Underground ‘Electrosteen:’ merges ‘Palestinian folk music with a modern electronic sound’

Work on “Electrosteen” began in 2017 with a two-week residency in Ramallah, Palestine. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 January 2020

Underground ‘Electrosteen:’ merges ‘Palestinian folk music with a modern electronic sound’

  • New album blends traditional Palestinian music with electro sounds

CAIRO: New release “Electrosteen,” merges “Palestinian folk music with a modern electronic sound,” according to the press release from Mostakell Records, the Cairo-based independent label distributing the album.  

A play-on the words ‘Electronic’ and ‘Falasteen’ (Palestine), the record brings together some of the country’s finest underground electronic music producers and DJs in “a cooperative take on Palestinian folk, roots and traditional song, mined from the archives of the Popular Art Center of Ramallah to give birth to an urban contemporary celebration of Palestinian heritage.” 




A pre-launch concert for the album was held at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris last year. (AFP)

The album’s stellar line-up comprises ​SAMA’,​ J​ulmud​, A​l Nather,​ M​uqata’a​, S​arouna M.,​ Nasser Halahlih​, B​runo Cruz​, and Walaa Sbait​ (of 47 Soul), in addition to guest appearances by Basel Naouri​, M​ehdi Haddab​ (Speed Caravan), and S​habjdeed​. A pre-launch concert for the album was held at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris last year.

“The objective behind the album was to take our Palestinian turath (heritage) to electronic music festivals,” said album producer Rashid Abdelhamid, founder of Made in Palestine Project, an arts initiative “developing the appreciation of contemporary visual art and culture with a particular focus on Palestine,” according to its Facebook page.




Rashid Abdelhamid is the founder of Made in Palestine Project. (AFP)

Work on “Electrosteen” began in 2017 with a two-week residency in Ramallah, Palestine. Selected musicians were given access to an audio library owned by the Popular Art Center of Ramallah, and “collected from existing archives or recorded from professional and amateur urban, rural and Bedouin musicians,” according to the album description. 

“Recordings go back 20 or 30 years. They were spontaneous and were made in Palestinian villages,” Abdelhamid told Arab News. “The artists were asked to work together to produce two original tracks each.” 




A pre-launch concert for the album was held at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris last year. (AFP)

Those tracks, Abdelhamid said, are not simple “remixes” of folkloric samples. Rather, they are original productions that sampled those recordings. 

“It was completely up to the musicians which recordings they used or how they incorporated them into their music. They used samples and sounds to create their own tracks, in much the same manner as adding Palestinian spices to one’s own creations,” Abdelhamid explained. 

“The flavor of Palestinian turath remains very much present,” he added. 




A play-on the words ‘Electronic’ and ‘Falasteen’ (Palestine), the record brings together some of the country’s finest underground electronic music producers. (Supplied)

Each night, the group held listening sessions and shared feedback. “It was a very democratic process,” said Abdelhamid, adding that even the album title was chosen collaboratively.

“Electrosteen” introduces an “alternative vision of Palestine” and shines “a spotlight on Palestine's cultural vitality and relevance in the contemporary world.” 

In choosing electronic music, with its “universality and its political value,” the album “might very well play an important part in the struggle for a free and respected Palestine.”

“Electrosteen” should also make listeners rethink the Palestinian victimhood narrative, the press release suggests, and, with it, long-standing stereotypes that depicts Palestine and Palestinians solely “through the camera lens of war, occupation, in-fighting, and humanitarian strife.” 

“I’m sick of the current image of the Palestinian-as-victim,” Abdelhamid adds.  




In choosing electronic music, with its “universality and its political value,” the album “might very well play an important part in the struggle for a free and respected Palestine.” (Supplied)

It is not the politics that bothers Abdelhamid per se, because, “as Palestinians, waking up every day is, in and of itself, a political act. Everything we do in life is essentially political.” Rather, it is the abuse and appropriation of the Palestinian cause by art and artists that truly frustrates him. With “Electrosteen,” he said, “My main aim was to encourage the preservation and celebration of our Palestinian identity when performing electronic music in the West, and to introduce ourselves as musicians who have something to offer, instead of just ‘victims.’” 

And for the producer, at least, the record meets those aims. “I’m very happy with the end result. And I think ‘Electrosteen II’ might follow soon,” he said.  Although given his perpetual involvement in multiple new projects, it might not be easy for him to find the time.

“Whether it’s the production of films, music, or other art forms, in my own way I am constantly trying to shed light on anything beautiful in and about Palestine.” 


Saudi Arabia’s Dar Al-Qalam Complex puts Arabic calligraphy under global spotlight

Saudi Arabia’s renowned Dar Al-Qalam Complex is home to hundereds of samples of calligraphy work. (Arab News)
Updated 19 February 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Dar Al-Qalam Complex puts Arabic calligraphy under global spotlight

  • Go behind the scenes at Saudi Arabia’s renowned Dar Al-Qalam Complex as we celebrate the Year of Arabic Calligraphy

MADINAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture declared 2020 the Year of Arabic Calligraphy and the Madinah-based Dar Al-Qalam Complex has revealed plans to become an international institute granting certificates of competence in Arabic calligraphy.

Ali Al-Mutairi, head of the cultural activity department at the General Directorate of Education in Madinah and supervisor of the Dar Al-Qalam Complex, spoke to Arab News about the institution’s key activities and aims.

