Arab Hip-Hop Artists: Warriors Of Creative Lyrics In The Battle Of Narratives

Khat Thaleth'(third line) musical collective: MCs and DJs performed another gig On Sunday October 7th, the release of their promo CD, the Third Line train of lyrics at Metro Al Madeena Beirut.

Khat thaleth MCs from the 2nd gig.

The train of lyrics, hosted by MC Al-Sayyed Darwish, featured: Katibeh 5, a Hip-hop crew from Borj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp; Touffar , a double act from the peripheries of the rugged mountains of Baalbek; El Rass, a solo rapper from the impoverished streets of Tripoli; LatLateh, hailing from the underground of the oldest city on the planet: Damascus; and finally El Far3i from the sub-entrances, and narrow alleys of Amman. In addition there was a special guest to the Khat Thaleth movement, representing Tunisia, : Armada Bizerta. On the decks spinning the vinyls were DJs Dub Snakkr and Sotusura.

Khat Thalet, the Third Line, represents a musical genre that has been infiltrating its way into the minds and hearts of the youth in the Arab world. If we have to put a definition on it, we would call it Arab-Hip-hop, however this no doubt brings to mind stereotypes of baggy-jeaned, fast talking rappers covered with bling on top of a boom, boom beat. Khat Thaleth is here to show you that what we now call “Arab-Hip-hop” is simply an evolution of Arab poetry. A creative flow of lyrics alongside electronic beats: Arab poetry 2012 style. In many songs the electronic beat is the recomposition of classic Arabic songs, borrowing rhythms from tunes we grew up listening to at home on the radio, accommodating them to fit a flow of verses. To enjoy the literary and musical talent in Arab-hip-hop is to know how to listen to it. Paying attention to the flow of words is key.

The wind of change that has been sweeping through the Arab world brought with it a change to my play-list. Songs downloaded free online have been accumulating in my library from there lyrics made their way to my psyche. Each song of the khat thaleth production tells a story, embeds a message, and poetically offers a third way of thought to the listener.

One of the member of khat thalet is El Rass, an emerging Arab Hip-Hop artist who has established himself in the Arab hip-hop scene through his acrobatic literary talent. A poet by instinct: El Rass is inspired by peoples’ uprisings on Arab streets. His first album, Unveiling The Hidden (Kashef al-Mahjoub), was released last February. The poet verbalizes his thoughts in his song Islamology and asks: “Do we live life and strive to kill the time, while we fill up our increased humiliation with hollow gold? Why don’t we recreate the seconds and rewrite our wisdom?”

In this song El Rass goes on to point out the corruption and manipulation practiced by the clergy towards the public: “The bells of our churches are dumb, the Azzan of our mosques are deaf, glorifying a god, hiding inside the jaws of a vampire, who mulls on subjugation of the poor while crushing the dreams of the wise”.

Like El Rass many artists became participants to Khat Thaleth, or the third line, as an Initiative for the maturation of popular consciousness. The musical gathering is not only about music-making but further it is a wakeup call for the protesters/people on the rebelling Arab streets, and to the ones who are having shy attempts at a revolution. These Arab lyricists have taken Hip-hop as an initiative to embed and spread a necessary third way of thinking.

In these times of revolution and struggles in the Arab region opinions are polarized between an influence from the aged dictatorships and from opportunistic moneyed regimes who have managed to camouflage themselves as the new; unfortunately they are nothing but the same old systems of injustice busy hijacking revolutions to keep their old wine in new bottles. Many Arab activists, journalists, and artists have taken it upon themselves to point out the counter-revolution and its vast resources thieving peoples’ struggles and rebellions. One method for eye-opening and finger pointing is music, through lyrics that are plain and simple to grasp and tunes that are hip and familiar to the young. A spoken language of the street, directed to the people on the street. And this is exactly what Khat Thaleth is tapping into.

The lyrics of Khat Thaleth are a philosophy, overtly laid out, presented through a funky beat, followed by an informing flow of words that leaves the listeners a little bit wiser.

Touffar (the outlaws), a Hip-hop duet made up of MCs Nassreden and Ja’afr, from Baalbek, make an appearance in the line up of khat thalet. With their distinguished Lebanese-Baalbek dialect they sing about state-corruption and social injustice in Lebanon, as well as regional matters such the liberation of Palestine, and the ongoing uprisings in Arab countries. Touffar use their musical tracks as vehicles to drop important matters that are overlooked by the politically owned media. In the song Job opportunities (Foras amil) Touffar raise the issue of the lack of job opportunities in state neglected regions in Lebanon such as Baalbek.

Nassrldeen flows: “They (politicians) deprived you, starved you, O cousin, they portrayed you as a thief and a murderer not up to the standards of Beirut. They labeled you a van driver or a diesel smuggler. They kept you unemployed so they could manipulate you. How come you are still waiting for job opportunities while he (the politician) awaits the chance to make you bleed? Go to Beirut, O cousin, and see. Forget the good people, this city is the kingdom of beasts”.

