Rocking in the rubble of Gaza

Rocking in the rubble of Gaza
Feature: For a band based in Gaza - where war halts recording and seeps into their lyrics - politics is everything, writes Laila Ashour.
3 min read
02 June, 2015
Watar is one of Gaza's best known bands

Watar, a Gaza band, start every gig with noise.

Dawsha, Arabic for noise, is a fans' favourite and a sure way to start a concert.

"No matter how much I am tired, I pray to God for help, I am counting on Him, I have no one but God. Chaos, chaos, chaos," the lyrics read.

Watar's lyrics are typically existential. The band want to show the reality of life in Gaza; and the noise that confuses the minds and thoughts of the besieged territory's people.

Dawsha took two months to write and was a collaborative effort: composed by bass player and violinist Khamis Abu Shaaban, arranged by pianist Anas Al-Najjar, written by Hasan Nejem, and sung by Alaa Shuplaq. The video was directed by Ahmed Nasr.

They are joined by Mohammed al-Lumani on synthesiser, Iyad Abu Leila on drums, and Samih Abu Leila on percussion.

"We were four members when we started in 2008, then two others joined. A month before the last aggression on Gaza we were asked to participate at a Gaza concert to mark the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people," says Shaaban.

Lounder than a bomb

The aim of the concert was to commemorate Palestinian heritage and modern music, and the band fittingly played the gig on the rubble of the PRC theatre, which was destroyed by Israeli missiles.

"Some of our families were originally musicians and they encouraged them. Other members were worried that because Gaza lacks a musical culture, family members would not accept the idea of their son being a musician. On the other hand, we were encouraged and supported by all of our friends," he adds.

Shaaban began playing music on a small electronic keyboard as a child, and then performed in front of his school.

     The siege makes most things in short supply, including instruments.

Watar's early work revolved around national issues and the band wanted to deliver a message about Palestine to people with little awareness of the nation.

Gaza is a not an easy place for music lovers to start a band. The siege makes most things in short supply, including instruments. Watar's band members had to search in the West Bank for theirs. The prevailing sense of insecurity also makes it difficult for the band to perform live.

They have managed some high-profile collaborations, including with Palestinian activist Rafeef Ziadah. Her poem - We Teach Life, Sir - about an encouter with a foreign journalist in Gaza, highlighted a lack of awareness among outsiders of life in the strip, and a hymn of defiance for Palestinians everywhere.

Locked in

Before the last Israeli military campaign against Gaza, Watar got permission from Ziadah to sing the poem. 

Limited options in the studio hindered the progress of the song, and Israeli bombing halted recording. They continued developing the song during brief ceasefires and each one worked on their parts from their homes, recording online.

Mohammed al-Jabaly, a photographer who worked as a paramedic during the bombing, was asked to make a video of the destruction in Gaza to accompany the song.

By the end of the war it was finished, and became a hit among Watar's fans.

The embargo on the land strip prevented the band from performing in the West Bank in 2015, but Watar have made 47 live performances in Gaza. Their favourite place to perform is a music festival in the Gaza calender, organised by the French cultural centre, which was cancelled after it was targeted by a bomb.

Although Watar are hugely successful in Gaza, the musicians know it will be difficult for them to progress, or to get their name to a wider audience, unless they can take their work outside Palestine.

"Our souls and ability to create are besieged along with the Gaza Strip. As a band, we believe that had we had the required instruments and capacities, we certainly would help and serve our cause in a much better way," Shaaban says.

The band hope their latest album, which is funded by the London-based Qattan Foundation and took seven months to finish, could help them, and the Palestinian cause, reach a new audience.