Testimonies of creative minds affected by brutalities of our times
Artists at War
SAMA - known as an "emblematic artist of the Palestinian underground scene" previously known as DJ SkyWalker is known as the first DJ to have imported the Techno movement into Ramallah, Palestine. Starting to mix-music in 2006 she has been producing her own music reflecting her personality and as she says herself. Having lived and been educated in various countries in the Middle East and Europe, SAMA's performances have taken her from Palestine to Jordan, Egypt, UK, France and Belgium, Germany, Italy.Type your paragraph here.
From SkyWalker to SAMA'
https://soundcloud.com/sama_saad/from-skywalker-to-samaType your paragraph here.
Where were you born?
Tell me about your life - early life - your parents' background.
My family is epic, they are political and active in their own unique way, and constantly make you think outside the box. They are very attached to their history and principles in life, and they are major poetry lovers.
My father’s family was deported from Palestine when he was 15 years old. My grandmother was involved in voluntary social work throughout her life. She served as president of the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) since its inception in July 1965. She was also a member of the Palestinian National Legislative Council and became the first female member in the Central Legislative Council of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1974. She played a leading role in resisting first the British and then the Israeli occupation by organising and leading protests, writing petitions and vocalizing the plight of the Palestinians in many national and international conferences. She was always calling for Palestinians to unite against the occupation, and was eventually imprisoned by Israel and deported with my aunt Faiha in 1969 after organizing a sit-in and hunger strike at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem, in protest against the Israeli army's killing of women in Gaza.
I grew up with my grandmother’s stories; she never really liked to talk about herself but my father and grandfather never stopped recounting her stories. It always felt hard to believe because when I started understanding the stories my grandmother was in her 60s and it was hard for a child to imagine their sweet, loving, kind grandmother going through all this.
My grandmother is one of my biggest role models in life. I remember when I was 7 and we had just moved back to Palestine, they didn't let me play football in school because I was a girl. When I told my grandmother, she went with me to school – the same one from where she had graduated 40 years earlier – she talked to the school principal and teachers, and managed to convince them that children, girls should have the right to play, and that’s how I was allowed to play football. That is one of the earliest memories that have stuck in my mind. My parents have also always told me that there is no difference between a man and a woman. My brother helped a lot as well because he never played with me “as a girl” but instead treated me as an equal. He wouldn’t go easy on me in football or basketball or even the fights around the house; I was constantly losing in everything but I kept trying and we’re like this even today.
My mother’s side of the family comes from the other side of Palestine. Her family was deported in 1948 from a small village called Yazour, next to Jaffa. She was born in 1956 in Kuwait and moved back to Palestine at the age of 10. My grandfather was a simple man who owned an amazing farm in Jericho where we used to go every Friday. We still do that today since it’s now my aunt’s house. At some point in life my grandfather started a chick farm, to compete with Israeli products, Israel reduced products prices until they drove the Palestinians out of business. Farmers and other businesses have always had this struggle with Israel, who plays on their weak spots and forces them to adjust just to survive.
My mom and dad met in Egypt and then moved to Lebanon where they lived through the Lebanese civil war together, before being imprisoned in Syria.
One of the things I love the most about my parents is that the day they decided to have children is the day they left all the hard politics behind and they moved to another kind of resistance. A resistance in the sphere of building the country and investing in it, changing it with all the power they have to create a better life and build for the future.
As a child, when we were still living in Jordan, I didn’t understand the meaning of war, what Palestine was, or that there was anything wrong with the world in the first place. I was playing football in the streets of Amman day and night, just enjoying being a child. Then one day we moved back to Palestine and I hated everything in my life, even though I was only 6 years old. After a while I started liking it a bit by making friends and meeting new members of my family. But I kept asking my dad the same question “Why did you move us from a country where there is peace to a country at war?” and he kept saying that it was because “we have hope”. I didn't know what hope he was talking about and why he liked this country so much, or why we had left my grandmother and aunt in Jordan and moved to this place. But then the Intifada (the popular uprising) erupted, and the Israeli army invaded Ramallah, and all of a sudden we were under siege and there was war all around us. That is when I started understanding what my dad was talking about.
Tell me about your first memory of war/conflict discrimination/injustice.
