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A short break from reality: Palestinian Alternative Music festival 2019

By F.F. Dawkins - September 09, 2019
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [festival] [culture]

As a foreigner, when you get to visit Palestine the first time, it plays with your expectations and often surprises you. The Palestinian Alternative Music Festival (PAMfest) is one of these places, that changes your expectations and instead shows you that Palestine has a flourishing festival scene. 

In its fourth year, the PAMfest was visited by over 2300 music enthusiasts, which enjoyed a full day of music, good food and the relaxing atmosphere of the small festival on 6 September.

In 2016 the idea for the first Alternative music festival in Palestine was born, co-founder and organiser of PAMfest, Rami El Khateib told Palestine Monitor, “My friends and I started to listen to Palestinian alternative music. However, we liked this kind of music, but there was yet no place to listen to the bands. That’s when we idea for the festival was born.”

Entrance of the PAMfest

Since then, the PAMfest has offered a stage for various alternative artists from all music genres, like jazz, classical Arabic music, rap, rock and punk. Over the years, the number of visitors has increased slowly, but steadily. “In the beginning, it was a bit chaotic, as no one had ever done such a festival in Palestine. But eventually, over the years we got more professional,” El Khateib said.

However, the organisers of PAMfest not only had to consider all the different technical and organisational factors, but also the Isreali military. Located in the Osh Ghurab Park in the Area C West Bank town of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, the festival is only a few metres away from an Israeli military outpost. In the past, Israeli forces have shown up at the festival and tried to enforce their authority.

“The first year was maybe the scariest,” El Khateib described. “Three jeeps full of soldiers were suddenly in front of the festival and were asking me if I have a license and what we are doing here. I explained [to] them that I obtained a permit from the Palestinian Authorities, as they are the owner of the place and that we are peacefully listening to music,” El Khateib said. “Luckily, they understand and disappeared after this.”

The soldiers have shown up every year since the foundation of the festival. However, in their fourth year, they refrained from showing their presence. “This festival is not only important to support local artists, but also for a political reason. The park is threatened to be taken by Israelis because it is in Area C. Our being here, the festival, just shows the Israelis that it is our land,” El Khateib explained.

PAMfest festival compound

Nevertheless, the presence of the adjacent military outpost had no impact on the mood on the visitors and the cosy atmosphere of the festival. Much more, for many people, it is a unique and new experience. Festival-goer Salam, came from Jordan to experience PAM for the first time. “I have never seen such a festival with an alternative concept. For me, it is an exceptional experience.”  With its visitors from all over the world, the PAMfest has a truly international vibe.

Jowan Safadi +2 performing

Bands like the Arabic post-punk Band Jowan Safadi +2, are an example of the diversity of the Palestinian world music. With their lyrics, the group addresses cultural as well as political phenomena. Jowan Safadi, singer and guitarist of the band explained the intended message of his music. “At PAM festival, we played a mainly political set. I address freedom; freedom of expression, freedom of art, the brainwash and the occupation. But we also try to shine a light on patriarchy and homophobia,” Safadi told Palestine Monitor.

Another highlight of the evening was the singer-songwriter, Bashar Murad. Murad became known to a broader international audience after his collaboration with the Icelandic Band Hatari, who were the only artists to address the occupation during the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019 in Tel Aviv.

Bashar Murad performing

During his performance at PAMfest, Murad tackled a variety of social, cultural and political issues. “My songs address LGBTQ rights and gender issues as well as the Israeli occupation.” Covered under a wedding veil, Bashar Murad, addressed with his first song the social pressure to marry at a young age. “With this song I wanted to shine a light on the situation, that there are other important things in life, like education [and] developing your self-potential, then worrying too much about getting married.”

Other artists performing at the festival were Qabeela, Apo and the Apostles, Elcontainer, Ghazall, Zenobia, Tamer Nafar and Abu Baker.

Co-founder Rami El Khateib wants to continue the festival as long as possible. “The festival is so much more than just music. Every artist here talks about social, cultural issues and the occupation. For me, it is a peaceful way of addressing and resisting the occupation.”

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