The Dar Al-Qalam Complex at night. (Supplied)

Madinah’s Dar Al-Qalam Complex has become a magnet for culture vultures with its art gallery, educational images and documentation unit, historical theater and Ethar center for scouting and volunteer services. But the undoubted gem of the institution is its renowned calligraphy center.

Supervisor Ali Al-Mutairi said that the director general of education, Nasser Al-Abdulkareem, planned to turn the complex into an international calligraphy center.

Madinah-based Dar Al-Qalam Complex has revealed plans to become an international institute granting certificates of competence in Arabic calligraphy. (Supplied)

“With the support of Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman, we at the education department have plans to develop the Arabic calligraphy center to make it an institute that grants scientific licentiates in Arabic calligraphy. To do this, we are planning to attract top Islamic calligraphers from all over the world,” Al-Mutairi added.

And attracting talent from across the globe should not be too much of a challenge, considering the complex’s history.

The complex features an art gallery, educational images and documentation unit, historical theater and more. (Supplied)

Exploring the Dar Al-Qalam Complex’s storied past

According to Al-Mutairi, the history of the Dar Al-Qalam Complex is closely linked to the Taibah Secondary School, one of the first schools of its kind in Saudi Arabia.

“Taibah school was founded in 1942, and students were later transferred to the Dar Al-Qalam building, which has been serving as the school’s new location since its inauguration by the late King Saud bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud in 1962,” he told Arab News.

Al-Mutairi pointed out the role played by Prince Faisal and his deputy governor, Prince Saud bin Khalid Al-Faisal, in the development of the complex.

The Dar Al-Qalam Complex is closely linked to the Taibah Secondary School, one of the first schools of its kind in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

“Prince Faisal inaugurated the complex in its current style in 2013 at a ceremony attended by the former minister of education at the time, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al-Saud.

“Since then, the Ministry of Education, represented by the General Directorate of Education in Madinah, has attached great importance, care and support to the complex, turning it into a beacon for science and education in the Madinah region,” he said.

Raising awareness about Madani calligraphy

Authorities in the region have also declared a special focus on local culture and art, with the Madinah Development Authority launching an initiative in August 2015 to preserve the homegrown Madani form of calligraphy.

Well-known calligrapher and supervisor of the Arabic calligraphy committee at the Madinah branch of the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts (SASCA), Bandar Al-Amri, said: “Historically, the Madani script is an extension of the Makki form of writing, which the Quraish tribe first used in Makkah.

The Madinah Development Authority launched an initiative in 2015 to preserve the homegrown Madani form of calligraphy. (Supplied)

“Nowadays, there are copies of the Holy Qur’an that were written in the Madani style. These copies are kept in many libraries and museums, such as the national library of France, in Paris, and the Berlin library.

“The Madinah region is rich in early Islamic inscriptions engraved on the rocks of its mountains and water stream banks. The inscriptions were found along the caravan ways that used to go through the city. What distinguishes these from other inscriptions is that most of them are for the people of Madinah or those who have settled here,” Al-Amri added.

The Madinah region is rich in early Islamic inscriptions engraved on the rocks of its mountains and water stream banks. (Supplied)

“These inscriptions are not limited to men, there are also inscriptions for women. Some of them include Qur’anic verses, prayers, notes, poems and news inscriptions, and those engraved in Madani fonts are found on the rocks of the valleys of the Madinah area.”

Read more about Arabic calligraphy’s Madani script here.

Training a new generation

One of the complex’s primary aims is to train a new generation of calligraphers in a bid to keep the art form alive and engage with talented calligraphers.

Head of the male student activity department at Madinah’s General Directorate of Education, Abdullah Al-Zahrani, told Arab News that the aim was “to introduce the beauty of Arabic calligraphy to our teachers and students of both genders.”

One of the complex’s primary aims is to train a new generation of calligraphers. (Supplied)

His counterpart in the female student activity department, Layla Al-Amri, said: “The specialized calligraphers, their workshops and fully equipped training halls, all help our female students improve their hand lettering.”

Bassam Al-Sa’idy, an eighth-grade student, said calligraphy works at his school had caught his eye from when he first learned to read.

“The handwriting of the Qur’an by Uthman Taha (Syrian calligrapher) also attracted my attention. I was determined to learn Arabic calligraphy.

Various copybooks of renowned calligraphers for different scripts are used as part of the center’s curriculum. (Supplied)

“My school organized a handwriting training course and I joined that course, after which we received an invitation to visit the Dar Al-Qalam Complex. They welcomed us, and me and my colleagues began to learn Ruq’ah script and the Nuskh scripts,” added Al-Sa’idy.

“So far, I have nearly mastered the scripts of Ruq’ah and Nuskh, and I will soon begin studying the Ottoman script so that I can make my dream of becoming a Qur’an calligrapher come true.”

Calligrapher Adel Barri said that various copybooks of renowned calligraphers for different scripts were used as part of the center’s curriculum.

"Our main goal is to make them acquire the skills of this art," says calligrapher Adel Barri. (Supplied)

“We use the copybooks of the prominent Iraqi calligrapher Mohammed Ezzat in teaching the Diwani script. We also use the copybooks of the Turkish calligrapher Mehmed Shevki Efendi to teach Nuskh and Thuluth scripts. These two names are references in their field,” Barri added.

“We are here ready to provide them (the center’s students) with everything they need for free. Our main goal is to make them acquire the skills of this art.”