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Musical instruments like the oud and the qanun are beloved traditional instruments popular in Palestine and the wider region. In fact, the English word for the lute derives from the Arabic oud.

Palestinian music came to regional prominence in 1936 with the launch of the Here is Jerusalem radio station, only the second radio station in the Arab world, after Cairo is Here. Four years later, Jenin established its own radio station, Near East. These two Palestinian stations helped launch the careers of many Palestinian musicians, including Yahia Lababidi, Esam Hammad, Abdul Majid Abu Laban and Mohammad Ghazi.

The political events of the 20th century have led to many songs about Palestinian feelings of exile, homesickness and longing for freedom. Hadi Ya Bahr by Abu Arab is representative. The lyrics includes lines like:

هدي يا بحر هدي | keep calm ocean, our absence has become too long

طولنا في غيبتنا | give my salute, give it to the land that raised us

ودي سلامي ودي | and give my regards to the olive tree

للأرض اللي ربتنا | and to my folks that raised me


The years following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war saw the growth of nationalist music. The chorus of a song by Mustafa al-Kurd is thematically typical:

In hope we used to plan

And it is hope we now plant

In the hope that someday

Our hope

Will be reality

Some songs are commonly performed for specific occasions like the harvest season, weddings, funerals, and lamentations. Sometimes songs are introduced with a mawwal — a musical tradition in Palestine and neighboring countries in which the singer expresses sentimental feelings, often lamenting or longing for something like a place or a lover, over a slow rhythm with drawn out pronunciation.

Many songs are particular to the occasion and audience. Some of the most famous are almost genres unto themselves, such as Dal Ouna (دلعونا), Al Jafra (الجفرا) and Al Dahiyya (الدحية). There can be hundreds of lyrical variations on these songs, but they are immediately identifiable because of their rhythms and lyrical content. One of the most famous and popular songs is Zarif Al Tool (ظريف الطول). For decades, it has been a staple of social and national occasions, especially in the villages and refugee camps.

Palestinians are also leaving their mark on contemporary music, with famous singers, musicians and emcees like Mohammed Assaf, DJ Khaled and Simon Shaheen.

This image originally appeared in Arab Perspectives magazine. Anera reprinted it in our April-June 1984 newsletter.

Source: Anera

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