KEYWORDS: Arts, Shadia Mansour, Hip-hop, Rap, Arabic rap, Palestine, 21st century.
SHE THOUGHT IT
Best known as the “First Lady of Arab Hip-Hop”, Shadia Mansour has been rapping since she turned eighteen. Being part of the Palestinian Diaspora that resulted from the exile of thousands of Palestinians throughout the years, she was born and grew up in London, but never forgot her cultural heritage.
Shadia Mansour was deep into politics and pro-Palestinian protests since a tender age and kept on researching the Palestine-Israel conflict and learning from her Arab roots until today.
She soon turned to hip-hop as a way of expressing (as hip-hop has tended to) what the establishment didn’t allow saying. From the beginning of the movement, Hip-hop has been used by the oppressed or outsiders to express experiences of injustice and to give voice to the silent sufferers: “From its roots in the South Bronx, the form has grown in numerous directions. Hip hop charts a familiar history of technological innovation mixed with social protest, and ultimately, commercialization.”¹ (p.2)
As Janne Lee states: “Growing up listening to American rappers like KRS-One, she [Shadia Mansour] easily related the stories of injustice and oppression voiced in American hip-hop to the experiences of the Palestinian people.`I thought, we’re suffering the same issues,´ she stated in an interview with PNC Radio.”²(p.1) This means Shadia saw and still sees in Hip-Hop a way of rebellion, a voice for the oppressed, and a way to speak to the youth which will shape the world in the future. “We are the generation that goes to the battlefield with weapons of creation,” she says. “We communicate, debate and protest through art. This is why I refer to our activities as a ‘musical intifada.’ Our weapons will never run out of ammunition because they are weapons of the soul.[…]Hip-hop is our last weapon. If you are not facing guns, you will be facing artists armed with mics,” says Mansour.”⁵(p.62)
Arab hip-hop has turned in the last years into a powerful movement that speaks directly to the young people all around the world thanks to the social-media platforms available for free access. “The rapid growth of social media in the past 10 years has facilitated new methods of self-promotion for the artists without label representation. For Offendum, as well as The Narcicyst and Shadia Mansour, social media is a primary means of promotion and distribution. […]The ubiquity of YouTube and Facebook as means of listening and sharing music facilitates a broad transnational audience.”¹ (p.3) This means the message can be spread all around, and the message that Arab hip-hop is spreading is awareness about marginalized groups “facilitating a diasporic resistance that challenges public fear and repressive state discourse”¹(p.3) by promoting cross-continental affinities and producing alternative narrativities of Arabness; Shadia herself expresses this in her lyrics for “Somos Sur” in which she raps in Arab saying: “Music is the mother tongue of the world/She supports our existence, she protects our roots/She joins us from greater Syria to Africa to Latin America.”
Narrowing the topic to Palestinian hip-hop we could cite Finn expressing that:
True to form, the Hip-Hop of occupied Palestine evokes themes of struggle and resistance as artists lay beats about drugs, violence, and the daily oppression they face under Occupation… Their artistic expression represents the “drama of the streets”, the harsh reality of cultural and ethnic subjugation, and continues to be a productive means of expression for Palestinian youth. ⁴(p. 3)
In this arena what makes Shadia such a pioneer in the hip-hop scene is not only that she is a woman (who raps wearing Palestinian traditional dresses), which is also a difficult task in this men´s world, and it is not only that she is an Arab woman who climbs to the stage with passion and strength and some rage (see, for example, her lyrics and video called “The kufiyyeh is Arab”); and it is not only about her pro-Palestinian activism in and out the stage, or her women rights struggle… As Donisson expresses: “What distinguishes her from many other British rappers is that she chooses to rap in Arabic even though English is her first language. “Arabic is the language of poetry, a very classical language,” says Ms Mansour. “For me it’s all about originality. I am Arabic, my name is Arabic, and I believe I should rap in Arabic.”³ (p. 1) “As Palestinians, and as Arab people” she explained in an interview with SAMARMEDIA, “we have to preserve everything. Our Arabic language, our clothes…It’s a matter of existence. […]We have our own culture, and for me there is nothing more beautiful.”
