15 August 2009

[Album Review] DAM - Dedication (Ihda')

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I remember clearly the first time I heard about DAM’s (at the time, upcoming) debut album, Dedication (Ihda'). It was back in 2003. I remember being on the edge of my seat, just waiting for it to be released. Great things for Arabic Hip-Hop are about to go down, I thought. But two years passed, and I never heard of the promised album until 2005, when the first single from the album "Ya Sayidati" (My Lady) was released to the masses, and DAM’s official website was opened and ready to market it. Two extra songs were leaked and freely roamed the internet "Mali Huriye" (I Don't Have Freedom), and "Ghareeb G'areeb Fi Bladi" (Stranger in My Own Country). But then again, both songs in addition to "Ya Sayidati" (My Lady) were featured on DAM’s website anyway.

Finally, in 2006 Ihda’ – DAM’s debut album – was released after being five years in the making (according to DAM). DAM were still at the time, alas, prohibited from entering Arab countries, and so was their album in some cases. So the only solution was to distribute it via the internet and indeed it was available in mp3 form on DAM’s official website (www.dampalestine.com).

Ihda’, generally speaking, consists of Consciousness Raising Hip Hop and Political Hip Hop. And that’s just business as usual for DAM, of course. The intro starts with an intense speech made by the late Egyptian president and Arab leader, Jamal Abd El-Nasser, which is backed up by a dope beat made by the Israeli producer DJ Ori Shochat. (I’ll have some chips with that irony, thank you). Scratches provided by DJ Alarm.

Now let’s go over the album tracks, shall we.

The second track, titled “Mali Huriye" (I Don't Have Freedom), like I mentioned before, was among the singles leaked to the internet. My guess is, it was one of the first songs to be recorded since Suhell (and that’s no typo) was still doing it in his old style. As in he’s still rapping as opposed to his later Reggae phase. But that’s just my guess, and I don’t think he completely abandoned his older style (as I learned from listening to some new tracks –live- from their upcoming second album).

The track is politically themed, as it focused on the freedom taken away from Palestinians, and on The Separation Wall. The chorus is performed by Anat Ig'bariye. The ending features a poetry bit, performed by a little girl. The song in general is one of the best on the album, and the same can be said about the beat. Composer: Ori Shochat.

The next track, "Ng'ayer Bukra" (Change Tomorrow), is aimed at the next generation. It features children performing the chorus. The beat features a sample taken from an old children’s show “Eftah Ya Simsim”. It can be said that the track’s theme is taken from Nas “I Can”, but it’s not like Nas has a monopoly over featuring children in rap tracks. Also, the track talks about hatred and racial discrimination in the Israeli-Palestinian context. The next verses, by Mahmood Jrery and Suhell respectively, advise children to hold on to their Arab nationality and their Palestinian roots. The tracks end with a hopeful tone, and a wish that the next generation will change the course of things, and will not go make the same mistakes being made today.

In the forth track, “Warde” (Flower- Slang For Bother), DAM leave the political issues for a while because it’s time to show off some skills. The song features Jamil Naffar (The Naffars’ younger brother) and Palestinian rapper Sameh Zakout aka SAZ. The latter opens the song with a laid back style that does not characterize him. A good verse nonetheless. Tamer opens the second verse that follows the chorus (which I took a liking to) performed by Suhell and apparently Jamil too. Tamer’s verse is truly a masterpiece of flow, wordplay and it ends with a hell of a punchline. The next verse is performed by Jamil. Back at the time when I first heard it I thought that it must have been written by a DAM member, or at least with someone’s help. But after listening to Jamil performing in person I must say that it might not be the case.

Jrere takes it from here and tells his story with DAM and rap music, but he somewhat fails to suit his verse to the rest of the song, vivacity-wise, and that’s not our Mahmoud at his best. (He does, however, make up for it in his “Kalimat”; See below).