Jaafar attests: “In Baalbek there are no job opportunities, try to farm a piece of land you go broke. Go to Beirut to find a job you end-up kissing hands so you can secure a fixed job in the army or drag a cart from Manara to Hbaish (Hbaish a police station in Beirut known for its harassments and arrests of street vendors) Get employed at a security company as a statue, or do a slave’s work at a restaurant”.

Touffar paint a lyrical picture of jobless people from Beqaa and how it really is when they go to “glamorous” Beirut looking for work. Through Job opportunities Touffar are also advising their people, who live in poverty in Beqaa, that going to Beirut will not bring a better life and elevate their social status, but will only be a humiliation. Touffar urge Beqaa-ies to stay in Beqaa and return to their abandoned agricultural land. “To the land we return. Go back to your land plant it, harvest it, break it and roll”.

Think of Khat Thaleth as rebels in an artistic gathering, with a cause not just merely to entertain but mainly to open eyes, activate the mind, agitate the soul, and further educate the Arab street.

After years of accumulation of outdated politics and power corruption from the Left and the Right a third line was born from the guts of the hapless people whose rage sparked an ongoing wave of protests across the world. From the streets of Tunis two years ago this third line (khat thaleth) emerged. The urgency of a third line is present in the orbit of Arab hip-hop artists: warriors of creative lyrics in the battle of narratives.

Through their music, these lyricists try to spread knowledge that ranges from politics, unfettered capitalism, Orientalism, economical injustice, freedom of expression, misleading media, but their focus is always in directly addressing their people in a form an advice, a tip here, and a valuable fact there.

Far3i (fara’i) embeds his lyrical talent in a hip-hop flow or on an acoustic-guitar. A Palestinian from Jordan Far3i in his song Moqawameh madaneyeh (civil resistance) emphasises “ you are telling me to lower my voice as if you are advising me, but to me the fear-factor was broken when I glanced at it in Tunis”.

Far3i in the same song goes on to point out: “notice how the occupation is doubting itself, issuing further isolating statements”. Far3i strikes further: “a peaceful resistance group probably had less than a 100 members, their page was removed from Facebook”. Here Far3i is drawing his listeners attention to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the incident of last year when Facebook removed a Palestinian group, that was growing rapidly, advocating the right of return.

Far3i turns to the Arab youth and tells them that:“my first goal is to trust myself and trust my people. You’ll become a freedom fighter when you stop being an apathetic human, when you stop throwing trash from the car window while you tell your boys how perfect the West is.”

Creative lyrics are a school of thought entrenched in music to empower the listener to walk the path of liberation from the chains of ignorance and poverty. Its produced by young informed people who are aware of the deteriorating social conditions in their surroundings. Their privileges of literary and musical talents are being channeled to the public to create a third line of awakening in order to shift circumstances that will ultimately serve the people.

The victory of the revolution, cousin, takes two revolutions. One against the regime strangling freedom, another against those waiting to steal its victory”. Sing Touffar.

Syria at the moment can be taken as an example for the necessity of a third line initiative. While superpowers battle each other in the heart of the Levant for geopolitical gains the Syrian people are paying the steep bill of foreign policy with their own blood. On the one hand there is the Syrian regime and its allies on the other hand we have the West and the Arab-Gulf countries led by a sectarian rhetoric from Saudi Arabia. The third line in this equation is the Syrian people.

Sayyed Darwish a lyrical rebel touched by his own peoples’ suffering shines from under the rubble of the battered city of Homs. In a verse from the song Ya Deeb the MC paints a picture of the daily plight in Syria, and points out that he is not merely entertaining his audience but trying to awaken them.

“I remember the neighbor’s voice shouting at her children shutting her doors because the war has neared her doors. Listen, I’m not telling a story to amuse you, I’m stating a reality to wake your conscience. I left the circle of death and my face was lost. I know where it is, I hid it with them, if i could kiss their foreheads and write one line between their eyes it would be: Al-Saud are the old Qibla (the direction that should be faced when a Muslim pray) now Homs is the Qibla: pray!

That party ended with a revolutionary lust .But while that party is finished, Khat Thaleth the Arab Hip-hop movement are back in the lab cooking a new batch of tunes. More lyrics will flow, emerging as an element of influence in the ongoing revolutions; thriving on creating content, telling stories, flowing a dialogue to continue the movement from the streets.

Touffar: Foras amil

Far3i: Mouqawameh Madaneyeh

Touffar: Min al-awal

Sayyed Darwish: Ya Deeb

3echq El Rass

You download El Rass and Munma -Kachf el-Mahjoub (Unveiling the Hidden). Special thanks to Pirate Beirut.

The third line train of thought

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