Rap it up

Tamer Na­far to lighten White Nights at Is­lamic Mu­seum

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By BARRY DAVIS

Rap­pers – to my older ears and un­der­stand­ing, any­way – fre­quently come across as hav­ing plenty to get off their chest. There seems to be an in­her­ent angst-driven un­der­cur­rent about the sub­ject mat­ter. Hence it fol­lows that you have to have a bee in your bon­net about some­thing or other, pos­si­bly life in gen­eral, to do the busi­ness as a rapper or hip-hop artist.

Tamer Na­far cer­tainly seems to have lots to get out there. Na­far is a 38-yearold Pales­tinian Is­raeli rapper who hails from Lod. He first hit the rap scene in 1998, and two years later joined forces with his brother Suhell and their friend Mah­moud Jrere to es­tab­lish the first Pales­tinian-Arab rap group, called Dam. Both as a mem­ber of the trio and a solo artist Na­far per­forms reg­u­larly up and down the coun­try, and abroad, to wildly en­thused au­di­ences. To­mor­row (Novem­ber 16) he will ap­pear at the Mu­seum for Is­lamic Art in Jerusalem as part of a free en­try pro­gram mark­ing In­ter­na­tional Day for Tol­er­ance, ini­ti­ated by the UN in 1996.

The White Night at the mu­seum is epex­eget­i­cally subti­tled as “Mu­sic, Cul­ture and Art from the Arab World in a Western Re­al­ity.” That spells out the so­cio-cul­tural ob­jec­tive suc­cinctly enough.

Na­far has been billed as the head­liner of the mu­seum pro­gram, and will take the stage at 11 p.m. He will be pre­ceded by a 9:30 p.m. slot fea­tur­ing pop­u­lar high-en­ergy world mu­sic act Quar­ter to Africa, with the whole bash kick­ing off, at 8 p.m., with the hand- on Jerusalem Dou­ble event, ini­ti­ated by the Kulna or­ga­ni­za­tion which seeks to bring res­i­dents of east and west Jerusalem to­gether for cul­tural and so­cial in­ter­min­gling. Jerusalem Dou­ble is a backgam­mon ses­sion for all com­ers, from all parts of the city. The White Night pro­ceed­ings will close with the East Mediter­ranean Party, over­seen by DJ Bamya, which starts at mid­night.

As posited ear­lier, rap­pers gen­er­ally have some kind of soapbox mes­sage to con­vey through their art. But while, in­ter alia, they clearly have a need to off­load gripes, thoughts and feel­ings about some per­sonal and/ or po­lit­i­cal state of af­fairs, it is not just a mat­ter of vent­ing one’s spleen. The rapper in ques­tion wants his or her au­di­ence to take the mes­sage on board and, hope­fully, do some­thing about it. To that end, as the most fun­da­men­tal of pre­con­di­tions, your lis­ten­ers have to be able to un­der­stand the lan­guage in which you perform.

As such, pre­sum­ably Na­far brings a dif­fer­ent mind­set to his num­bers, across his pro­fes­sional lin­gual spread of English, He­brew and Ara­bic.

“Ara­bic is im­por­tant to me be­cause it is my mother tongue. It is the lan­guage in which I think, love, dance, dream. That is built-in, for me,” he notes. “That brings more pas­sion. My ap­proach is al­ways the same, but there will al­ways be more pas­sion [in Ara­bic].”

There is a flip­side: “Some­times [in Ara­bic] I can take the ma­te­rial for granted, and that makes it bor­ing. So I’ll look for some­thing else.”

While Na­far says he doesn’t pay too much at­ten­tion to the pos­si­bil­ity that cer­tain mem­bers of his au­di­ence may not un­der­stand the lyrics of a par­tic­u­lar num­ber, his mind­set changes with the lan­guage of choice.

“If I do some­thing in He­brew the mes­sage will al­ways have some po­lit­i­cal con­tent,” he states. “In English it’s dif­fer­ent. I have a song in English called ‘Work­ing Class Shero.’ That is a play on John Len­non’s an­themic song ‘Work­ing Class Hero.’”

