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24: SAMA

Photo By Samuel Kirszenbaum

“Okay, You’re doing something good for the country, you’re putting Palestine on a different map…”

The age-old war to obtain sovereignty for their people over the middle east, the Israel-Palestine conflict initially dates back to the end of the 19th century, through the first Zionist Congress in Basel on August 29th, 1897. It was a binding obligation in the Mandate for Palestine following World War I to "establish in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people". The 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine was never implemented, resulting in open sectarian conflict between Jews and Arabs. The 1947–1949 Palestine War was sparked by this failure to implement the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories in the 1967 Six-Day War led to the current Israeli-Palestinian status quo. Power corrupts everything, so efforts to resolve the conflict have failed. However, with injustice comes rebellion, and one Palestinian figure is leading the charge for a better economic and social state for the Palestinian people. She goes by the name of SAMA, and this is her fight.

Born in 1991 in Amman, Jordan, Sama' Abdulhadi was no stranger to the Israeli occupation. Within a few years of her birth, her family were forced to move back to Ramallah after the Oslo Accords.

“The Oslo process is the "peace process" that started in 1993 with secret talks between Israel and the PLO. It became a cycle of negotiations, suspension, mediation, restart of negotiations and suspension again. A number of agreements were reached, until the Oslo process ended after the failure of the Camp David Summit in 2000 and the outbreak of the Second Intifada…”

Music was an escape for her surroundings, learning the art of the piano at age four and discovering rap music in her early teens. She would participate in rap battles in 2006 as a means to express herself. Her love for the urban style shifted her focus onto mixing rap with electronic, mainly techno elements, where her brother introduced her to the legend Tiësto. A more “off the record” genre in Palestine, she would find her niche in which to undertake her overall dream of a more accessible Palestine.

Her first steps were to drop out of traditional school and pursue her studies towards music, specifically sound engineering. Whilst in Beirut, she discovered a more developed electronic scene. The parallels between the struggles in Lebanon and Palestine were uncanny, with pan-Arabist Lebanese groups forming an alliance with the Palestinians in Lebanon during the civil war. An apt role model for SAMA is Nicole Moudaber, a fellow “freedom fighter” through music.

She began to play her first sets in the bars of Ramallah, under the name “Skywalker”, joining the Jazar Crew as a stable. They were the first sound system to incorporate techno in Palestine. She then became interested in the city's underground scene and founded the Awyav label there, which promotes the independent Arab electronic scene. When she began to tour, she soon discovered that Palestine wasn’t on the electronic radar at all, but that was irrelevant. Going from strength to strength, bookings started to manifest at larger events, from “Palest’In & Out” to a six-month residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts. Her name was ringing around the electronic community, but nothing would compare to the boiler room set of the 2010s.

An iconic set, a home turf debut for the enigmatic DJ. A mixing pot of Palestinians, that have suffered a partisan occupation, dancing in unison to the sounds of many house/techno legends.

“I could name each person In that Boiler Room crowd. That’s the cool thing about having this much of a closed community…”

It was beautiful. A foreshadowing of what could be, what she can achieve and the mission itself. As the only Palestinian DJ of prominence now, a collective was formed by her to help artist development for Palestinian residents. With DJs such as Sarouna, DJ Dak and Darbak, the Union Collective is a breakthrough in the future of music in general.

“In Palestine, there are like 30 DJs all across the country and we all know each other, from Nablus to Jericho to Jenin, Haifa, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. That was the point of Union Collective - to create a community of people that would not be able to meet because we’d never be able to go to each other. Also, we wanted to bring together people who were willing to learn from each other, share with each other and really weren't afraid of working all types of jobs when it comes to hosting parties…”

She was making a significant change and with change comes resistance, ironically. This would come in the form of the Nabi Musa incident. The controversy erupted from a private show she had on December 27, 2020. The internet immediately began swirling with rumors and false information claiming Sama disrespected Moses' tomb. Even though organizers received approval from the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism. The following morning, she was detained for desecration of a religious place and non-compliance with health protocol. Various Palestinian leaders had condemned the performance, with the deputy minister of religious affairs Hussam Abu-Alrub calling it “unacceptable and outside all of our religious principles” during an interview with Palestine’s NAS Radio. To her surprise however, it was for her own safety, as “People want to kill you” was the message relayed to her from the authorities. The arrest made international news, covered by the likes of NME, the BBC and the New York Times.

Headline for her release

Her initiation into notoriety was complete. As with the more renowned historical figures, they always needed enemies to grow a cult of personality of sorts. Leading her to join the Ramallah protest, in May 2021, against the annexation of Sheikh Jarram, a predominately Palestinian neighborhood. The progress she had made was tangible but not close to being enough. Injury was added to insult once the Russian-Ukraine war caused a boycott to be placed on Russia, but not for the Israelis that had forced occupation of Gaza, something that 5.8 million Arabs have been demanding for decades at this point. She has an uphill struggle, with the new Israeli government taking office during a tense time for Israel and Palestine, as 2022 marked the highest number of conflict-related deaths since 2015. Israeli far-right policies threaten to severely hinder relations with Palestinians, undermine Israel's liberal democracy, and compromise Israel's ties with its Arab neighbors, the United States, and Europe if they are enacted.

SAMA has used the genre of techno and electronic music in general to garner attention to the ongoing occupation of Palestine. Her music career as the most prominent Palestinian musician has been intertwined with the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From seeing occupation from an early age to false imprisonment, she has stayed firm on her mission to improve the state of Palestine as a whole. In a region with political and territorial barriers, she aims to unite people through the creation of an environment in which cultural exchange and artistic collaboration act as beacons of a more open society, and ultimately freedom.

Written by: @Arriv3r

Edited by: @Whosaria