Poetry plays a critical role in Palestinian history, artistic verse emerging from a region where literature has occupied a key space in cultural expression for centuries.
Rafeef Ziadah, a Palestinian poet and activist based in Toronto, recently released Hadeel, an incredible debut poetry album and important point in contemporary Palestinian cultural history. Ziadah’s current work builds on an incredible history of engaged Palestinian artistic expression that has key played a role in shaping cutting-edge culture in the Middle East throughout the past century.
Celebrated poets like Nizar Qabbani from Syria, who presented verses that became woven into the cultural tapestry of Arab liberation movements throughout the past century or Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, a cultural icon for the Palestinian movement until today who verses were ripe with artistic beauty but also appeals for liberation of a disposed people.
For many internationally the Palestinian struggle for freedom has been shaped by popular uprisings, images of youth confronting tanks with stones on the streets of occupied Palestine etched into our popular consciousness, but seldom is the role of the arts or poetry in the Palestinian struggle highlighted in mainstream media headlines on Palestine. Today as world opinion is quickly shifting towards the Palestinian people as the Israeli state maintains an inhumane military blockade on the Gaza Strip, as a global solidarity movement for Palestinian liberation gains momentum there is growing attention towards the Palestinian artistic voice.
Ziadah’s poetry is accompanied on the recently released Hadeel by members of the celebrated Toronto-based electronic music ensemble LAL, known for tracks such as Brown Eyed Warrior, as well as contemporary artist Reena Katz. Artistically speaking the album is striking, centered on spoken poetry with instrumentation providing a vivid landscape to Ziadah’s poetry ranging from the oud, to electronics, to violin.
As an artistic experience Ziadah’s first album is complex, offering wide ranging emotions from artistic inspiration for grassroots struggles for liberation, to deep words of mourning born from the tragic history of the Palestinian people, while artistically it is a groundbreaking pronouncement from a poet in Canada offering a message and an artistic practice that will with time reach the world.
Stefan Christoff is a journalist and community organizer based in Montreal who contributes to Art Threat. You can find him on Twitter and the cafés of Little Italy.