For me it was definitely during the Intifada that I started to understand injustice. While the Intifada had started when I was 10 years old, it didn’t get intense in Ramallah until I was 13. Borders and checkpoints were erected, a siege was imposed, guns, bombs and drones became the norm, and all this continued until I was 17, so the best part of my teenage years. The weird thing is that all of this became normal daily life. When that happens and you get used to it, you stop really feeling that there is something weird, it just becomes normal for you. It isn’t until you leave Palestine that things start feeling abnormal; you jump out of your seat when you hear fireworks, when you drive you always expect to encounter a checkpoint, and when you walk around you always expect to see a clash. Going to Jordan would always make us realize the abnormality of these things that had become so “normal”.
I think one of my most vivid memories from the Intifada was when the IDF came into our house, occupied it for a couple of days and locked us all in my aunt’s house on the roof.
The thing is I cannot really separate these things from “normal life” since war and conflict are the memories I’ve had for most of my life; bombs, shooting, people dying and going to jail, that is a daily thing you read in newspapers even today, that is Palestine. Even though I haven't lived in Palestine for 10 years, every time I go visit all this becomes normal again. I get annoyed waiting in airports in Europe, or getting stopped for random searches, but I don't mind waiting for hours at a checkpoint or getting searched by Israel, because that’s just normal life over there.
Discrimination and injustice are the same. I don't know a single time that I had to deal with Israel and didn't feel discriminated against or feel the injustice of their actions. I always assumed that this is what governments do in general. I am from the West Bank, so I only deal with the Israeli Army, not with the people, and their job is to discriminate us and apply injustice on us. I remember how hard it was to get to a basketball tournament in Bethlehem. Even though Ramallah and Bethlehem are both in the West Bank, we had to pass through so many checkpoints, spent so many hours waiting and witnessed so much humiliation and beating, it was ridiculous. And all this just to get to a basketball game and then go back hahahaha,,,, and we used to do it a lot, that’s the thing, we just live with it because we can’t avoid it, but we also don't know how to solve it.
How did living under a constant state of discrimination and humiliation change your world – as a child – as an adult?
I think I just had to deal with adult stuff much faster, usually parents don't have to explain war, hate, death, shooting, borders, discrimination, to their 6 year old kid. There is not one normal way of opening that subject with a child, I can’t even remember how I got to understand it, but I didn’t really have a choice not to.
At some point I think it created a lot of hate and anger in me, that was my rock and rap music phase in life. I was angry at the whole world, I was angry at Israel, I was angry with humanity, I was angry with my government, and with every person in the world for turning a blind eye to what was happening. But then I started meeting people from all over the world and that changed my outlook on things.
This change in me made me want to change other things in the world. I wanted to represent Palestine in a good way. I remember when I used to dance Dabkeh and play football, every time we travelled to represent Palestine I felt 100 feet tall and being Palestinian became kind of an honor in itself.
When did you begin your musical interests?
They truly began when I was a child trying out every instrument the conservatory had to offer in Palestine. DJing I don't really remember, I think when I was 14 or 15 years old, but my dad says it was much earlier. I just don't think I can remember that far anymore hehe.
Why and how did you choose to become a DJ? It's not the most common career for a woman in Palestine.
I guess in the beginning I just wanted to select the music at parties, and I wanted to get rid of the radio’s news that always stopped the dancing. But back then I used to play what everyone wanted to hear, what was known and what made them dance. Just like a wedding DJ does, it is only later that I understood that some DJs make their own playlist and people go to listen to that, they don’t have to just play what people want to hear.
How about your early educational background - tell me about that.
I graduated from the Friends School in Ramallah, then I moved to Beirut trying to figure out what I wanted to study. There, I fell in love with techno music and went to Jordan to study Audio Engineering and Music Production at SAE Academy in Amman. After I finished my diploma I went to work for a little bit in Palestine as an acoustic engineer and then I moved to Beirut again, but this time only for a couple of months to study sound synthesis and music production on Propellerhead Reason and Ableton. After Beirut I went to London to finish my BSc in Audio Engineering and Music Production from SAE London. For the past two years I have been trying to do my Master's degree in Sound Design and Mixing for Film but until now I haven't had the time.
What was the inspiration behind your love for music and audio engineering?
At the beginning? I don't think I had one, I don't think I knew what DJing meant, now I can say my inspirations include the likes of Stephan Bodzin, Max Cooper and Jon Hopkins. On the other hand, my reason has always been expression; I just wanted to get whatever is stuck inside my head out into the open.
