Breaking toxic traditions and resisting Israel: How Palestinian singer Bashar Murad is pushing for change

Breaking toxic traditions and resisting Israel: How Palestinian singer Bashar Murad is pushing for change
The New Arab Meets: Palestinian singer Bashar Murad who is using his voice to break stereotypes and advocate individuality.
5 min read
30 August, 2018
Bashar Murad is breaking boundaries with music [Instagram]
Growing up in a demanding culture that expects him to have his life perfected with a "respectable" job, wife and optimal mental and physical stamina, Palestinian singer Bashar Murad has used his music to reject expectations and encourage Arab youth to forge their own paths.

The 25-year-old singer's latest song, Shillet Hamal, which has made rounds across the Arab world, describes the way young adults in the Arab world are expected to waste their youth in a socially acceptable office job instead of reaching out to their creative sides, despite being underpaid and undervalued.

After years of producing music in English, this is Bashar's second Arabic song, and he hopes he can send a clear message through it.  

"There's neither money nor peace of mind, I've been on this road alone. Lost forever," the lyrics say. 

"In Palestine, when we say someone is hamel, it essentially means they have nothing going for themselves either by not doing anything with their lives or chasing what is perceived to be an unattainable dream," Bashar tells The New Arab.

"Shillet hamal is the plural, which essentially translates to 'a bunch of bums,'" he adds, explaining the meaning behind the name of the song. 

For Bashar, naming the song Shillet Hamal despite its negative connotations is a way to reclaim the derogatory term.

Coupled with a creative video, in which he features Palestinian dancers from Nablus, the music video shows the talent that is going underappreciated in mainstream Arab culture.

"The protagonist speaker in the song has lost faith in humanity," Bashar explains.

"At the start of the video, it's all in black and white and the speaker, who I play, is wearing a large hat to hide his identity. Having the beginning in black and white was to highlight the depressing mood of office environments and the way they turn our generation into a monochromic one," he adds.

"Eventually, my shille (group), who are my work colleagues in the video decide to run away to Nablus. Once I take my hat off, the black and white fades and the video becomes bright and colourful, because everyone is showing their true self."

He chose Nablus to pay tribute to the home city of the dancers he featured in the group and because "no one expects to find such cool stuff that we found when we made the video in Nablus."

The group even discovered the old abandoned plane that featured in the video and decided to incorporate it.

Story of my life

Even though Bashar's work is meant to reach out to the wider Arab youth, he was still inspired by his own life events.

"I went through the system. I did everything right – I got good grades, managed to study in the US and came back to Palestine where I got a depressing office job for two years," he recalls.

"I don't regret it per se, studying was amazing, and it taught me a lot, but it took away a chunk of my life that I could have instead been chasing my dreams and working my way up as a musician.

"This passion of mine was somewhat of a backup plan. Like everyone else, I was tricked into following an unnatural path," Bashar adds.

I went through the system. I did everything right – I got good grades, managed to study in the US and came back to Palestine where I got a depressing office job for two years

Everyone's getting married

Finding a socially acceptable career path isn't the only avenue that young Arab adults are pressured into. Marriage is another measure of success in the Arab world, which youth are pressured to appeal to.

In his song, Ilkul 3am Bitjawaz, which translates to "everyone is getting married", Bashar highlights the difficulties for youth trying balancing finding love and trying to live within their means on low incomes after marriage.

"The pressure never stops and even though it's becoming increasingly difficult to get married, the older generation shame us for being single even if we have a desire to get married," Bashar said.

"I look at people around me who are getting married, they are struggling. Marriage is expensive and difficult, but no one wants to give us a break."

The music video he produced for the song created another dimension to the message – one of marriage equality and rigid gender norms that are normalised within the mainstream Arab culture.

"In the video itself I wore a wedding dress and married myself. Partly with the intention of sarcastically conforming, but also to highlight toxic gender roles and LGBTQ+ rights in the Arab world," Bashar explains.

Resistance on all fronts: Israel and the system

Even though Bashar seeks to empower all humans to go against the rail for happiness, resisting the restrictive cultural system is not the only reason he makes music.

"I produce music as a Palestinian, but also as a human. Yes, we have our own struggles that we go through, but just because I'm Palestinian it doesn't mean that I can't relate to someone my age all the way in New York," he says.

"We are all human at the end of the day and the pressures I'm talking about are universal. It's hard for a lot of people across the world to find their dream job or to fight against a society that says their chosen career is unacceptable or are finding it difficult to find love."

Regardless of the matter, Bashar is adamant that even though he does address issues that non-Palestinians relate to, his work by default is a form of resistance to the Israeli occupation.

"When I make music, I tell Israel that I'm not letting the occupation bring me down. My persistence to follow my dreams is not only fighting a society that says I need an office job but is fighting the Israeli occupation. There is still life in me no matter how hard they try to break me as a Palestinian down."

He says this logic applies to all Palestinians, not just him: "If you're Palestinian and you're doing something you love, whether you're directly highlighting Israel's crimes or not, you're resisting."

Follow Bashar Murad on Instagram: @Bashar234

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