In nature there is a barrier where saltwater and freshwater meet but do not mix — in Arabic, this is called a barzakh. By hosting the Barzakh Festival, the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center showcases artists who allow different musical genres or identities to meet while remaining faithful to their roots and not diluting any of the streams.
This year, one of the bands performing at Barzakh Festival was 47SOUL, an Electric Arabic dabke band formed by musicians of Palestinian origin who are currently based in the UK. The group consists of Tareq Abu Kwaik (known as El Far’i), Walaa Sbeit, Hamza Arnaout and Ramzy Suleiman (known as Z the People). As part of the Arts Center’s commitment to integrate visiting artists into the NYUAD community beyond their onstage performances, a lunch discussion was held between Students for Justice in Palestine, a Student Interest Group on campus, and the band members.
While enjoying Arabic food for lunch and knafeh for dessert, members of SJP had a candid discussion with the band members about the deeper meanings and implications of the topics the band deals with through their musical journey and lyrics. As a SIG whose mission is to raise awareness and spread knowledge about Palestine, it was a valuable experience to hear the band members’ perspectives.
Being members of an incredibly diverse campus which hosts people from many different backgrounds and levels of knowledge surrounding Palestine, we are often faced with the challenge of deciding how to best articulate the cause to reach the widest audience while remaining true to it.
Having been frequently interviewed by and performed for international audiences, the members of 47SOUL shared their insights on how they think the topic should be approached in different contexts. This discussion spanned different narratives including, but not limited to, those pertaining to human rights, politics and theology.
The band shared with us how their different backgrounds and upbringings have shaped their experiences and how they connect with what is happening in their homeland. This particularly resonated with the Palestinian students present, whose backgrounds are similarly very different. Matilde Handal, Class of 2021, spoke about her experience as a Bolivian of Palestinian descent, which led the conversation to a discussion on maintaining identities and the presence of information gaps across the diaspora. Since the band members hold different passports, each with its own complications, the discussion explored how visas and borders affect freedom of movement and spreading the band’s art. This is a topic they previously highlighted in one of their songs, Everyland.
We often get to know artists’ views through their songs or interviews, but the discussion provided us with the opportunity to become a part of the conversation ourselves and to better understand art as a medium to facilitate important discussions on politics and identity. The lunch discussion provided us with the atmosphere to reflect and converse about important topics, and the experience of discussing those topics outside of our own group was particularly meaningful.
The next day, we got to see a different side to 47SOUL as they took the stage in the sold-out Red Theater and filled it with incredible music, energy and spirit. Dania Odeh, Class of 2020, a Palestinian student who has always lived in the UAE and attended both the lunch discussion and the concert, described feeling elated.
“Each of the band members was giving it their all on that stage, and I was uplifted. Myself and everyone around me were chanting along [to the] lyrics with so much energy and passion, waving around our kaffiyehs to the beats that reminded us of home. It was both very emotional and ecstatic. Personally, the words were coming straight out of my heart, and it was there and then that I felt closest to Palestine,” said Odeh.
Through both the discussion and the concert, 47SOUL reminded us that it is possible to have fun, enjoy art and feel happiness while still remaining constantly conscious of the principles and causes which matter to us.
Alia ElKattan is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.