Dad rock: Rediscovering one of Palestine’s first rock bands

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Al-Bara’em (The Blooms), one of Palestine's first rock & roll bands. (Image supplied)
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Al-Bara’em onstage in the 1970s. (Image supplied)
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Updated 04 May 2020

Dad rock: Rediscovering one of Palestine’s first rock bands

  • Sama’an Ashrawi is making a documentary about his father’s musical adventures in Al-Bara’em during the Sixties and Seventies

BEIRUT: “I was immediately fascinated with the image of my father fronting a band,” admits Sama’an Ashrawi, a young podcaster and director from Texas. “But I never thought there would be any recordings, and I wouldn’t find out for several years that there was original music.”

Ashrawi’s father Ibrahim and all but one of his aunts and uncles were founding members of Al-Bara’em (The Blooms), a cover-band-turned-psychedelic-rock-group that played to packed venues across Palestine during the 1960s and ’70s — a fact of which he was unaware for most of his life.

“At a family gathering — either Thanksgiving or Christmas — one of my uncles told me that recordings of the band existed,” says Ashrawi, who is perhaps best-known as the founder of The Nostalgia Mixtape podcast. “In that moment it became something very sacred to me. It was bigger than our family history; it became immediately clear that it was Palestinian cultural history. People needed to know about this.”




Al-Bara’em onstage in the 1970s. (Image supplied)

So Ashrawi has been on a journey of discovery — tracking down recordings and photographs, digging up old compositions, and rummaging through newspaper cuttings in a bid to find out as much information about the band as possible. Much of the material he has so far unearthed, including a letter from the UN asking the band to perform at its headquarters in Jerusalem, was discovered during his first trip to Palestine in April last year.

During that trip Ashrawi travelled across the West Bank with his uncle Emile, who still lives in Palestine and had heightened his nephew’s interest in Al-Bara’em by sharing old photographs. Together they visited roughly a dozen venues the band had once performed in, including a 900-seat theatre in Bethlehem, and uncovered photographs of a sold-out performance at the Jerusalem YMCA in December 1973.

“Walking around Ramallah, I felt at home in a way I’ve never felt in America, even though I was born and raised here,” admits Ashrawi, who also works as a music writer. “That trip was very soul-confirming to me. So many of us spend years searching for our true calling, and on that trip I fully realized that this project is one of mine. Just an incredible moment of self-actualization for me.”

Originally one of a handful of homegrown Palestinian rock & roll cover bands, Al-Bara’em’s line-up consisted of five of the six Ashrawi siblings: Alexandra (vocals), Emile (drums and vocals), Ibrahim (lead vocals), Samir (lead guitar and vocals), and Samira (vocals). The sixth sibling, Naifeh, was the eldest and was married before the band took off. A rotating line-up of friends, including Ayleen Rizeq, David Sa’adeh, Francois Farah and George Qurmuz, shared the stage, with the band eventually progressing to rock-infused covers of Fayrouz and ultimately to writing and producing their own songs in Arabic.

“The precise ‘when’ isn’t quite clear, but it was certainly after the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967,” says Ashrawi of the band’s switch to Arabic. “After Black September in 1970, it is my understanding that Al-Bara’em became fully committed to performing original Arabic compositions and were the first to do so. I think that dancing to The Monkees just wasn’t cutting it any more. As Nina Simone once said, ‘An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.’”

So, were Al-Bara’em political?

“Their lyrics were absolutely political,” replies Ashrawi. “But rather than chanting slogans, they preferred the imagery that poems conjured.”

Poetry looms large in the music of Al-Bara’em. The first song to be released, “Tareeq,” which hit Spotify and other streaming channels in January, was inspired by the poet Jibreel Al-Sheikh. The second, “Tha’er,” released in late April, sets Mahmoud Darwish’s “On Wishes” to a psychedelic rock & roll track.

“’Tha’er’ has an interesting history,” explains Ashrawi. “Samir and Emile were the main songwriters of the group. Samir left for the States around 1974, and, without either of them knowing, Samir and Emile both wrote music to the same poem. Emile wrote his version in a minor key — and we do have a live recording of Al-Bara’em performing Emile’s take, which will be released when the time is right — and Samir left for the States, writing his in a major key, and that version is the one you hear in this release. It’s so cool to know they both had the same idea without the other knowing. Another Palestinian band, Sabreen, put the same poem to music in the 1980s, albeit in a more traditional Arabic style.”

However, not all of the band’s songs were influenced by poetry. Some were entirely original, although no studio recordings of those songs exist. In fact, one of the only reasons Ashrawi has access to “Tareeq” and a handful of other songs is because Samir was able to record them in the US some time in the early 1980s.

“I like to compare their music to Eric Clapton’s band Cream because it’s poetry set to psychedelic rock & roll,” says Ashrawi, who was gifted the psychedelic-rock compilation “Waking Up Scheherazade” by his cousin at roughly the same time he first learned of his father’s band. “Just like Cream, Al-Bara’em understood the importance of the guitar solo and had epic movements in their songs. In other words, the songs aren’t just verse-chorus-verse-chorus, there’s a higher concept to their music that is absolutely fascinating to me. The difference between Cream and Al-Bara’em is that Al-Bara’em’s music was a window into their reality rather than an escape from it.”

