From front door key to a free Palestine: the musical intifada of Doc Jazz

Doc Jazz @Nakba65 - © Khalid Amakran

Doc Jazz @Nakba65 – © Khalid Amakran

On Saturday June 1st the De Unie venue in the Dutch city of Rotterdam hosted the annual Palestine event, this time commemorating 65 years of an-Nakba. Staged once more was its initiator Tariq Shadid aka Doc Jazz, the well-known Palestinian-Dutch surgeon, musical activist, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and writer. al.arte had the privilege to speak with Doc Jazz beforehand about the role of music in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and found out what he considers key to a free Palestine.

It all started with a guitar, when he turned thirteen. The music-minded Tariq had asked his father for it. But he refused his mother’s offer to arrange for music tuition; school required enough of him at that time, education-wise. After a few months, with only some self-study books for guitar as support, he managed to accompany himself on the guitar, singing his own songs. In a similar way, Tariq successfully learned to play the piano some three years later. He started playing and singing in bands, first at highschool, and later at college as well. Meanwhile he added the Arab lute (`oud) and the Palestinian flute (shibbabeh) to his range of instruments, along with drums and bass guitar. Tariq did not consider paying less attention to his musical ‘hobby’ when he subsequently applied for the demanding surgery training position; on the contrary, he found a way to slowly increase his collection of recording equipment in order to record his own eclectic music. His nickname ‘Doc Jazz’ dates from this period.

Poster Nakba65

The year is 2013. Many around the globe recently commemorated 65 years of the Nakba on May 15th, i.e. the catastrophic (ongoing) ethnic cleansing of Palestine since 1948. It was the theme of Tariq’s annual Palestine event ‘celebrated’ Saturday June 1st, this time in Rotterdam, where the audience was addressed by the Palestinian-American Abbas Hamideh, director of ‘Al Awda’ (the largest network worldwide striving for the right of return of Palestinians in the diaspora), amongst others. Tariq spoke as well, and performed his most popular songs along with a selection of Palestinian traditionals.

A specific reason prompted Tariq’s decision to dedicate his musical talents to the Palestinian cause. “The first Intifada, in 2000, both struck me and moved me. Years before, when I was still at high school, I had noticed that music exerted a significant influence in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa; it was employed as a means to draw the world’s attention to that cause. It almost happened naturally that I poured my emotions into my songs when things got increasingly worse in Palestine. The first song I wrote in this regard was ‘Intifada’. The subsequent response from the Palestinian online community was overwhelming. My ‘musical Intifada’ was born that very moment. I created a website with that name, and focused on writing more resistance music.” Tariq felt increasingly reassured about the relevance of his musical enterprise over the following two years and decided to keep it up despite his demanding job as a surgeon. He launched a new website and professionalised his recordings. “The current number of Facebook fans indicates that my music has become embedded in the broader spectre of Palestinian resistance. Moreover, I consider the official recognition of my music by the Edward Said Conservatorium in Palestine as one of the major successes in the musical realm of my career.”

Doc Jazz @Nakba65 – © Khalid Amakran

Doc Jazz @Nakba65 – © Khalid Amakran

Success

Another ‘success’ story is Tariq’s song ‘Hungry’, dedicated to the Palestinian Samer Issawi. The latter was held imprisoned by Israeli authorities without charge like so many other Palestinians, but his case was picked up in the media worldwide because of his means of protest: an enduring hungerstrike. According to the Palestinian poetess Genie, the song contributed to Samer Issawi’s recent advance release after a (finally) noteworthy 277 days of non-stop hunger strike. Whether or not ‘Hungry’ made a difference indeed remains unclear so far, but it is interesting to consider the role of resistance music with regard to Israel’s policy concerning such individual cases of Palestinian prisoners. “Personally, I have not experienced ‘Hungry’ as such an influential ‘success’, as Genie puts it. I do believe the song had an effect, though, albeit in a different context; it was a highly effective means to draw people’s attention to this particular case. We frequently used the song in tweets and Facebook posts during our ‘Free Samer Issawi Campaign’. Not that it turned into something viral, but people obviously showed more interest when they found out that someone took the time and effort to write a song about it. Dubai TV even broadcasted part of the song when they covered Samer Issawi’s case, without my intervention. At the time I did not even know they did!”

