Bringing the funk to an occupied dancefloor in Palestine

Despite the challenges of Israeli occupation, a small yet determined Drum and Bass scene draws the crowds in the West Bank.

Reporters Notebook: Dancehall in West Bank
The DJs that travel to the West Bank come to 'spread the vibes' [Imran Khan/Al Jazeera]

The DJ drops a tune. The crowd raises its collective arms. The bass falls to the floor. The treble of the strings dances above their heads. In an obscure dancehall in the occupied West Bank a revolution is taking place.

Not one that involves throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers on Palestinian territory, but one that involves music and in particular, the Drum and Bass genre.

Right now, in the midst of the track being played through the giant speaker stacks just after midnight, no one cares about the occupied territory.

They care about the dancefloor they occupy.

Shouting above the music as she talks to me, Ramallah resident Tala has a smile that is an indication of how much this crowd appreciates the sounds and the club.

“This is decent music and we have seen lots of acts outside, but it’s extra special when good acts come to Ramallah because it doesn’t happen much and takes lots of effort because of the Israeli restrictions,” she said.

I try to shout another question at her but she disappears into the crowd as DJ Sinistarr plays an anthem that has the small but joyous crowd screaming.

Sinistarr is one of the outside acts Tala is talking about. From Detroit, he was at the Exit Records party in London last weekend. Tonight it’s the occupied West Bank.

“I wanted to play here because I grew up with Arab culture, with Arab friends. To come here, this is special,” he said. “My friend invited me here. I was never going to say no.”

Universal beats

His friend Odai Masri is the organiser of tonight’s event. For him, any artist that will play is welcome as long as they bring what he calls the funk.

“The DJs that play here come because they want to spread the vibe. We tell them that they might get stopped by the Israelis, but they come. They come for the music,” Masri said. 

Tonight everyone in this club is dancing, but not for the same reason they dance in the West. Well, almost. The beat is universal and so are the dance moves that go with it, but in Ramallah it is slightly different.

Dressed in a lumberjack shirt and sporting a fulsome beard, Khader looks like he could be in Brooklyn or London.

“Ramallah is a whole other thing, dude. We know we are surrounded by Israelis. But we are not going to let them beat us. The music goes on,” he said.

In Ramallah, an event like this is so much more difficult to organise than say, New York, or even Tel Aviv.

The Israeli authorities question anyone coming into the country and especially if they find out you are travelling to the occupied territories without a strong family connection. The Palestinian authority is suspicious of strangers as well.

But this small scene is a powerful testament to the fact that occupation may be the Palestinian everyday experience, but for tonight music is what counts. 

Follow Imran Khan on Twitter@ajimran

Source: Al Jazeera