It’s a known fact that Suhell has been leaning towards Reggae music and starting to experiment with it while making the album. This next song, the 5th track, Inkilab (Revolution), is basically Suhell doing his thing, experimenting with the new Jamaican toy. In all honesty, it’s not the best Reggae song ever, but I do have a special liking to it, for one reason besides the chorus: It’s a door opener. Revolution is in every aspect musically revolutionary. It is clear that Suhell is still experimenting with this thing, but we will surely be hearing from him in the future.

And now we’re off to the contradictions department of the album. Like I mentioned before, "Ya Sayidati" (My Lady), a love song, was the first to be released from Ihda’. Now here’s what I thought when I first heard the song, months before I got the album: I didn’t care for it one bit; simple as that. And that was not because the song is bad, per se. On the contrary the song has good lyrics, is affected by Nizar Qabbani’s poetry, and the chorus is performed by Suheil Fodi. Basically, nothing is missing from the song, expect maybe DAM. I’m all for thematic variety but the song seemed very unlike anything I heard from DAM before. But that was not my problem. My problem was releasing this song fist, which seems like a publicity stunt. Not only that! No! It was THE song made into a video clip to be played on music channels. I think DAM wanted the album to sell so they chose the most “pop” song in the album to be made into a video. In my opinion, that was a big marketing mistake. DAM are loved for their Non-pop work, for their strong political message, and for their sincere lyrics. To be honest, until this day, I usually just skip the 6th song.

Now, remember everything I said about the 6th song? You can pretty much forget it because the next track makes up for some of the unrefined bits in the album. The 7th track is titled “Al Huriye Unt'a” (Freedom for my Sisters - or Freedom is female if you want to go for the literal translation, as nouns in Arabic are associated with genders and “freedom” happens to be female). The first thing that made me fall in love with this song is the background with female vocals at the beginning, but that’s just the beginning.

The topic is women in Arab and Muslim societies- a sensitive issue. Tamer on this song promotes an open minded, and a fair take on women’s rights, and women’s freedoms in our society. The lyrics are deep and clever, as they play on noun genders in the Arabic language. Tamer ends the song with “It’s funny how we deny females their freedom, when freedom itself is female”. Again, clever wordplay, and a very deep song.

The song features female rapper Safaa’ Hathout, who does the second verse, and shares her take on the issue from a personal point of view. The song in general is just amazing, fresh and truly original.

The next song (the 8th) brings the the album to a down slope. “Da DAM” which DAM see as their concert signature, is merely a head banger. It has a nice flow to it, but not a whole lot of coherent lyrics. I would like to dance to it, probably. But that’s just about it. The song features a sample from “Madrasat al Moshaghebeen” – an old Egyptian play. The beat is composed by Karem Matar.

Now, the next song I do like lyrics wise. The 9th song, titled “Hibuna Ishtruna” (Love us and Buy us), is a clever song taking the piss out of the seemingly eternal curse of anonymity of Arab rappers. DAM takes the piss out of Arabic rap’s lack of popularity. (at least in comparison to Haifa. And to those of you unfamiliar with her, I don’t mean the city). The message behind the song is simply “buy this album. Support us. Pretty please!”. Or as DAM put it “Love us, buy us”. The song is seemingly meaningless, but if you take a closer look at it, it’s just DAM being sarcastic about their own experience. The song features samples from Samira Tawfeeq’s “Al Ein Molayyitain”. This track was composed by Ori Shochat.

The next song, the 10th track, is “Mes Endroits” (My Hood). To put is simply, it’s a great song. The eastern vibe of the violin and oud play freely on the laid back beat, carrying a feeling of authenticity with them. The song features the French rapper Nikkfurie from French rap group La Caution. Although, I must say, featuring him got me thinking about DAM’s choices on this album. Nikkfurie was the only rapper featured from outside of Palestine, and it seemed a little weird also that he was featured on this song. But then again, it would be a nice try to present the struggle of people in the hood as an international tragedy, in Palestine and in France. The song mainly talks about how it is in the slums of Lid, the city where DAM come from. The song uses a sample from Fayrooz’s “Al-Bent Alshalabya”, and is composed by Karem Matar. I must add, this song is among the best on the album.