So living in a war-zone of sorts, how and when did war/discrimination/injustice start to infiltrate your art form?
I can’t really say since war/discrimination/injustice have always been a part of my life, so I believe it affected everything I’ve done in life and shaped the person I am today. At the same time, I was never very direct about the experiences of war in my music, I don't try to put it and I don't intentionally look for a way of expressing it. I just express Sama, the person that I am, which by default includes all the life experiences I’ve had, such as war, discrimination and injustice.
Was it a conscious act of channeling the pains and terror of the injustice/war through the music selections that you included in your playlists? Or did it happen spontaneously?
How did you choose the name Skywalker?
Hahaha, my dad hates this story. I did not choose the name, my friends in Beirut started calling me Skywalker, because my name is Sama which means ‘sky’ while the Walker part came from Johnny walker.
Tell me about Arab Digital Expression Foundation – and how you are and became involved?
ADEF :) On a random night in Cairo I met Ali Shaath the founder of ADEF, may his soul rest in peace. We discovered that we had so much in common, I loved programming which he also did, and he loved music and audio engineering which I did. We talked for hours and days and then a month later he offered me a job out of the blue. He didn't really offer it to me but rather just told me I would be working there and that I’d do a list of things in a year and then I could either stay or go. That list including handling the studio, transferring my previous experience and knowledge to the children who used the space, and helping them out in tech solutions and in the community area.
I was giving small workshops, managing the studio, helping in the projects ADEF supported whether it was a film or a show or a concert. Before the end of my year the summer camp came around and all of a sudden I found myself the main audio trainer in a camp with 70 kids from all over the Arab world. Ali Shaath and Adef changed my life and allowed me to discover things about myself that I never knew before.
Did your art then somehow empower you?
I think for me my knowledge is the thing that empowers me in life. I like to learn a lot and read a lot, and at the same time I like to pass on information, I really love to teach, and most of all I love to see the people I teach outgrow. It is my ultimate pleasure in life and I think it is the thing that makes me feel good about myself. The music is something I enjoy doing, but the teaching is more empowering and satisfying for me personally, maybe because its after effect is much more tangible.
If you were to put a message to your musical life - what would be the overall message of your art form?
I like to experiment with sounds in general. Most of the time I'm just doing what is running through my head, so maybe some of it has a direct message and some of it is just a reflection of my feeling at that time. But in general I don't really intentionally have a message, most of the time I'm just expressing happiness, anger, wanting to go home, missing something, or I would just be experimenting and messing around with a session, a sound or a synth, and it would grow on its own to create something new.
Do you think some of the musical pieces and lyrics help listeners and your audience to pause and consider the intensity of a political scene?
I am not sure, some yes and some no, that’s the beauty of sound – it is just feelings so each person feels and reacts to different kinds of music in their own way. My purpose is more or less creating a space that disconnects you from reality.
Do you remember the details of your "normal" life before being witness to discriminations on daily basis?
Well, partially but not really because it was always there but my family was always good at making us not feel it as harsh as it is. They always managed to sugar coat it in a way.
What do you miss most?
I miss home; I miss my parents a lot. I miss the simple life of me being in school and just running around endlessly. I miss a lot of things in life, my long gone friends and family members. I guess I just miss the simplicity of childhood.
How has simplicity of childhood as you put it changed you as a person?
It might have made me angrier in life, but it also made me understand a lot in life and appreciate much more. Like when the hot water is cut off and I'm in the shower, I just remind myself that some people don't have water at all and I just deal with it. Whenever the electricity cuts it’s fine, I get on with it. When I was doing my immigration papers in Paris, I spent 12 days standing in a line for 8 hours everyday, doing nothing, and every day they told me to come back tomorrow (AFTER THE 8 HOURS). I would just laugh and think that, at the end of the day, it is still easier than dealing with Israeli checkpoints. I find that both helpful but also very messed up, because that is not supposed to be normal, but I would stand in that line for 8 hours and not move and I would walk out laughing, I wouldn't even make a fight about it. When they take me to security checks at the airport that is normal because Israel usually takes me to the check room every time I go home.
So whatever happens in the world, there is still something worse that could happen, it is a bad mentality but at the same time it is a good way to survive and stay sane. When I got robbed, all I said was we are okay, my parents are okay, then the rest is okay. I got mad but I didn't lose my mind.
Then has living under such circumstances of daily political conflicts made you a better, more mature person now?
