Formed in 1999 and a household name among youth throughout the Middle East, DAM are the first ever Palestinian hip-hop group. In Arabic their name means ‘eternity’; in Hebrew ‘blood’; in English it’s an acronym – ‘da Arabian MCs’.
DAM’s four members – Mahmood Jrere, brothers Tamer and Suhell Nafar, and Maysa Daw – met on the streets of Lydd, a mixed Palestinian-Jewish city near Tel Aviv, where the group are still based. In an interview in 2008, Tamer Nafar told Democracy Now that the name suggests ‘eternal blood – like we will stay here forever’, evoking a politics of resilience and survival.
DAM were among the first groups to rap in Arabic, but perform in Hebrew and English too, bringing their musical message to diverse local, national, and international audiences. Their music is a unique fusion of east and west that combines Arabic percussion rhythms, Middle Eastern melodies and urban hip-hop.
On stage and in the studio, DAM incorporate rich talent from an array of international instrumentalists, producing an incendiary new sound that reaches far beyond the confines of traditional hip-hop.
In 2001, they released their first song, ‘Min Irhabi’ (‘Who’s the terrorist?’). It racked up over 1 million downloads and brought the group to the attention of young people across the Middle East. Following this success, Rolling Stone in France distributed the song freely in one of their issues, and it has since been featured on numerous compilations.
In 2007, the group signed with the British record companies RCM and EMI Arabia, and with the booking agency 3D Family. Then came the release of their much-anticipated first international album, IHDA (Dedication), which led to songs and band members featuring in a slew of films, including ‘Ford Transit’ (Dir. Hany Abu Assad); ‘Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?’ (Dir. Morgan Spurlock); ‘Salt of this Sea’ (Dir. Annemarie Jacir); ‘Local Angel’ and ‘Forgiveness’ (Dir. Udi Aloni). The group were also featured in Vibe, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Q, Basement, Reuters, and The New York Times, and have appeared on MTV, CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera.
‘Slingshot Hip-Hop’ (Dir. Jackie Reem Salloum), an award-winning feature-length documentary released in 2008, tells the story of the formation of DAM. As well as tracing their history and development, the film also reveals the group’s influence on young Palestinians who share a common story of repression and injustice.
Follow-up album Dabke on the Moon (Nudbok al Amar) – eleven tracks spanning political issues and complex musical compositions – was released in December 2012 on 48 Records. One of the most powerful songs on the album – the tragic ‘If I Could Go Back In Time’– targets domestic violence and ‘honor’ killings, and gained widespread international attention through co-operation with UN Women.
In 2013, DAM introduced Maysa Daw as an official member to the group, with the release of their single ‘Who You Are’. The song was part of a project in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), intending to tackle women’s rights issues and criticize the patriarchal society in which the group grew up.
More recently, the movie ‘Junction 48’, written by DAM member Tamer Nafar and Oren Moverman and directed by Udi Aloni, picked up a string of international awards, including the Audience Award at the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival, Best International Movie at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, and Best Soundtrack at Ophir, the Israeli Oscars. The movie’s soundtrack was released through The Orchard, and Netflix has acquired the broadcasting rights, which will see it begin streaming in summer 2017.
In April 2017 Jrere – together with another composer, a journalist, and a British record label boss – organized the first ever Palestine Music Expo (PMX). A brand new annual music event and industry initiative, PMX showcased a blossoming of musical talent among a people whose voices have struggled to be heard. DAM performed at the Expo’s grand opening, and are currently scheduled to perform twice at the Glastonbury Festival in June 2017.
To look forward to in 2018: DAM’s third album, signed with British record label Cooking Vinyl, and their upcoming tour, planned by the booking agency XRay.