Tariq’s efforts are especially merited by Palestinians. “Somehow those interested in Palestine in the Benelux (i.e. Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) seem not to appreciate my endeavours too much. I still don’t know why this is the case, but I have accepted it as a matter of fact. Even so, it did influence my decision to no longer perform my music publicly during the annual Palestine Event after its latest edition on June 1st.”

Symbolism

Anyone exploring Tariq’s music online will notice the visual symbolism employed. For example, his website offers his nickname ‘Doc Jazz’ represented in the shape of a key with the words ‘Songs of freedom for Palestine’ attached underneath it. “The key is the simplest and most effective symbol understood by all Palestinians as it hints at their ‘Right of Return’, a notion to which I refer in a song with a similar name. Palestinian refugee families usually still have and thus emotionally treasure the front door key of their homes from which they were dispersed in 1948. It signifies their property; whosoever owns a house naturally has the key of its front door. The symbolism of the key therefore strongly reinforces and refers to the notion of dispossession and the desire to return to their legitimate place and property.”

With this in mind, one immediately understands the title of Doc Jazz’s first official studio album ‘Front Door Key’ (2007). “I started using the logo as such from that moment onwards, to make clear that my music aims to convey the very essence of Palestinian resistance and to show I do not agree with the Oslo accords. These accords propose a two-state solution, which in my view is inacceptable: they ‘honour’ the forced dispossession of Palestinians by Zionists and the latter’s subsequent ethnic cleansing of Palestine by acknowledging the state of Israel -a state created illegitimately and based on historical injustice.”

Doc Jazz @Nakba65 - © Khalid Amakran

Doc Jazz @Nakba65 – © Khalid Amakran

Another example of symbolism is found in the name of Tariq’s YouTube channel ‘Equalizer1948’. Beyond the first references to Emotional Intelligence and the Nakba, the meaning of the term as offered by the dictionary is striking:

1. One that equalizes, as:

a. A device for equalizing pressure or strain.

b. A tone control system designed to compensate for frequency distortion in audio systems.

2. Slang: A deadly weapon, such as a firearm or switchblade.

Does the latter meaning also represent a realm of Tariq’s musical Intifada? “An equalizer strives for equality, in this regard, and opposes the racist essence of the Zionist state which favours Jewish citizens over non-Jewish citizens. It is a categorical rejection of Zionist thought and a call for granting equal rights to people regardless of ethnic origin and creed. At the same time it is a musical device which is used in music productions to balance the various frequencies of recorded tracks which make up a song.” Appropriate word play.

Reviewing resistance

Tariq published his views on the Palestinian cause by means of essays and other journalistic contributions to the online journal Palestine Chronicle in the book ‘Understanding Palestine’ (2007). Being reproached online for being “too belligerent”, Tariq responded with “Making peace will come after achieving justice.” The question arises how peace may be achieved, bearing in mind that Palestinians themselves are strongly divided over the matter; convicted airliner hijacker Leila Khaled, currently a member of the Palestinian National Council and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, still promotes a militant approach to reclaim a sovereign Palestine, for instance, whereas the Palestinian One Voice Movement actively advocates a peaceful two-state solution in line with the Oslo accords.

Tariq holds the view that anyone who truly wants to support Palestinians should embrace BDS (i.e. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, an originally Palestinian concept) as a means to exert pressure. “I oppose the Zionist invasion of Palestine and the related dispossession of land and property, ethnic cleansing and racial segregation. Not surprisingly, I am strongly against normalisation as well, since showing sympathy for the Palestinian cause while acknowledging the state of Israel simply cannot be. This militant and racist state is far from ‘normal’ and should not be treated as such. If it is treated that way, any sign of solidarity with Palestinians becomes implausible and meaningless.”

Confronting words with the nature of the surgical precision of one devoted to the cause for which he stands. But who has come to believe that those alone set the tone for Tariq’s repertoire of resistance music is invited to tune in to the songs of this jack-of-all-trades anew. Doc Jazz is the name, remember? Listen here to his music.

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