Yes. After teaching children from the Arab world I realised how much faster we’re forced to mature because of the issues they go through, especially Palestinian kids. My cousin Mai was 12 when I realised how mature she is and it was shocking to me and I felt it was unfair to her. The children were talking politics, discussing their deceased friends, discussing revolutions, debating and making their own analyses. It was an eye opener to what I myself had lived through as a child, and then I realised that no children in the U.S. or Europe know what it’s like to live through war. Our generation in Europe rarely hears gunshots, while in the U.S. they might have because guns are legal. Though I always wonder how can it be that drinking in the streets of the U.S. is illegal and carrying a gun is?
People always come and ask me how it is to live in a country at war, in Palestine, and I ask how it is to not live in one, because that’s the only reality I know, that is the only truth I know, and it does not make sense to me that only a part of the world has experienced it.
It is a good thing but it is also a bad thing because 14-year-olds in 2004 around the world were watching cartoons, playing games, getting into video games, making music, getting into new stuff, having sleep overs, partying, etc… we were collecting rain water because Israel had cut off our water, we were taught tactics of war (for example, when the electricity is out never light all the candles with one match because otherwise snipers can follow where you are), we were dealing with riots, F16s, bombings, and so many other weird things.
It sounds like a harsh childhood....what was lost then do you think having lived through all that?
I don’t know... maybe my patience? Maybe I am just more angry at the world and at people, I don't know what I lost but I know that I am who I am because of what’s happened in my life.
I lost the practicality of learning it freely and applying it freely, it’s not that easy to travel, it’s not that easy to get a Visa, and when there is war we don't do music. But eventually it gave me something to talk about.
How do you think wars rob the native citizens and civilians of a land in ways that those who haven't lived under such circumstance may not understand?
It robs you from having a simple life but it also teaches you a lot.
Do you think there's a teaching aspect? Or purpose for war, oppression, or discrimination?
I have no reason for it, it never made sense to me and it still doesn’t. Why would someone get out of their way, leave their home and family on horses or boats or marching, and make others do the same, just to fight others? I am a person that usually tries to avoid fights, so why would I go out of my way and go to someone’s house to fight them. I just know how to fight back if someone comes to fight me, but it still doesn't make sense.
How do you explain all this to the next generation that may be struggling to find reasons behind all this?
I usually try to make today’s younger generations understand that all of this is bad and that you always have it in your life as an example of what not to do so you don’t end up repeating the mistakes made by others. It is just an unjust world and there is no good explanation. The way I see it is that most Jewish people have been lied to and Israel is based on a lie that says Zionism is equal to Judaism. Jews and Zionists are not one and the same; I have a problem with Israel, the entity that tries to, wrongly, speak in the name of all Jews.
Just like ISIS, who tries to speak in the name of Islam, the weak and the poor. And then some people follow them, even if ISIS is the farthest thing from Islam, it is pure terrorism. You have to explain to the next generation that since they are counted as terrorists in the world while they are not, that means that not all Jewish people are Zionists, and not all muslims are terrorists.
Always try to put yourself in other people’s shoes. if you don't want people to put you in a category then don't categorise people yourself. For me, the only way the occupation is going to end is when Israel finally wakes up.
Is your art in some ways your testimony for the next generation?
My art is who I am, it is my life story and everything I have been through, it is not straightforward, not even to me, so I cannot really tell you what my art is.
How do you make sense of it all to pick up the pieces and continue on?
oooh, I have very messed up techniques to stay sane. Like I said how I deal with hot water cutting out or getting stopped for security checks. I just compare the situation to something even worse and life doesn't seem that bad anymore.
How do you foresee the future? What are your hopes for the future – your own personal and that of humanity?
My personal hopes include fulfilling my dreams, managing to do and learn all the things I want to go through. Also of course I hope to see Palestine free and the Arab world go back to normal. On the other hand, my wish for humanity is to become genuinely human. It is very sad to see where we are all at right now.
Would you want to return to your homeland someday? Or do you feel as though you can never really return or belong back in your birthplace?
I am definitely returning home soon. Very soon I hope, it has been my dream for at least a couple of years now.
And what about exile – besides the freedom to live and create – that you are not willing to exchange for return to your homeland?
It has given me knowledge and experience and a different, wider outlook on the world. I am satisfied with what I’ve gained right now and ready to go back home and pass it on.
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SAMA Abdulhadi - Ramallah, Palestine