Musical truth: Palestinian singer Maysa Daw blends the personal with the political

Maysa Daw is making a name for herself. (Photo courtesy: Tarek Zenati)
Updated 18 September 2018
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Musical truth: Palestinian singer Maysa Daw blends the personal with the political

  • Maysa Daw is a young Palestinian singer
  • A guitar-driven singer-songwriter, Daw is a bundle of indie energy

DUBAI: Maysa Daw is a hard person to pin down. The young Palestinian singer has been busy dashing from gig to gig, completing an album and preparing to participate in a musical collaboration called the Basel-Ramallah Project, which is due to take place in Switzerland on Oct. 6. When we meet, she is in Chicago, about to go on stage at Palipalooza.

“We’ve been working on our solo show and I’m trying to write a few new songs but time isn’t exactly on my side at the moment,” she said with a laugh. “But writing always comes in-between things, you know. I’m always having these new ideas and I write them down, or new melodies and I write them down. At some point I’ll just gather them together and a lot of things will come from there.”

A guitar-driven singer-songwriter, Daw is a bundle of indie energy. Her live performances are raw and honest, her music a primarily personal reaction to the world around her. As a Palestinian living inside the Green Line, this can sometimes mean a world of conflict and complication.

“I always write about what I’m experiencing, what I’m feeling, or the anger that I’m feeling,” said Daw, whose debut album “Between City Walls” was written while she was living in Jaffa.



“It was a very different world for me. I grew up in Haifa, which is a lot more chill, a lot more relaxed, and suddenly I move to Jaffa and study in Tel Aviv, and everything was so intense. Everything was so new. It produced a lot of stuff. Love songs, break-up songs — political songs, too.

“There’s also one of my favorite songs, “Crazy.” I was so frustrated when I started writing this song. I was thinking of so many things at the time and I just wrote everything down. It’s exactly the way I was feeling, the things that I was asking myself. It talks about religion, it talks about death, it talks about politics — it talks about a lot of things.”

“Between City Walls,” which was released in June last year, may be indie in its sensibilities but its eight songs embrace a variety of sounds, not all of which are musical. Alongside samples of classical Arabic songs and Spanish guitar there are bursts of radio static and live voice recordings of people in the West Bank. As such, reproducing the album on stage, with drummer Issa Khoury and bassist Shadi Awidat, has not been easy.

“We’ve been trying to put material for a five-piece band into a three-piece band,” said Daw. “As such, we’ve been using more electronics and it’s been a very interesting challenge for us. But it’s got us to a place that I’m definitely very happy with.”

Daw is very much a product of Haifa. Born into an artistic family — her father is the actor Salim Dau — she immersed herself in the city’s independent Arabic-music scene, performing at venues such as Kabareet and collaborating with Ministry of Dub-Key, a Galilean group that fuses the sounds of hip-hop and dancehall with traditional Palestinian dabke.

She also recently finished recording an album with Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, who she joined about five years ago. Due to be released early next year, the as-yet-untitled album is her first full-length collaboration with the group. Prior to this, Daw and DAM recorded two tracks together, including the feminism-infused “Who You Are.”

Although Daw’s work gravitates toward the personal, much of it also can be viewed as intrinsically political. The song “Come with Me,” for example, is about two lovers kept apart by the separation wall, while “Radio” features the voices of refugees living in the West Bank. In snippets of their conversations you can hear them talking about the wall, the effects it has on their lives and their desire to tear it down.

“I do talk about politics but only because it’s a big part of my life, whether I want it to be or not. And believe me, I don’t,” she said. “But it is a part of my life.

“I started loving music way before I even understood what politics is. I only wanted to make music but with time I understood more about the responsibility that I could accept to have.”

She paused and corrected herself: “Not exactly a responsibility but a sort of a privilege. I have this voice that I can use and it has the potential to reach a lot of people. It made me realize that I can use this to talk about things that many other people can’t talk about.”

Daw once said that despite the perceived mundanity of everyday events, “everything we do here as Arabs is connected to politics.” As such, there is a vein of resistance running through much of her work. She sings of love under occupation, equality, society and religion, with freedom the ultimate objective.

