Jerusalem24 – Palestinian-Syrian musical project Darbet Shams (Sunstroke) might just be the musical sensation you never knew you needed.
The dynamic quintet, composed of Hanan Wakeem, Samer Asaqleh, Mazen Hamdan, Heiman Suleiman, and Hisham Abu Jabal, can often be found wandering the border between traditional and pop, lighthearted and serious, political and emotional.
They also frequently find themselves crossing another type of border, both as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Syrians from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. These days, the five are based in Haifa.
After four years of composing and performing on stages across historic Palestine, the band released their debut album, Sho Bedor Elamal (What harm is there in hope), in November last year.
A space for everyone to be themselves
It’s not always easy, of course, for five different individuals with distinct backgrounds and experiences to work as a unified band, formulating a single musical identity.
“I think we agree on the main things, you know,” vocalist Hanan Wakeem, one of band’s original members tells Jerusalem24. “We have this vision of a free society, a free nation. […] These are things that we aspire to. But of course, we have different histories and backgrounds, and sometimes arguments happen.”
“Our motto is to have an open discourse,” she adds, “and even within the artists and musicians themselves, we have a space for everyone to express themselves, their ideas.”
Tolerance and diversity are great strengths, but being driven by the same values helps, of course.
Ubiquitous throughout their songs is the inescapable idea of freedom – “not only from the occupation and the Israelis but also as human beings, to be free in social aspects,” says Hanan. “As a woman I would like to address women’s issues, sexuality and gender. And also workers, and economic freedom for Palestinians and Syrians that live under the Israeli occupation.”
Their songs are often very topical, informed by current events, such as the widespread protests that rocked the Golan in June, or the record-high level of homicides in the Palesitnian community inside Israel.
“Lately I’m thinking a lot of Min-Nadel (We are fighting),” confides Hanan, “because we live now in a situation with no personal security and the crime rate is just [at] a new level with the organized crime. Women are [also] being murdered, and people who are different are being murdered, just because they are different.”
But is being so political is a product of the society and circumstances they were born in, rather than an aspiration?
“We don’t usually plan” to address current events, explains Hanan. “Normally it’s something that happens and we react to it. […] We try to respond, to have a say in things that happen.”
When more constraints equal greater freedom
Even though the band is not scared of tackling the big questions, such as freedom, occupation, and Palestinian-ness, it’s a different matter on stage altogether – particularly as they mostly perform inside Israel.
In fact, finding places to perform is especially challenging especially, says Hanan, because Darbet Shams has “a very clear political point of view”.
“A lot of people are scared to invite us,” she says. Venue owners have tried to impose conditions, telling them, “If you want to perform, you don’t sing this song.”
In addition, the group refuses to work with Israeli governmental institutions, organizations, and people who are funded by the Israeli government – directly or indirectly – which further limits the options from which they can choose for their performances.
Add to that the fact that the band are completely self-funded, and it might appear to the untrained eye that the five young musicians just really, really enjoy a challenge.
But you cannot put a price on the benefits they enjoy in return, says Hanan, “especially when our songs are so political”. The band has rejected funders who wanted them to perform “under their own terms”.
Instead of easy gigs lined up for them, what the band have is complete freedom to address the Palestinian and Syrian political and social situation inside Israel and the occupied Golan as they see fit.
Listen to the full interview on Vibes.