Gazan rapper Ayman Mghamis explains how learning hip hop has empowered young people to speak out about their life behind the blockade.
As you may know, hip hop is new to Palestine, but it’s a big movement. It came to Gaza in 2002 when PR – the Palestinian Rapperz – started the first hip hop crew in the Gaza Strip.
Since then, we’ve participated in different workshops and documentaries including Slingshot Hip Hop, for the director Jackie Salloum, and Checkpoint Rock for the Spanish artist Fermine Merguza. We’ve performed in and out of Gaza – from other Palestinian cities to even further afield, in Ireland, the United States, Egypt, and Dubai.
For us, music is not just about enjoyment and expression; it’s also a way to educate people. Since PR started doing hip hop, we’ve given a lot of workshops to try and show the Gazan community how hip hop has been used so powerfully against violence and racism. We’ve always tried to work with young people here, inspiring them to express themselves without using violence.
Recently, the Danish Centre for Culture and Development sponsored a project called the Social Arts Centre, or SAC. Hip hop is a main part of it. The project, which I’m coordinating, aims to give young people in Gaza the confidence to express themselves and participate in the community by using different kinds of art.
As well as activities associated with hip hop, such as rap and breakdancing, we will also have dabka (the traditional Palestinian dance), photography, and more. And we’ll be organising visits by professional artists who will come from outside Gaza to talk about their experiences and how they invest their talents in their communities in order to seek the goals we all hope for, like peace and justice.
There will also be a dedicated hip hop school in the SAC, with professional rappers in Gaza teaching rap skills to their students. The idea behind the hip hop school was to help young people – who are so frustrated by the political situation in Gaza – to raise their voices.
Young people in Gaza have a lot to say about the blockade that has cut Gaza off from the outside world for the last four years; they have a lot to say about life under the Israeli occupation. I hope we can help them raise their voices and say it to the world.
Ayman Jamal Mghamis is Project Coordinator at the Social Arts Centre (SAC) in Gaza. He is also a member of the Gaza Strip’s first hip hop group, the Palestinan Rapperz. The group has appeared in several documentary films and performed in the US, Ireland, Egypt and Dubai, as well as other Palestinian cities in Gaza and the West Bank.