An interview with a Palestinian songwriter of political music
In December 2000, Doc Jazz released his first political song 'Intifada', which was listened to widely on the world wide web, and started his internet project 'The Musical Intifada'. Since that time, the collection of his self-written and -produced songs has grown to over 90 funky pop-songs, the majority of which have a political topic. In 2007, the Musical Intifada, which promoted all kinds of Palestinian music, ended its updates. Now, 9 years since the first beginnings, Doc Jazz has started a revival of his musical resistance, which was kicked off by a recent concert in Palestine in October 2009. May Ghoul and Rana Kareem recently interviewed the doctor, who in fact is a practicing surgeon, about his renewed musical endeavors.
Rana: Can you tell me about your profession and how you can manage it with your talent of singing and songwriting ?
Doc Jazz: Well, my profession is that I'm a general surgeon, and I guess my other hobby has nothing to do with that, nor does it have anything obvious in common with it. So maybe that's the reason why I find it to be quite manageable. In my free time, I sometimes get inspiration for songs, and then I sit down and write them and record them in my home studio. So there is no extra time involved in going somewhere or waiting for others, I do it all alone, and that’s how I have been managing to do it for years next to my full-time work at the hospital.
The exception to this was in 2007, on my album Front Door Key, which was produced by Forrest Thomas, and which featured a selection of highly skilled professional musicians. I learned so much from working with Forrest and the others, and it has greatly affected the quality of my home recordings.
Rana: What are you trying to achieve with your music?
Doc Jazz: I consider my music to be a form of resistance against injustice. But not all of my music has a political content, I would say that about 70 % of it does … I write about things that I feel. And since I am Palestinian and I feel very involved with the fate of my people, many of my songs deal with this issue. Often my music is about a news event that has really impressed or moved me, like the more recent rock-song "My Shoe (is 2 good 4 u)" which was about Muntather Al Zaidi who threw the shoe at Bush, or the ballad "Children of Gaza", about the Gaza massacre of 2008.
"Music can transcend divisions"
I believe that music can be a way to convey a message, that can be difficult to communicate through other means. So what I hope, is that people who hear my music get a feeling of why there is a Palestinian struggle for freedom, and why this struggle will not end except with their liberation. Music can transcend divisions based on social class, education, race and gender, so it can be a way to bring all people closer to the Palestinian cause. This is why I write most of my musical lyrics in English, to keep it accessible to people of all nations.
Rana: Why do you think music can be useful in that?
Doc Jazz : Many people don't have enough background information to have real access to political discussions and to political background analyses. For them it often means nothing, or they feel alienated by that kind of discourse. Music however is a language of feelings and emotions, so even though my lyrics sometimes can contain actual political content, there is also a chance that through the melody or the emotion in the song, they will feel with their hearts what I mean to say, instead of with their minds. So it's a way to broaden the audience for our cause, and let them know about the injustices being perpetrated against our people.
Rana: Do you feel this is successful, or not?
Doc Jazz: The feeling of being successful with that varies a lot. Whenever you feel that even one person has responded to the music and felt either its message or its melody, or its beat, you feel successful. On the other hand, we live in times when people have such incredibly easy access to music, that it can be very hard to get your music heard. In the Netherlands I did not feel very successful with the music, although it has more than once reached media such as radio, newspapers and television … but there is a strong reluctance among the audience in the Netherlands to listen to music that has a message that people don’t really want to hear. It collides with the brainwashing they undergo from their childhood onwards, to support Israel through thick and thin. I have always felt I had more fans outside of the Netherlands than in the country itself, despite the attention of national media.
"My music covers almost all modern styles, from rock to rap"
And among pro-Palestinian activists in the Netherlands, the general interest in political music is already at a low level, and the ones who are interested in music seem to be generally more interested in more exotic and oriental forms and genres – either that, or hard-core hip-hop. My music covers almost all modern styles, from rock to rap, but it's basically pop music.
