intifada, vowing to show the world that ‘we Palestinians do have a heritage’.

A performer herself, she now directs event programming for Beit Zatoun, a cultural organization in Toronto.

As in most cultures, music plays a significant role in Palestinian daily life. Before 1948 and the creation of Israel, Palestine was a rural, agricultural society with music marking births, marriages, funerals, olive picking and other harvests.Urbanization and modernization along with the loss of agricultural lands threatened these music traditions but women, who had always played an active cultural role, now took upon themselves the urgent task of rescuing and revitalizing ancient songs.The Palestinian liberation struggle imbued music with a nationalistic flavor to which has been added a more artistic emphasis, recreating and modernizing the idea of what a Palestinian song is.

Poetry is the common thread that runs through Palestinian songs, whether the style is hip hop, ballads, rock, folk songs, lullabies, laments or classical Arab music. Palestinian songs stretch from the universal themes of love and death to love of the land, remembering by name political prisoners and children killed by violence along with the longings inherent in exile, isolation and dispossession of land and home.

“It’s difficult to be a Palestinian artist and not be political,” Ayeda says. For women musicians, feminism and self expression, the making of art in a patriarchal society further strengthens the politicization of today’s Palestinian music.


The musicians

Ayeda tells us why she chose these three Palestinian women musicians for our Tidings program:

Amal Murkhus sings “Diary of a Palestinian Wound” on her CD Shauq (Longing), with words by Mahmoud Darwish, including the famous and beloved line:

“My country is not a suitcase, I am not a traveler, I am the lover and the land is the beloved.”

Rim Banna sings “The Carmel of My Soul “ on her CD Mirrors of my Soul, a tender song about a prisoner in which she honors Mount Carmel in the Galillee as the soul of her soul. Palestinian poetry makes frequent references to places humanizing them or making them parts of one’s body, elevating both the person and the place.

Kamilya Jubran,whom Ayeda describes as ‘my favorite Palestinian artist’, for her modern, electronic edginess combined with rigorous, classical Arab sound. She was formerly a member of the group Sabreen. On her CD Wameedd, Kamilya sings “Ghareebah” (Stranger) the poetry of Khalil Gibran, expressing the melancholy of exile:

A stranger in this world..

A stranger/In estrangement there is cruel loneliness/And painful desolation/But it makes me forever think/Of a magical home I know not…

Ayeda concludes our interview: "This is a theme a lot of people talk about inside and outside of Palestine. Exile is not physical. Often my friends in Palestine who are inside Israel tell me they feel exile on the inside. They’re exiled inside.”

This interview on Tidings from Hazel Kahan was originally broadcast on WPKN radio on August 11, 2010. Tidings is produced by Tony Ernst.