Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Cultures of Resistance in Palestine and Beyond: On the Politics of Art, Aesthetics, and Affect

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Cultures of Resistance in Palestine and Beyond: On the Politics of Art, Aesthetics, and Affect

Article excerpt

Traditional music must remain; it is a base and we listen to it. But the logic of our music is different. Traditional music is to show the identity of the people, their huwiya, but that is not the intention of our music. Our music is to show the problems of a people and how to get rid of them... Rap is poetry that is sung in a specific way. It's poetry. It is the music of change.

Katiba 5, Shatila, Beirut, 20111

In the broad sense, I speak of an "aesthetic of the political," to indicate that politics is first of all a battle about perceptible/sensible material.

Jacques Rancière, 2000 2

Katiba 5 is a Palestinian hip-hop band of young Palestinian refugees, together with Lebanese friends and second generation French-Syrians living in Europe. They meet in a smoky little room with walls covered with resistance graffiti, and floors strewn with musical instruments, on the outskirts of Shatila camp in Lebanon. Katiba 5 is one of the many art experiences of refugee youth in Lebanon that signal a radical shift in the relationship between culture and resistance in the Palestinian landscape. These young artists partake in the emergence of a counter or subculture that is at once local and transna- tional. They speak through a global genre, hip-hop, to express their anger at political and social predicaments in Lebanon and beyond, but they display no neat ideology or political project. Rather, they state that they compose rap by integrating the plurality of their views. This is one of the ways that they deviate from previous and more conventional nationalist genres that they perceive as "traditional," to quote a band member.

Palestinian cultural production historically echoed and shaped a national identity struggling to survive.5 Both Palestinian resistance and its cultural production have a long history, as Maha Nassar notes in this special issue of the journal. Yet, with the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964, much Palestinian art became more systematically a platform for the nationalist resistance movement. The PLO's revolutionary 1960s and 1970s period saw the birth of what many now consider highlights of "classical" Palestinian art forms, such as Ghassan Kanafani's literature, Mahmoud Darwish's poems, and Suleiman Mansour's paintings. These works voiced the nationalist aspirations of the Palestinian people, and often endeavored to depict their trauma of refugeehood and exile. The 1993 Oslo accords and the subsequent period of supposed state and "peace" building, however, signaled the emergence of a new political era. The Palestinian Authority (PA) had a contradictory double position: it sponsored "resistance culture," on the one hand, and "normalized" the very occupying power that was being resisted, on the other. This new scenario had broad implications for Palestinian cultures of resistance, their forms, and the politics they conveyed.

As our own interviews with young Palestinian artists in Lebanon, as well as other research, have highlighted,6 post-Oslo Palestinian art had now to engage with a matrix of intersecting forms of control, as exercised by, first and foremost, Israeli occupation forces, but also the PA, the refugees' host states, humanitarianism, and neoliberal economic forces. In parallel, Palestinian artists engaged in an ongoing process of experimenting with new languages, symbols, and aesthetics. When we asked members of Katiba 5 how the outputs of their band compare to previous "classic" Palestinian resistance genres, such as the early writings of the late Mahmoud Darwish, the answers were revealing: "[Rap music] allowed the nationalist songs to evolve; [it is] a new modified form of nationalist music. [But] it's the same themes of suffering."7 Another member of the band vehemently expressed the specificity of Katiba 5's rap: "[I]t relies on words [haki], we talk about socio-political issues, about youth [shabab] like us, about Palestinians living in Lebanon. …

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