“A lot of the time I write for the purpose of trying to tell somebody something, or trying to express my opinion about something,” she said. “And sometimes I just feel this thing that’s blocking me, that I need to release in any way, and my way of releasing it is through music.

“Sometimes I release something just for myself. I write it, I turn it into a song and I don’t release it to the world, because sometimes some things are too private. I still do it, I still work on a song and I still do it in a way that I absolutely love the song, yet it will never be heard by anybody else.”

One song on her debut album is sung in English, titled “Live Free.”

“You know, when I started making music and writing my own songs I started writing in English,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable doing it in Arabic. And at some point I realized that it was a little bit strange for me, because the whole personality of a person changes when you change language.

“I wanted to start writing in Arabic to see what it would bring, and it brought a very new side of me that I didn’t know. Everything was different: the melodies, the type of words I used, how I built sentences — something just clicked. Arabic feels a lot more like home when writing music.”


Saudi treasures at Louvre Abu Dhabi dazzle visitors

The exhibition helps to spread cultural knowledge among visitors about the glorious past of the region. (Photos/SPA)
Updated 17 December 2018
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Saudi treasures at Louvre Abu Dhabi dazzle visitors

  • The event reflects image of distant past from the heart of a country that preserves the spirit of ancient civilization

JEDDAH: The Roads of Arabia exhibition at the Louvre Museum Abu Dhabi has proved a big attraction for visitors of various nationalities. Subtitled Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, it carries important information about the history and civilizations of the Kingdom and the Arabian Peninsula.
Visitors expressed their pride that the exhibition confirms the Kingdom’s special place in the field of archaeology, in both the discovery of these treasures and the way they are preserved.
“The exhibition represents the ancient desert memory when trade was the lifeblood of the world. The Arab trade route through the region was one of the world’s most famous routes at the time,” said former Director General of the French National Museums Pierre-Francois Zemmour.
A similar exhibition titled Treasures of Saudi Arabia was held in the Paris Louvre in 2010 and achieved great popularity in Europe, according to Zemmour.
“The exhibition hosted by Louvre Abu Dhabi this year displays 466 artifacts from the Arabian peninsula, the land of the Hijaz and the Arabian Kingdom of Kindah in 200BC,” he added.
“This is a cultural and historical event of great importance which is attracting the attention of thousands of people around the world. It shows the authentic lifestyle of these ancient peoples, who were interested in riding, breeding falcons and hunting, as well as in the protection and organization of commercial convoys,” Zemmour said.
“What is distinctive about the exhibition is that the museum reflects the image of the distant past from the heart of a country that still preserves the spirit of ancient civilization and lives on the spirit of authenticity in a contemporary form.”
Simone Garaudy, a researcher at the National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage in Paris, said that Western and Arab archaeological missions have discovered thousands of important sites in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain over the past 10 years. “These discoveries are very important for the history of humanity. It is great to see that the UAE is particularly interested in national museums which represent the memory of the region and preserve the history of the Gulf region and the civilization of the Arabian Desert for the present and future generations,” said Garaudy.
Garaudy said that the Louvre Abu Dhabi displays the great value of the past using the latest techniques of presentation, preservation and storage. “This is very important because it makes it easy for millions of people around the world to follow the exhibitions, which present Arab history to the world,” she added.
Jean de Cornies, an artist and a member of the board of trustees of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, said that the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum has a collection of thousands of artifacts that reflect Arab lifestyle through the ages, collected from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Oman.
“The Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi works with its counterparts in other Arab countries and around the world, making the Louvre Abu Dhabi a integrated historical memory that reflects a long history of the Arabs.”
Indian researcher Alimuddin said: “I can see sculptures from the Stone Age and artifacts that are tens of thousands of years old, and this makes us rethink many ideas and wonder how these pieces have been preserved, despite the difficult environmental conditions in the region.”
Kabra, a visitor, stressed the importance of viewing this great heritage, noting that she did not know much about the heritage of the Arabian Peninsula, and that holding such exhibitions helps to spread cultural knowledge among the people.