The next song, “Usset Hub” (A Love Story), is a solo performance by Tamer. And believe me, ladies and gentlemen, you do not want to skip this one! The song is made to sound like a love story told by Tamer to his girlfriend, as things happen with them and he changes tones during the song. At the beginning, she calls him as a frightened adolescent who does not want their parents to find out about him, and they’re both excited about being in love. At the end she calls him and they both sound weary and tedious from life, from their phone relationship and from society. She drops the bomb, someone asked for her hand in marriage and she “had to tell her father about Tamer” and the old man of course was very understanding! If Tamer was serious about this he should propose, or hit the road!

Tamer’s style on this one is admirable, and I didn’t really mind being interrupted by the phone calls. The song is about the pressure that parents put on youngsters in relationships, and pressure to get married, lack of understanding of the nature of relationships. It’s just harsh reality being told in rap form. The song features Ibrahim Sakalla, DAM’s prominent guest and close friend, who plays the role of Tamer’s friend at the end reminding the crushed Tamer of the guys’ night out plans. The Kanoun styled beat is composed by Ori Shochat. This song is, of course, recommended.

The tracks are getting better by the minute now. The 12th song “G'areeb Fi Bladi” (Stranger in My Own Country) is one of my favorite Dam(n) songs ever; certainly my favorite on this album. The song’s theme is political. It features a poem by Tawfeeq Zayyad as an intro. Mahmoud opens the song with a strong verse that talks about Israel’s discriminating policy in regards to its Palestinian citizens, and about his harsh feeling of alienage in his own country. Suhell does the second verse in his old style, which either means it was among the early songs on the album, or simply that the Reggae style doesn’t fit the theme (especially if others are rapping). Suhell talks about how Israel treats him as a Palestinian while Palestinians treat him as an Israeli and as a traitor. Tamer ends the song with a genius verse in which he mentions the names of the 13 martyrs killed during demonstrations in October 2000, by Israeli forces. He uses their names as verbs and nouns put together into a verse, in a way I have not witnessed before. Amal Bsharat performs the Chorus. And the song ends with bits of Tawfeeq Zayyad’s poetry. Composer: Ori Shochat.

The 13th track is “Kalimat” (Words). This is Mahmoud Jrere’s solo performance right here. Jrere talks about how he takes pride in his words and he bestows us with the feeling that he’s the man upstairs with the strings playing with words like puppets. What I like about this song is a feeling that I missed from the rest of the album, the DAM that I grew up to. But this song certainly satisfies the need as it also uses samples by some of Dam’s older songs. The beat, by Ori Shochat, also contains a sample from Fayrooz’s “Habbaytak Be Alsayef”. This song is certainly recommended as well.

The 14th track, “Sawa' Al Zaman” (Driver of Fate) is a song with a desperate romantic take on life. In the song, the rappers are in a car with the “Driver of Fate” constantly asking him to take them to the seemingly impossible. I will not dwell on how this song is great, but it’s worth buying the album just to listen to it. Composer: Eddy Somiran.

The final track is a bitter sweet personal Dedication (Ihda’) to all those who supported DAM - a good song indeed. The song features Ibrahim Sakalla, and is composed by Ori Shochat.

In summary, if you know DAM, you will like this album. You can certainly see great progress and change from their earlier work. Da Arabian MC’s are professionals and that’s that. But if you grew up listening to them you might miss some of the street vibe from their earlier songs (something which will be made up for, as far as I can tell, in the next album).

Even if you have downloaded the songs somehow, you should buy the album to make sure DAM keep progressing and getting better (and hopefully not bitter) like fine wine. I mean who among us wouldn’t like to be provided with high quality Arabic rap, and possibly some Reggae on the side?

Arabic Hip Hop Heads
August 2009

Rate : 4.0/5.0

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