The late Bea­tle con­tin­ues to pro­vide Na­far with per­sonal and artis­tic in­spi­ra­tion.

“The whole idea of the song is ‘in the name of Fa­ther, the name of the Ko­ran and the name of John Len­non.’ Those are the three things I grew up on. My fa­ther wanted to be a mu­si­cian. He went on a hajj [pil­grim­age to Mecca] and turned to religion, and John Len­non – the mu­sic he played at home al­most ev­ery day. And there’s my mother who, be­cause of so­ci­ety, didn’t have any dreams at all. All of that is in the song, and my work as a whole.”

Na­far aims to at­tain as wide a mar­ket ap­peal as pos­si­ble, re­gard­less of religion, na­tion­al­ity or cul­tural bag­gage.

“When I perform I don’t think about ge­og­ra­phy,” he says, adding that there is a uni­ver­sal­ity to much of his work. Word­play is a ma­jor com­po­nent of his artis­tic arse­nal.

“For ex­am­ple, I sing ‘same flood dif­fer­ent peo­ple.’ There is the bi­b­li­cal flood with Noah and I talk about [Daily Show host] Trevor Noah. I men­tion ‘same flood, dif­fer­ent preach­ers.’ Each has their own flood. [US Pres­i­dent Don­ald] Trump has his flood, against which Trevor is con­stantly bat­tling.”

While Na­far wages his own bat­tles, against what he per­ceives as in­jus­tices, he says he is un­der no il­lu­sion that his cre­ative of­fer­ings or, for that mat­ter, any­one’s artis­tic work can put too deep a dent in some po­lit­i­cal line of thought or other.

“If art could re­ally make a dif­fer­ence in the po­lit­i­cal arena, Bernie San­ders would be the pres­i­dent of Amer­ica in­stead of Trump,” he says with a sigh.

Even so, the rapper feels a strong urge to say his piece, re­gard­less of the lo­cal or global po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion.

He says he and his work are a prod­uct of his mi­lieu.

“If I lived in, say, Ber­lin I’d prob­a­bly pro­duce dif­fer­ent songs, with dif­fer­ent lyrics. I live in a place where you have to keep your ears and eyes open, the whole time.”

But it cer­tainly not all about angst, doom and gloom. Na­far is an ace at get­ting his au­di­ences on board the fun train, and nary a pa­tron is left un­moved – phys­i­cally too – at one of his shows. He also gets them in on the act. There is no miss­ing the in­ter­ac­tion vibe in the video clip that goes with his lat­est re­lease, “Johnny Mashi” – a ref­er­ence to the whisky brand Johnny Walker.

“You see how the au­di­ences re­act,” he states. “The video was cre­ated by peo­ple from the au­di­ence at 30 shows – in Bel­gium, Ra­mal­lah, Toronto, ‘IF I lived in, say, Ber­lin I’d prob­a­bly pro­duce dif­fer­ent songs, with dif­fer­ent lyrics. I live in a place where you have to keep your ears and eyes open, the whole time,’ says Pales­tinian Is­raeli rapper Tamer Na­far. Beth­le­hem, all over. I did 30 shows in a month and a half.”

Na­far takes pot­shots at all kinds of tar­gets in “Johnny Mashi,” chid­ing overly con­sumer-con­scious Arabs for be­ing more into fash­ion than the im­por­tant is­sues of life, and im­part­ing his dis­ap­point­ment with the state of the world by way of not­ing the evo­lu­tion of Ara­bic so­ci­ety.

“My grandpa had su­per­pow­ers, he had 15 chil­dren,” Na­far in­tones in Ara­bic. “While I’m at the phar­macy, buy­ing Durex. It’s be­yond my abil­ity. Why bring chil­dren into this cursed world?”

The epony­mous bev­er­age, he sings, of­fers some tem­po­rary re­lief.

“So, Johnny, pour me another shot,” the num­ber con­tin­ues. “Johnny please press the es­cape but­ton.”

For more in­for­ma­tion: (02) 566-1291 and www.is­lami­cart.co.il.

(Nadin Nashef)

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