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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

Taking an early morning ‘Dad Taxi’ on an already sweltering June day to her final history exam (this one on the Crusades), her father turned the volume down on Palestinian rappers Dam to ask our A-level student “So, you know who Saladin was?" “Don’t bring food into it.” she replied, turning the volume back up.

Had he asked the same question of any member of Dam whose gig celebrating the release of their new EP Street Poetry he’d seen the night before, it would probably not have been confused with a menu option. They’d no doubt have mentioned Saladin’s brief conquest of their hometown of Lod before Richard the Lionheart turned up to re-take it on behalf of the Crusaders. (The religious fundamentalists, not the band obvs.)

Unsurprisingly the exam de-brief call came earlier than expected. “It’s OK, mum, the paper was only an hour long. But I wrote the 12th Century King of Jerusalem was a man called Puy de Fugelay!” (pron Foo-ga-lay).

“Who?” “Puy de Fugelay!” “Right” “It’s clearly not right mum! I meant Guy.” “But not de Fugelay?”“No Mum! Obviously not! It was de Lausignan. Guy de Lausignan.”

In my mind I can hear the laughter of the examiner striking through her paper with a red pen as they wonder who Puy de Fugelay might be, perhaps pretty much as I’ve recently been wondering about Theresa May.

Not that I’m suggesting ‘Theresa May’ is a made up name. Rather it’s that as she never publicly engages in a conversation, she never seems to draw on anything that’s recognisable as a distinct personality. Watching her interviewed it’s as if there’s simply no-one at home; as if she’s a mobile storage space for sound-bites that snap out on repeat like lights switched on by a timer to deter intruders; gobbits of spin spat out on rotation: goblin words that defy her intention by conveying their opposite meaning with increasing repetition.

Whereas increasing repetition as employed by Dam simply increases the impact of their meaningful intention. When the band started out in 1999 it ­wasn’t with an overtly political agenda, but to brilliantly mix their own Middle Eastern musical forms with those that sprang from the Chicago and New York clubs. But born into conflict as Israeli Arabs their lives were politicised from the outset. Singing in Hebrew and Arabic and English the words fly from their mouths on wings of visceral emotion. Observing the world around them, they decry its daily injustice. They sing out against misogyny and so-called ‘honour killings’ and the daily impact of settlement, segregation and conflict. They deliver personal truths and a political message with passion and humour that connects with people in a way most politicians can only dream of. If only those in government would act on their call for integration, co-operation and mutual understanding.

Dam are playing at festivals this summer. The 18-year old is planning to go, celebrating the end of A-levels. Maybe she’ll inadvertently be brought up to date on issues in the Middle East by this brilliant band from Lod – only in a way she won’t fail to remember.

Elizabeth Kinder


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