As the Middle East continues to shift in terms of dynamics and politics, the music scene in Gaza remains stagnant.
There are a lack of break out artists in Gaza and female musicians are even more scarce, explains Hamada Nasrallah, lead singer of SOL Band.
As a singer, Hamada feels the region is not keeping up to pace with the rest of the world in the contemporary music scene.
Traditions and religious limitations are hindering progress in this field, Hamada believes, adding they are false religious concepts and traditions that are limiting and narrowing development and reinforcing the taboo around women participating in the industry.
“Some religious scholars regard music as trivial or even haram [prohibited] unless it relates to Palestine or Islam,” he tells MEMO. As a result, Hamada was unable to take singing or vocal lessons in the Strip.
SOL Band is one of the first Palestinian music groups who formed eight years ago and has since gained great popularity in the besieged Palestinian territory.
Along with his bandmates, who are all childhood friends, Hamada began playing traditional Palestinian songs and making covers to build a profile for himself after studying a series of YouTube videos to learn about music. YouTube also helped them learn to play the guitar, bass and keyboard.
The five-member troupe now creates both modern and traditional Arabic music with a style and formation which is visibly Western. This has earned them tens of thousands of followers and fans on social media.
And in another break from tradition, SOL Band includes a female member, Rahaf, in what some have claimed is a “big controversary”.
“We write and compose our own music that people of all ages can listen to and enjoy, to make it unique we mix house music with trap music using Palestinian lyrics,” explains Hamada.
Our last few songs have been about our love for Gaza despite the difficulties of the siege, it’s what’s made us strong through difficult experiences.
“We mainly sing Palestinian songs about peace and love,” said Hamada.
SOL Band recently recorded a TV show based in Turkey called “Falastini Clip” made up of 30 episodes discussing the traditional Palestinian songs.
“In the show, we teach the audience about all the traditional Palestinian songs, and sing it in our way with modern hits.”
“In every episode, we used to go out to nice and famous places in the Gaza city to show the beauty and hopeful spirits of Gaza, the show was broadcasted a month ago and it’s gained tens of thousands of views on social media and YouTube.”
The show has, however, attracted unwanted attention to Rafah, with a scholar in Gaza issuing a fatwa (religious edict) against the group because it includes a female member who isn’t in a hijab.
The fatwa, published on Facebook, called on authorities to ban the group and caused widespread debate on social media. It was denounced as possible hate speech by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and has left Rahaf living in fear of attack.
“Do you know how dangerous this is for us? Many people are following this man and listening to his fatwas. We are dealing with NGOs and international institutions on how to deal with this incident because Rahaf can’t even leave her house to go school in case she bumps into someone who may beat or punish her.”
As a result of the controversy, all the band members have moved to Turkey early last month. Rahaf, however, remains in Gaza but hopes to join them once she finishes high school.
“It’s also why we can’t go back to Gaza, it’s too dangerous for us.”
Despite being surrounded by a largely traditional and conservative Palestinian community, Hamada’s family has been “open-minded and supportive” from the onset and provided numerous ways for the band to keep producing music.
The Israeli siege on Gaza has also hindered the band as it has led to youth unemployment rising to more than 70 per cent, the healthcare system to collapse, and a society in which the majority of water is not fit for drinking and power cuts seem endless. As a result, many have been forced out of the enclave.
“In Gaza, there are not a lot of institutions that care about musicians or artists, and it’s very hard to start, but my team, we believe in our dream and believe we should persevere through any hard situations.
“The traditions are very strict which are hard to change because they think traditions as religion, it’s one of the reasons that caused us to leave Gaza.”
Performing live and realising “how big our audience” is has always been a Hamada’s dream. Taking part in the Palestine Music Expo (PMX) in occupied Ramallah in April last year allowed him to live this dream and it “was the best day of my life”.
“Taking part in PMX was the best day of my life, it was also my birthday, Abed Hathout who works with the PMX team in Ramallah, called me and said I need to be at the Erez crossing in an hour, I panicked because it’s so hard for guys under 40 to go by Erez crossing and receive the permits.”
“But it all worked out on the second day of the PMX, and it was amazing. It was that day we realised how big our audience was while we were performing on the big stage as we always dreamed. One of the best parts was watching our supporters dance to our music.”
We were the voice of Gaza singing for our war-torn homes.
“We will not go back to Gaza, there aren’t any ways to go back. I love Gaza but the siege is making it very hard, we need time to gather our thoughts because we were too confused and depressed.”
“I don’t know where we’ll be going yet, we’re still looking for a place where we can stay and feel safe here in Istanbul. We don’t even have a single instrument yet, so we’re trying to find someone who can support us with an instrument to play and get started.”
“You can say we ran away to chase after our dreams, in our dreams we’re singing for Gaza and waving the Palestinian flag.”