This and other factors led to me closing up the studio before I emigrated from the Netherlands to the Gulf, and I wasn't really planning on picking it up again. But there seems to be a renewed interest in my music, especially from Palestine, which has encouraged me to reinstall my home studio, and produce new songs again.
Rana: Good to hear that ! Do you have any new songs out yet?
Doc Jazz: Yes, I recently released a few new songs: one is in Arabic, and is called "Undhor!", which means "Look!". That one is a mixture of funk and a more traditional Palestinian beat, and is about to the anti-Wall struggle that is going on in flashpoints like Bil'in and Ni'lin. I have dedicated the song to the memory of a young man, Basem Abu Rahma, who was killed by the Israelis while trying to help an injured victim. People there are suffering harshly from a violent crackdown by the Israeli army against their non-violent protests, and it is insufficiently highlighted by corporate media, who are obviously doing their best to help Israel in protecting its artificial image as a 'modern democracy'.
"The concert took place on October 4th, at Al Quds University"
Another one of my new songs is 'Song for Marwa' – this rock ballad is not about the Palestinian cause, but is dedicated to Marwa Al Sherbini, an Egyptian mother of a three-year old child and three months pregnant, who was stabbed to death in a German courtroom in Dresden by her neighbor, in front of her husband and child, in the beginning of July. She was suing him for harassment based on his hatred for Muslims. Her husband tried to help her, while she was being stabbed 18 times, and was shot down by the security guards in the courtroom! Anti-Muslim hatred is on a very high level in Western Europe, and since I was born there and have lived there all my life, I feel connected to the fate of the Muslims who live there, even though I myself have decided to leave the region. In my opinion, Marwa should never be forgotten. That's why I wrote the song.
Rana: What are you planning to do with the music now?
Doc Jazz: Well if time allows it, and if inspiration comes along, I will probably continue to put out new songs, and I recently performed in Palestine as you know, which has always been a dream of mine and now has come true. The concert took place on October 4th, at Al Quds University. It was truly an unforgettable experience; the response from the audience was absolutely amazing. This concert was organized thanks to the interest of fans that live in the Jerusalem region, and who wished to hear me playing my songs live. It was extremely motivating! It definitely helped compensate the generally negative memories of my Dutch experience.
Rana: It really was an awesome concert, such an amazing atmosphere!
Doc Jazz : That is so nice of you, thank you, and I hope it inspired and motivated you.
Rana: It definitely did! Wish you all the best of luck with your music, and I hope you will come again! Do you have a message to the people who listen to your music, or to the Palestinian people?
Doc Jazz: Yes, I want the people to believe in themselves again, in the same spirit as that of the first Intifada that started in 1987. They seem to be increasingly depending on others, and leaving their fate to be decided by others than themselves. But my message to them is: independence cannot be given to you, it can only start by acting independently. Otherwise you are only on the road to a new 'dependence'. This is the motto of my 'come-back'. And I hope that in some way or other, my music relays that message.
Main website: http://www.docjazz.com
Music collection: http://www.soundclick.com/docjazz
Doc Jazz Facebook Group:
Doc Jazz Fan Page:
Links to songs mentioned in this article:
My Shoe (is 2 Good 4 u): http://soundclick.com/share?songid=7154112
Children of Gaza: http://soundclick.com/share?songid=7315684
Song for Marwa: http://soundclick.com/share?songid=7848161
Get the CD 'Front Door Key' (prod. Forrest Thomas) from the Palestine Online Store:
All 90 songs of Doc Jazz can be found through his website, at http://www.docjazz.com . Keep visiting the website, for further information about the upcoming concert in Palestine, and about new song releases. Questions or requests for further information can be sent by email to Maico Music, which manages the work of Doc Jazz, through email@example.com .
May Ghoul has a BA in English literature, and works at Al Quds University in Abu Deis. Rana Kareem has a BSc in Medical Technology from Al Quds University, and works at a health center in Ezariyya.