‘A Trip Through Time': Missing Palestinian Revolutionary Music Gets Restored

Posted by Mike Schuck

In the spring of 2020, when Covid-19 swept the globe, Mo'min Swaitat, a Palestinian actor and filmmaker based in London, found himself stuck in his birthplace of Jenin, West Bank. He was lured to the shuttered Tariq Cassettes, a music store and record label he knew from his boyhood that had closed down years ago, on treks through the lonely neighborhoods.

Swaitat was intrigued, so he contacted the previous owner, who agreed to let him spend the days of the epidemic rummaging through the dusty library of tape cassettes on the second floor. He discovered a great mine in the process: long-forgotten music that enlivened Palestinian life in the 1980s, when the first intifada (uprising) erupted.

He made it his duty to digitize and re-release this glimpse into the past after acquiring several of the recordings and lugging five bags full of them back to London.

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"Over the course of eight months, I listened to 10,000 tapes – a lot of synth music, funk and disco, wedding music, and revolutionary tracks." "I even discovered recordings made by my uncle, who used to play in a Bedouin wedding band," the 32-year-old said.

"This bright yellow tape with no information on it except a sticker with the hand-written word 'intifada' was one of the most unique finds."

Swaitat listened to the record multiple times, enthralled by the beautiful lyrics of a lost nation and the fight for independence. He once left the recording running and discovered that the composer identified himself as Riad Awwad after a few minutes of stillness. Awwad then acknowledged his sisters Alia, Hanan, and Nariman for their contributions to the record, as well as Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish, who wrote the words for one of the songs.

Swaitat was unable to locate any information on Riad on the internet, but he was able to contact his sister Hanan, a well-known writer and activist in her 70s. She explained how the cassette, dubbed The Intifada Album, came to be.

"My younger brother was a superb pianist. "The week the intifada began [in 1987], he gathered us as a family in his living room in Jerusalem and asked us to help him'sing the song of the intifada,'" she added.

"He had a distinct style and created music about identity that resonated strongly with our people." Everyone was playing it if you walked down Salah al-Din Street in the old city."

As the intifada became more brutal, Awwad's paintings came at a heavy price. Over worries that the lyrics – some of which reference Molotov cocktails and hurling stones – would provoke people to violence, Israeli troops seized the majority of the 3,000 recordings he had created from music stores, cafés, and enterprises playing them.

The 30-year-old was tortured throughout his detention, which lasted many months.

"He was never charged with anything," Hanan explained, "which was very common during the intifada." "They questioned him extensively about why he created the music and what he intended to do with it."

Awwad, an electrical engineer by training, founded a music school for youngsters in the West Bank following his release, and then formed the Palestinian Union band.

In 2005, Awwad was killed in an automobile accident. While Hanan wishes her brother was still alive to see his music rediscovered, she believes he would be ecstatic to know that his work is being heard by new people.

"I was overjoyed when Mo'min contacted me to inquire about re-releasing the record. It has historical value, and anybody can locate it thanks to the internet," she said.

Swaitat obtained financing from Jerwood Arts when he returned to London to launch the Majazz Project, an online platform committed to recovering Palestinian musical history.

The Majazz Project label released Awwad's Intifada Album as a digital download towards the end of 2021. The vinyl edition, which is set to be released in April, has already sold half of its first run.

"It's been a fantastic reception. "I've received messages from young Palestinians and those in the diaspora telling me how much they enjoyed it or how they purchased it as a gift for their parents who were children when it was first released," Swaitat added.

"We have plans to reissue more of the music, including some rock, traditional Bedouin recordings, and newer electronica," said the label.

"Finding this was magical because so much Palestinian culture has been lost or locked away in Israeli military archives." It's a trip through the history, present, and future of a people."

Thanks to at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.

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