BELGRADE: “Few ask the right questions about Palestine, yet they are answered time and time again,” reads the resolute statement in the liner notes of a new compilation album from Ma3azef — the Arabic-language online music magazine that has been picking up steam across the region and beyond over the past decade.
“When your very existence is disputed, negated and denied, you don't learn the answers, you know them […] We offer a sonic tale of occupation, colonial violence and resistance in the face of an attempt to erase a land, a people, a history and a future,” the compilation’s curators declare.
Earlier this summer, as Israel relentlessly bombarded the Gaza Strip, the Ma3azef collective decided to try and help in the most effective way they knew.
“It’s Not Complicated” is a 19-track anthology of both established and upcoming regional underground talent, as well as international heavy-hitters, of whom the most distinguished is Brian Eno, the inimitable English composer, musician, producer and visual artist. The title itself serves as a direct challenge to the often-heard narrative that states there are no easy solutions to what is widely portrayed as a ‘conflict,’ and often implies that both sides share equal responsibility for the decades of oppression, violence and disenfranchisement that Palestinians have suffered.
For Rami Abadir — musician, composer, producer, sound engineer, Ma3azef writer, and curator of the compilation — it’s all much simpler than people like to admit. “In media, academia, and other circles, we always hear about the decolonization of music, of literature. OK. But what about the actual decolonization of Palestine?” he asks. “We want to say that there is no skirting around the issue by calling it too hard to address. It’s not complicated and it never has been.”
Abadir, an accomplished electronic music experimentalist and performer in his own right, has been involved with Ma3azef as a writer since 2013, and then as an editor from the summer of 2018. He labels it “a very important, one-of-a-kind platform that supports both regional and internationals artists from a very wide spectrum of musical styles and genres.”
Aside from its specialized music journalism, artist release premieres and Ma3azef Radio, which have been the primary drivers of the platform’s increasing popularity, Abadir says that compilations have been a natural step forward for the webzine. The first came after the Beirut Port explosion last year. “We were sad and frustrated about what happened and didn’t know what to do,” Abadir explains.
Enter Heba Kadry, the prolific, New York-based mastering engineer whose production portfolio is a diverse, star-studded roster of renowned international indie, alternative and experimental rock acts – including Björk, Garbage, The Black Lips, The Mars Volta, Slowdive and Beach House. Ma3azef had been covering her work with artists from across the Arab world for years when she reached out with an ambitious project last year.
“The Beirut explosion was horrific, but I was also mortified by the fact that an entire music industry was decimated,” Kadry recalls. “I put myself in their shoes; in the Arab world, artists are on the lower end of the totem pole when it comes to any relief efforts. I felt like something needed to be done.”
The result was “Nisf Madeena”, a delightfully varied compilation that Kadry calls “such an incredible showcase of underground, experimental talent from all over the Middle East.” It raised funds for both on-ground relief work and for Beirut’s devastated artistic community. “I was very proud of what we accomplished,” she says.
As tensions in the Occupied Territories and Gaza escalated in May, Ma3azef got back in touch with Kadry. “As a pan-Arab magazine, we believe in this cause,” emphasizes Abadir. “So, we started reaching out to artists we know are supportive of it too, and all of them were very eager to contribute.”
“I’m a believer that music is political and a very strong form of protest,” adds Kadry. “It crosses boundaries and genres, hearts and minds.
“Being silent wasn’t an option,” she says decisively. “The lyrical content of this compilation is dark, very zoned in on the issue. Even the overall tone — it’s heavy, distorted, sonically appropriate. It’s an emotive button, a musical projection of how we’re feeling. And we’re angry, we’re boiling from the inside.”
All proceeds from the compilation will go to Medical Aid for Palestine and Grassroots Al-Quds. But Kadry also recommends “It’s Not Complicated” as a great resource for those interested in music that is genuinely pushing the artistic envelope in the region. “I always get people asking me about the experimental underground artists from our part of the world that they should be listening to — this compilation is basically it.”
Will she collaborate with Ma3azef again? “I sure hope so,” she says enthusiastically. “I think we’ve put our fingers on something unique.”