Interview with Bashar Murad: English-language Palestinian Pop for Social Justice

While Palestinian singers are no strangers to international fame, creating English-language music is unusual in Palestine, where songs are heavily tinged with politics, and Arabic is thus crucial for preserving Palestinian life throughout decades of conflict and foreign occupation. Within the context of a growing international solidarity movement, however, young Palestinians are working to find new ways to portray their lives to broader audiences. That’s why Bashar Murad, a 22-year-old singer from Jerusalem, is now producing pop music in English “with a uniquely Palestinian touch.”

His latest music clip, “More Like You,” tackles gender normativity in Palestine through lyrics and visuals that challenge the notion that men and woman have a defined role in society. He shines a light on the lives of Palestinian men and women who broke away from traditional gender roles. These include Ayman Safiah, a male ballerina; Betty Saadeh, a female car-racer who made her debut in the documentary Speed Sisters; Marian Khoury, who practices cross fit and running; Malak Hasan, a female boxer; Inshirah Quraan, a female truck driving instructor; female DJ Skywalker; and Qaher Harshah, a male model.

With lyrics that shatter stereotypes and highlight social issues that are seldom addressed in Palestine, Murad said in an e-mail exchange that he wants “to challenge gender roles in Palestine, and the way the rest of the world perceives Palestinians.” While studying in the United States, the young artist “met a lot of people who had no idea about what was happening in Palestine, and some had very misguided ideas.” This experience inspired him to create English tunes. “I want to reach not only the Palestinian community, but also the rest of the world because it’s so important for people to hear Palestinian artists and their message,” he explained.

Murad’s journey abroad is just part of the inspiration of his ambitions. As a young child, he struggled with embracing his identity, which took “a very long time to be comfortable with.” Recalling the struggle that set him apart from his peers, Murad said “I liked to play with Barbies, mostly hung out with girls, and loved to sing and dance rather than play football.” In this light, “More Like You” encourages people to take risks, let go, and break out of society’s narrow expectations. For Murad, a year of hard work on this clip is testimony to his assertion that “we have one life to live, and it’s too short to waste worrying about ‘fitting in’.”

Can you give our readers an idea about who you are?

bashar-murad
Bashar Murad

I was born in East Jerusalem in February of 1993. I currently live in East Jerusalem with my Dad and my younger brother. I’m working in public relations and communications, and also studying music at the same time. I moved back [to Palestine] from the States in 2014, and I’ve been trying to find [out] how I fit in Palestine, while still being my own self. I worked for two years and constantly felt like my life was missing something and that I wasn’t truly happy. Music is the only thing that makes me feel like I have a purpose in life, this why I am pursuing it and currently studying it.

When did you begin your music career, and how? What inspired this decision?

I have been surrounded by music since I was a child. My father and uncles are musicians. My father started the Palestinian band, “Sabreen,” in 1980, which played a major role in developing the music scene in Palestine. Being in this environment made music an important part of my identity. It became a sort of therapy for me, whenever I felt sad or felt like I had something to express, it always came out in the form of music. I created a YouTube channel in 2009 and began by uploading covers. Later, I started making cover songs with a Middle Eastern touch, like adding instruments such as the ‘oud, tabla, and daff. Then, finally, I started creating my own original music.

You say you write and sing with “a uniquely Palestinian touch,” can you explain to our readers what that means?

I believe that music is one of the best ways to share with the rest of the world. That’s why it’s always important for me to have some sort of Palestinian touch in my music. This could be in the lyrics, the melody, the way I’m singing, or in the visuals accompanying the music. I think as Palestinians we have a duty to our history and struggle, and we should always carry our message through our chosen medium. For me as an artist, I can’t help but have a Palestinian touch because it comes naturally. It is also important for me to give a voice to those who aren’t as privileged as I am. To have been able to study abroad and have unique experiences gave me a new perspective on life.

It’s very important for me to express my identity, lifestyle, and struggle through my music. This is why I started to focus on visuals in my music videos to show a new perspective of the occupation.

Where do you record your music? Do you have a support structure?

I record my music at Sabreen Association for Artistic Development in Jerusalem. There’s no structure at all to what I’m doing, because I’m juggling work, studies, and music at the same time.

How do you see yourself fitting in the Palestinian music scene?

Palestinian music is very diverse, and I’m just another facet of what is currently going on. My goals are to be more international and to use music to make a difference in the world.

Palestinians are no strangers to music stardom, from Arab Idol star Assaf to Omar Kamal, there are many examples. Where do you see yourself in this context?

I think there’s currently no international Palestinian artist that sings universal songs that are relatable, especially in English. I think I am this missing puzzle piece.

You are not affiliated with any recording label; is that a deliberate choice?

I am currently unsigned, but my productions are executed through Sabreen Association for Artistic Development. I am definitely looking for a record label, because a lot of my work is self-funded, and I think I could do so much more with a steady team around me.

Your latest song, “More Like You,” features lyrics and a clip that challenge gender norms in Palestine – why? Do you see yourself as someone different from the rest? If so, how?

I’ve been working on this song and the concept for the video for over a year, so this project meant so much to me. I wanted to show that, first of all, gender is not and should not be a factor in deciding what a person does in life. These man-made labels and boxes only limit people’s potential. I also wanted to show that there are so many Palestinians who are going against the norm, and thriving in their chosen fields.

What have you learned about the trailblazing people you have featured in the clip?

These are all amazingly courageous people. Some of them are my friends, some I found through research. I chose to highlight each one because they have pursued careers, or hobbies, that are usually dominated by or considered to be for the opposite sex. I wanted to break taboos and gender boundaries because once we move past them, amazing things could happen, like the reality of all the people in the video. Every person I approached about being in the video quickly agreed, because they know the challenges they have faced and they also want to break these taboos.

What do you hope “More Like You” will accomplish for Palestine and people’s knowledge about Palestinians?

I hope it can begin to expand the conversation about gender in our society. To show that a man isn’t any more capable than a woman, and vice versa. In addition, I hope that, in the rest of the world, it can break the stereotypes about Palestinians and Arabs that are so prevalent.

 What can we expect from you in the future?

 I’m always working on new music, and I will continue to talk about important issues of the day.

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About Dorgham Abusalim 17 Articles
Dorgham Abusalim is the Online Content Editor at the Institute for Palestine Studies. He recently earned his Master's degree in International Affairs from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.

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