ABU DIS, Nov 24 (JMCC) - Dressed in kuffiyahs and army khaki, the members of the Palestinian music group al-Ashekeen raise impassioned cheers from the crowd. “I have seen the Palestinian knight,” they sing. “They [the enemy] will never win!”
This is the first time the band has played in the occupied Palestinian territories
, but everyone in the audience knows the words.
Al-Ashekeen was formed by Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon. Famed since the 1980s, they have for the last ten days toured the Palestinian territories, their trip supported by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
and Abu Dis
, thousands came to the concerts to hear the band that for so many enshrine the ideals of Palestinian resistance.
RESISTANCE & HOPE
In the semi-circular amphitheatre at the West Bank town of Abu Dis, the whole crowd sings with the performers. Abu Dis, pressed up against the Wall Israel
has constructed in the West Bank, is the closest the band can get to Jerusalem.
An elderly woman in traditional hand-stitched Palestinian dress sways to the music. A five-year-old boy, young hands clasped together, bobs, mouthing the words: “The revolution of revolutions”.
Crowds of young men and women stand in ovation, singing earnestly, drawing the air from the bottom of their lungs.
“They are the red spirit of struggle in Palestine,” says Nasser Abu Khadder shaking his fist for emphasis, shouting over the crowd. He is a political science professor at Al-Quds University. “Our people still want to be free. To kick out the occupation!”
“This group reflects the struggle of the Palestinian people,” says Abu Khadder. “It contradicts everything people say about Palestinian loss of hope, about giving up.”
THE BEATLES OF PALESTINE
Al-Asheqeen was founded in 1977 in Damascus by the prominent composer Hussein Nazek and lyricist Ahmad Dahbour. Their songs narrated the struggle of the Palestinian people following the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe” when Israel was created and over 700,000 Palestinians were made refugees.
The lyrics incorporated the lines of famous Palestinian poets such as Mahmoud Darwish, and the music is inspired by traditional Palestinian sounds.
This combination struck chords with Palestinians around the world. They performed across the globe – in Canada, Greece, the USA, the UK and many Arab capitals.
“I have been in the United States for 30 years, but I know all the songs. I left when I was 17 but I know them all,” says a man at the concert, “They are the Beatles of Palestine!”
Al-Ashakeen quickly became known as the band of the Palestinian Liberation Organization
. “They were political leader Yasser Arafat
’s band,” says one crowd member.
After a string of upbeat tunes, the mood in Abu Dis darkens. The song “From Akka Prison” speaks of three Palestinians who were hung in 1933 during the British Mandate period.
“This is a religious rhythm,” says Abu Khadder of the music’s beat. “They combine religiosity with nationalism.”
Only one band member, Abu Ali, remains of al-Ashakeen’s founding members.
The band disintegrated in the late eighties alongside internal divisions in the PLO and a deteriorating political situation, remaining silent for nearly 25 years.
Today, the group of 33 dancers, singers, musicians and songwriters is largely comprised of Palestinians and Arabs living in London.
The new group brings with it a new style. Classical songs are still sung by popular demand, but the band’s image is less one of revolution than of maintaining cultural tradition and promoting peace.
“We are working on making a new look,” says singer and songwriter Nizzar al-Issa. “We want to transfer the message to the world that we look for peace.”
Mohammed Diab, from Safed refugee camp in Syria, has been singing with al-Ashekeen since he was 18 years old.
“We are not advocating violence in our songs,” says Diab. “I love life, and my people love life, and we have to resist to stay alive.”