Making music in Gaza: Young musician strikes a chord with Strip's only instrument store

Making music in Gaza: Young musician strikes a chord with Strip's only instrument store
The New Arab Meets: Raji Aljaru, a 24-year-old Gaza-based musician who has been welcoming customers into his instrument store in the Gaza Strip.
3 min read
29 August, 2018
The music store is located in the heart of Gaza city [Rami Almeghari]
A handful of traditional and mainstream instruments adorn the bright coloured walls of Raji Aljaru's music store in the Gaza Strip, a first of its kind in a very long time.  

Located in the heart of Gaza city, the 24-year-old musician and accounting graduate has been welcoming customers for nine months to the besieged coastal territory's only music store.

"By opening this store, I am able to give Gazans access to music and instruments," Raji begins. 

"People who come to the store always express a sense of excitement. I believe that my store has raised a level of interest in music among residents. Sometimes, the customers want me to teach them how to play."

In every corner of the store you will find musical instruments, from a lute to a guitar, the latter being Raji's favourite and one he has been playing for many years.

"My work in the music field started with my father and uncle, who both worked in the sound system industry from 1987," Raji begins.

"I started my own musical career in 2000 after embracing the guitar. Over time I have learnt to master the instrument," he tells The New Arab. 

Raji has also been teaching himself to play rock music through YouTube. 

"I even started my own band called Osprey," he adds. Raji says that he then convinced his father to open a musical instrument store as there was not one in the area.

Raji stocks various guitars in his store [Rami Almeghari]

In the store, Raji offers a variety of musical instruments including guitars, lutes, drums, floats, Chalo and others. He also offers customers some advanced sound systems.

"Every single instrument you see here has been carefully selected," he explains.

"The economic situation here is difficult so we made sure to select a variety of instruments that are of good value, reliable and can be picked up by a variety of residents.

"For instance, we have instruments that range from $100 to about $2,000. Some of the guitars, for example, are American-made and come from the United States."

When asked whether his project is viable amid the 11-year Israel imposed siege on Gaza, Raji explained that this had "made him more determined to open the store."

Every instrument in the store has been carefully selected [Rami Almeghari]

Despite the variations of instruments in the store, Raji also explains that bringing them into the store is not always so simple due to this siege.

"The current circumstances in Gaza and the ongoing blockade make it's more difficult," he says.

Raji says that some instruments, especially the eastern ones, can be brought through the Rafah crossing terminal, which is controlled by Egypt, just south of the Gaza Strip.

This, he says, is easier.

"In the early days when the store opened, we managed to bring in some great Egyptian and Syrian lutes from Egypt through the Rafah crossing."

However, for other instruments, such as guitars, the process is not as straightforward.

"These have to come through the Israel-controlled commercial crossings. They need to meet certain Israeli specifications and Israel-imposed importing measures," says Raji.

"Sometimes, I can end up waiting for three to six months for a given instrument," he adds.

But these setbacks have not deterred this young music enthusiast from sharing his hobby and interest with his fellow Gazans. 

"I particularly want to help talented children grow their love and passion for music." 

Seeking support to help nourish the music scene in Gaza, Raji hopes that his store will push more to embrace and build on their musical hobbies. 

Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. 

Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari