Unlike pretty much everything in today’s politically polarised environment – one thing most, if not, all of us can agree on is the everyday impact of music. You might have a playlist for commuting or exercising. Maybe there are specific songs or artists which take you back to certain events in your life. And while every song might not hold meaning – lyrics often have the power in expressing feelings and emotions that we may struggle to articulate.
After researching the late Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti, for my undergraduate dissertation – it became strikingly clear how music can be used to communicate political resistance. While my research focused on military dictatorships within Nigeria – the potential for music to inspire and incite opinion is just as prevalent closer to home.
To understand this in action is through the British musician, Lowkey and American rapper, Westside Gravy. Both artist’s rap about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But their differing perspectives offer an insight into the difficulties navigating this ongoing 72-year conflict.
Westside Gravy – an American Jewish rapper – uses his song ‘Diaspora’ as a testament to the Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel. After centuries of persecution and expulsion from states across the globe, the biblical and spiritual relationship to Israel connects Jews from countries such as Iraq, Ethiopia and the US.
But – the same relationship that Jews feel to Israel is also the source of political contestation. Lyrics such as ‘what the hell gives you the right to tell me who’s indigenous’ points to the denial that many hold towards the Jewish homeland and Zionism more broadly.
Zionism is the belief that, as Jewish people see themselves as an ethnonational group – they are entitled to their ancestral homeland. As the argument goes – this should be no different to a British person expressing their right to reside in Britain, and likewise, a Chinese person’s right to live in China.
Jews have fought for their return to the state of Israel. This explains Westside Gravy’s unapologetic territorial integrity with lyrics such as ‘check out the flag that I’m waving, two blue stripes and a huge Star of David’.
If we turn to Lowkey’s song ‘Long Live Palestine’ – a different narrative emerges. Lowkey, while not Palestinian himself, is a vocal opponent of Zionism. His song is a battle cry towards the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank.
His perspective of the conflict revolves around the Israeli state ‘murdering more rapidly’ with those who are in agreement with Israeli policy considered to be ‘supporting pure savagery’. Within the song, Israelis fighting the war are described as ‘trigger happy’. Interestingly, Westside Gravy commemorates the same ‘trigger happy’ soldiers through telling his fans to ‘Take moment and remember the fallen for their sacrifice.’ But from Lowkey’s perspective ‘Israel is a terror state, they’re terrorists that terrorise’.
The tension between these lyrics recounts the double-bind that occurs when discussing Israeli-Palestinian relations. While Jews acquired their ancestral homeland, many who lived in modern-day Israel before 1948 became displaced. A key example is that each year, Israelis and Jews across the diaspora celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israeli Independence Day. Where for Palestinian’s – the same day is one of remembrance and loss in the form of Nakba day.
Both songs display contrast in their stance towards Israel. But – they equally use their songs as a platform of resistance. For Westside Gravy, he refers to students who advocate for the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) as ‘acting stupid’. BDS refers to a Palestinian-led campaign which puts pressure on Israel through boycotting Israeli goods. However, for Westside Gravy – such students are ‘picking and choosing truths’ and don’t know ‘what real resistance is’.
If we look at Long Live Palestine, the song represents the resistance felt by many Palestinians. While he doesn’t mention the BDS movement – his lyrics are to be viewed ‘from a truly human perspective’. For Lowkey, the violation of international resolutions and the treatment of Palestinians requires a call of dissent. And ultimately, a demand for change.
On the surface, such messages couldn’t be further apart. The two songs represent the struggles and tribulations that occur when engaging in dialogue with this contested conflict. For many Israelis and Jews, Israel is a safe haven – a place of acceptance. For Palestinians, as Israel prospers – it leads further to their downfall. However, these two songs tell us about the strength and love that both people have towards this land – land which they both consider as their own.
The goal of this has not been to provide an up-to-date discussion of the political and historical discourses surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, it has been to show the power of music in storytelling and expressing resistance.
Whether you agree with one song more than the other – Diaspora and Long Live Palestine offer an insight into the feelings of both sides of the conflict. Resistance doesn’t need to be on the street for it to be there. Music provides a medium for us to engage and learn from one another. To learn about our experiences and differences. Living in a political environment where people are placed continuously in binaries of left or right – music’s power is in its ability to connect us together as a human being’s.