South London, 1985: Shadia Mansour is born into a Christian Palestinian family original from Haiza and Nazareth (Palestine). Shadia Mansour´s parents were, as so many others, forced to exile due to the Israeli forces occupation of the Palestinian territory. And so, they travelled to England where they have lived since. Even though they were part of a great Diaspora that went on for a long time, Shadia Mansour´s family didn’t break ties with their culture and traditions, hence, Shadia was raised in the awareness of her cultural heritage. “Ms Mansour says she first started singing at the age of five or six, often accompanying her parents at pro-Palestinian rallies in London as a child. “We would sing protest songs,” she says. “I come from a musical family, a revolutionary musical family.´”³ (p. 1) In fact, Shadia started singing Arabic classical protest songs from artists such as Fairuz, Umm Kulthum or M. Khalifeh⁵ (p.62), and was, at the same time, influenced by her political readings of Edward Said, Noam Chomsky or Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry⁶ (p.46) And so, her music was always related to protest and to Arab culture. She built a name for herself in London’s Palestinian-cultural scene performing in Palestinian cultural events every time she could.
Shadia went on to study performing arts in London and loved the stage. But she ended up making hip-hop her way of living.
In 2003 she started rapping through a collaboration with the Syrian rapper Elsam Jawaad and the Hip-Hop collective Arap. She flew to Amsterdam to sing the chorus for “Medinat Beirut” but when she arrived she was told a Mc was missing and that she had to rap his part. And so she did. As she mentions in the Rolling Stone‘s article, it was in this moment that she got hooked in the rhythm and the minute she was back in London she started writing her own lyrics, recording and uploading them to Myspace⁵ (p.63).
From that moment she started working with different artists, most of them belonging to the Arab Diaspora. She sang choruses to a lot of songs and rapped in many others gaining a name for herself in the Hip-Hop world. Indeed, she is called “The first lady of Arab Hip-Hop”. But not all was easy since the Hip-hop world is dominated and inhabited mostly by men. First, as she explains for the Rolling Stone Magazine, she tried to sound like a man, dress like a man and act like one to fit into this scene⁵ (p. 61). But step by step she gained confidence in her femininity and found her way of existing, just as she is, in the hip-hop world.
In 2007 she collaborated with the rapper Mahmoud Jreri from the DAM (Da Arab MC´s) hip-hop group. As BBC World states DAM is a “pioneer group of Palestinian rap, which sings in Arab, English and Hebrew and denounces in its lyrics realities like Palestine´s situation and the violence inflicted on women in the Arab society.”⁷ (p. 1) (My translation).
In 2008 Shadia was travelling with DAM to Cisjordania to perform in a tour with them. This first tour to West Bank, Palestine, and the conversations she had with the group members she was travelling with made Shadia reconsider her part in the Palestinian struggle, for she was living the problem in its full complexity for the first time: “It was her collaborations with Mahmoud Jreri and brothers Tamer and Suhell Naar of DAM,(…) that were instrumental in making her reconsider her hardcore stance on Palestinian nationalism. The band revealed the complexities of Palestinian politics and society to her.”⁵ (p. 60)
In 2009 she toured in the Netherlands with a children’s choir for the project Symphony Arabica; opened the Annual Black August Benefit for political prisoners; and she was also the main artist in the Arab World Fest (Milwaukee). She toured the EEUU raising awareness about the Palestinian conflict, collaborated in The Narcicyst theme “Hamdulillah” as well as with Lowkey, an iraqi rapper, in his remake of Long Live Palestine.
In 2010 Lowkey and Shadia accompanied the writer Norman Filkenstein in the tour called Free Palestine Tour. In this same year she published her first single “The kufiyyeh is Arab” in which the rapper M1 collaborates, and which is produced by DJ Johnny Juice (Public Enemy) and his label Slamjamz. This song became almost a hymn for Palestinians and is enormously famous at the moment² (p.1) Since it was released she has been building up the recognition she deserves in the rap scene, collaborating for example with the Grammy awarded Ana Tijoux in her song called “Somos Sur”, giving speeches, touring and performing around the world, for example teaching and performing Non-violent resistance through art with a group of artists such as M1, Lowkey or Mazzi in places like Hebron or the Balata refugee camp while being filmed for the documentary “Existence is Resistance” which has been shown all around EEUU.(http://www.existenceisresistance.org/page/5?s=shadia&searchsubmit)
As Andersen declares: “She has gained recognition for a handful of her own songs and numerous collaborations. She has earned the respect of her peers and her audience not as a token female artist, but for her talent, as well as her politics.”⁵ (p.63)
SHE SAID IT
“Memory is the most important thing. Our existence today is resistance. We are facing media that misrepresent our people. Not just the palestinian people but also the Arab people. That’s why we have to preserve everything; it’s a matter of existence.”
