Sunday, November 01, 2020

Mohammed Assaf ‘cheers up‘ Palestine

By Leona Vicario - June 20, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [culture] [Gaza]

The second edition of the program, Arab Idol, has turned into quite an event throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. The Beirut based music talent show, based on the British series Pop Idol, is catching the attention of Palestinians like no other TV show has before. 

Gathering around the TV at home, in cafes and restaurants or attending public screenings in the streets, Palestinians are passionately following, Friday after Friday, every gala of the weekly music show. The massive current of popular support surrounding this year’s show is larger than any politically oriented event witnessed over the past few years. 
Mohammed Assaf, a 23-year old singer from Gaza and the reason for this year’s tumult, is the first Palestinian to participate in Arab Idol. "Palestinians, no matter if they are from Gaza or West Bank, they feel depicted by him," explains one of the thousands of Assaf fans in Ramallah. 
With his classic good looks, big smile and an ever-present kufiya on his shoulders, Assaf has charmed the audience, delivering a patriotic message through his words in defense of the Palestinian cause, most evidently portrayed via his performance of nationalistic songs such as 'Oh you bird going back home.' Assaf’s fans have even bestowed him with the nickname, Assaf Hilm Falastine (Arabic for Assaf Palestine’s Dream).
Assaf’s rise to fame is reminiscent of a fairy tale. Although he was born in Libya, he grew up in Khan Younis, a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. It is from here that Assaf began his journey to this year’s Arab Idol auditions held in Egypt. As resident in the besieged coastal enclave, he needed a visa to cross the border into neighboring Egypt; a travel permit he at first failed to obtain. Stuck at the border for two days, Palestinian officials finally succeeded in making a special arrangement for him, his mother Um Shadi explained to CNN. Unfortunately, when he managed to reach the site of the audition in Cairo, the doors where closed. The physical pitfalls did not stop him and he resolved to scale the wall surrounding the compound. Once inside, his mother told to CNN, a Palestinian security man recognized him as the Gazawi singer and gave him a candidate number, granting him entry into the competition. 
But we are a lively people, we love singing, partying, laughing… he is demonstrating another side.
"He has an amazing voice," says Laucsana, an NGO worker in Ramallah who has closely followed Assaf's fortuitous rise to fame on TV. "He deserves to win because he has all the qualities to be a great singer, not because he is Palestinian, of course." Although this fact has empowered his figure, "We Palestinians are proud of him because he is representing us in the all Arab world and he is playing an important role in our current circumstances: he has found a way to cheer us up. Simply he is making us happy," Laucsana explains. 
Ahmad is a Palestinian musician. Although not entirely wound up with this kind of shows, he understands the phenomenon. "He is a great singer that has the ability of playing traditional songs, traditional Arab music with his own style, and this is valuable," he says. 
In his opinion, Assaf's figure is important because it shows another face of Palestinians to the world, one far away from the too often stereotyped image of masked men holding guns or throwing rocks. "Sometimes, the image that comes to people's mind when they think of our country is sad: struggle, resistance, war… But we are a lively people, we love singing, partying, laughing… he is demonstrating another side."
27 contestants from Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Bahrain took part of the second edition of Arab Idol, which saw over 15.000 auditions. At the moment, three final contestants remain, the winner of which will be chosen this coming Saturday, 22 June.
The Egyptian, Ahmad Gamal, and the Syrian, Farah Youssef, will appear along with Mohammed Assaf, each competing to win the vote of the public and the favor of the jury, composed by both Lebanese singers, Ragheb Alama and Nancy Ajram, along with the Egyptian music and record producer, vocalist Hassan El Shafei, as well as United Arab Emirates singer, Ahlam.
Posters on store windows, flags in cars and even a message from the Palestinian former Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, all call out in support of Assaf, who, even without succeeding in this week’s final round, has undoubtedly already become a Palestinian idol.

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