Originally from Nazareth, Ashrawi’s grandparents had moved to West Jerusalem after their marriage but were forced to flee to East Jerusalem during the Nakba. It was there that Ashrawi’s father was born in a church basement. The family would remain in East Jerusalem, with the siblings also becoming founding members of one of Palestine’s first youth theater troupes, Al-Balalin.

What became of Al-Bara’em? The band remained active until 1976 but four of the six siblings would eventually emigrate, bringing Al-Bara’em’s contribution to Palestinian cultural life to an end. “It is sweet to dream about what they might have become had they not lived under occupation,” admits Ashrawi, who is also filming a documentary charting the band’s history and his own journey of discovery.

“There are also a number of original Al-Bara’em compositions that were never recorded because of the situation. My understanding is that many of the recordings on the compilation my cousin gifted me were made in Lebanon or Egypt, but because Palestinians lived under an illegal military occupation there simply was no record industry. We are hoping to raise enough money to hire young musicians to record their music, under the supervision of my uncles, and release those recordings as an album,” Ashrawi says. “I’m so grateful, mashallah, that all the members of the band are still alive, and that’s what makes it even more urgent to get the full story of the band out as soon as possible.”


Footwear designer Amina Muaddi celebrates ‘heavy-hearted birthday’

The celebrity-loved shoemaker celebrated her 34th birthday on Monday. (Instagram)
Updated 28 min 28 sec ago

Footwear designer Amina Muaddi celebrates ‘heavy-hearted birthday’

DUBAI: A birthday celebration during a pandemic and protests did not sound right for footwear designer Amina Muaddi. 

The celebrity-loved shoemaker, who is of half Jordanian and half Romanian descent but grew up in Italy, celebrated her 34th birthday on Monday.

It has been “the most heavy hearted birthday” of her life, she said on Instagram. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This has been the most heavy hearted Birthday of my life. 2020 is something else. From my personal struggles, to COVID, to the constant racial profiling of minorities, to the ruthless murder of George Floyd and the loss of so many other innocent black lives before his, my heart has been bleeding. I’m wondering what type of childhood trauma a man must have to become a racist scum who enjoys murdering an innocent black man on camera?! I’m thinking about the disturbed phobias his family must have instilled in him in order to create such a sadic murderer. These issues are rooted in our childhoods. It’s good to see the greatest social media activation bringing awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement, but it’s important to remember that this is not a trending topic. Racism is deeply rooted, instilled and spread from generation to generation. Changing a long term racist mentality would take too long and we simply can’t afford the time. This is where the anger comes from. Make sure you don’t raise new racists. Make sure you analyze properly the psyche of a cop before you admit him into your institutions, where some of these murderers masked as policemen are legally allowed to kill. Make sure you are not scared of the unknown. Ignorance is the only thing you have to fear. The darker the skin, the higher the level of racism experienced. George Floyd, I dedicate these beautiful flowers to you and to the countless other victims that came before you. Thank you for the wonderful wishes and for filling my Birthday with love even if I didn’t want to celebrate it this year. They moved me deep & helped my soul.

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“From my personal struggles, to COVID, to the constant racial profiling of minorities, to the ruthless murder of George Floyd and the loss of so many other innocent black lives before his, my heart has been bleeding,” Muaddi wrote captioning a picture of flower bouquets around her house.

The designer went on to express her frustration towards the killing of African-American citizen George Floyd, who died last week at the hands of US police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

“Racism is deeply rooted, instilled and spread from generation to generation. Changing a long term racist mentality would take too long and we simply can’t afford the time. This is where the anger comes from,” Muaddi explained to her 468,000 followers.

By the end of her heartfelt message she wrote: “George Floyd, I dedicate these beautiful flowers to you and to the countless other victims that came before you.” 

The current situation, however, did not stop influencers around the world from sending Muaddi their warm wishes. 

Lebanese influencer Lana El-Sahely and Egyptian-Moroccan-Dutch model Imaan Hammam commented on her post with sweet birthday messages. 

Lebanese-Australian model Jessica Kahawaty took to her Instagram story to post a picture with the designer to celebrate her special day.

“Thank you for the wonderful wishes and for filling my birthday with love even if I didn’t want to celebrate it this year. They moved me deep and helped my soul,” the designer responded. 

Muaddi launched her eponymous footwear line, famous for the signature flared heels in August 2018. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

@kyliejenner poses in her Begum slingback in bright pink silk satin. #AminaMuaddi #AminasLadies #KylieJenner

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Her label’s lineup of distinct pumps, sling-backs, mules, boots and sandals in an array of vibrant colors and holographic designs have since garnered a loyal checklist of famous fans, including Dua Lipa, Gigi Hadid, Kylie Jenner, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin Bieber.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

@badgalriri posing in her BEGUM glass slingback pumps. #AminasLadies #rihanna #AminaMuaddiSS19 #AminaMuaddi

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