Shadia Mansour´s interview in Samar Media: This is Palestine-Shadia Mansour.
“I’m pro-Palestinian does that make me a terrorist?”
Shadia Mansour and M-1 – The Kufiyyeh is Arab الكوفية عربية
“Record it! I am Shadia Mansour and the kufiya is my identity./From the day I was created, Sir, and this people is my responsibility./That’s how I was brought up – between the West and East,/between two languages, between the [rich] miser and the poor man./I saw life from both sides./I’m like the kufiya./No matter how you wear me, and wherever you take me off, I will remain as my origin: Palestinian.”
Shadia Mansour and M-1 – The Kufiyyeh is Arab الكوفية عربية
“We are the generation that goes to the battlefield with weapons of creation. We communicate, debate and protest through art. This is why I refer to our activities as a ‘musical intifada.’ Our weapons will never run out of ammunition because they are weapons of the soul.”
Shadia Mansour’s interview for Rolling Stone
THEY SAID IT
“Shadia is a groundbreaker (…) She is passionate about her point o view. To tell artists what they should be rapping is not my call.”
Public Enemy frontman Chuck D. Shadia Mansour’s label boss for Rolling Stone
“There is a huge void in hip-hop concerning female MCs who are socially conscious,” he says. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe in her.”
Juicy. Shadia Mansour’s producer for Rolling Stone
PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS
2013: Selected in between the first 100 women in “Arabian Business List of most powerful Arab women in the world today”
Hip-Hop is bigger than the Occupation (2011), dir. Existence is Resistance and Nana Dankwa. (About a musical tour to Palestine teaching resistance through the arts. Featuring M1 of Dead Prez, Lowkey, Shadia Mansour, Marcel Cartier, Mazzi of S.O.U.L. Purpose, DJ Vega Benetton, SWYC, University of Hip Hop, Jody McIntyre and many more…).
Versos Migrantes (2014), En la makinita: Ana tijoux y Shadia Mansour, Cap. 9. (Short documentary about Ana Tijoux and Shadia Mansour working in “Somos Sur”).
A day with Lowkey and Shadia (2010), Cultures of Resistance Films. (Short documentary)
Drury, Megan (2017), “Counterorienting the war on terror: Arab hip hop and diasporic resistance” J. Pop. Music Stud. 29, e12210. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpms.12210
Morgan, Marcyliena; Dionne Bennett (2011) “Hip hop and the global imprint of a black cultural form” Daedalus 140 No. 2 pp. 176-196
Borodo, Michal (ed.) (2017) Moving Texts, Migrating People and Minority Languages, New Frontiers in Translation Studies, Springer, Singapore, p. 46-51
- Drury, Megan (2017), “Counterorienting the war on terror: Arab hip hop and diasporic resistance” J. Pop. Music Stud. 29, e12210. <https://doi.org/10.1111/jpms.12210>(last accessed 19 Jan. 2018)
- Lee, Iara, “Hip Hop as Global Resistance” Huffpost News <https://www.huffingtonpost.com/iara-lee/hip-hop-as-global-resista_b_660608.html> (last accessed 17 Jan. 2018)
- Donnison, Jon (2010), “British Palestinian rapper conducts a musical intifada” BBC News, Hebron <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-11215298> (last accessed 15 Jan. 2018).
- Finn, Greta Anderson (2011), “Quarterly Feature: “Political Art”: Arab American Hip-Hop”.
- Andersen, Janne Louise (2011), “The passion, politics and power of Shadia Mansour” Rolling Stone September 2011, 58-63 <https://pl.scribd.com/document/140472010/The-passion-politics-and-power-of-Shadia-Mansour (last accessed 17 Jan. 2018)
- Borodo, Michal (ed.) (2017) Moving Texts, Migrating People and Minority Languages, New Frontiers in Translation Studies, Springer, Singapore, p. 46
- BBCWorld (2009), “Treinta años protestando en verso” BBCWorld March 2009, <http://www.bbc.com/mundo/cultura_sociedad/2009/10/091013_hiphop_rg.shtml> (last accessed 17 Jan. 2018)