Palestinian rock band dreams of a brighter future

Typo's music reflects band members' experiences of living in Gaza amid mounting political and economic pressure.

    Since the release of their first album, the band has held five concerts in Gaza [Photo courtesy of Typo]
    Since the release of their first album, the band has held five concerts in Gaza [Photo courtesy of Typo]

    Gaza City - From inside the Asayal Studio in Gaza City, five young musicians have made it their mission to convey an optimistic message about life in the besieged Palestinian territory.

    "We are simply trying to send out a message full of hope and peace from Gaza to the world. People of Gaza deserve to live in peace and dignity," Mohamed Zohud, the 25-year-old lead singer of Typo, told Al Jazeera, noting that the band's goal is to "bring joy to the faces of Palestinians in Gaza". 

    Along with his four bandmates, Zohud composes songs that reflect and document their experiences of living in Gaza amid mounting political and economic pressure. Typo is the first rock band to emerge in Gaza, and after releasing a debut album last year, they are already working towards a second. 

    "Nowadays, youth are breaking down the barriers between nations and constructing bridges based on art and music," studio manager Wael el-Eazji told Al Jazeera, noting that social media has made it easier for different types of music to catch on in the isolated territory.

    WATCH: Gaza children find harmony in music school

    An early version of the band formed after Israel's 2012 war on Gaza. Zohud and his close friend, Basem Hamlawi, began thinking about how they could help people to escape from the widespread post-war despair. That is when they turned to music, studying a series of YouTube videos to learn about rock music. They studied tutorials on how to play the guitar, bass and keyboard.

    The two friends rehearsed endlessly, and soon began participating in public concerts.

    Dream of Dawn
    Do not leave it the way it is
    Change the common concept of love and freedom
    Write on people's hearts, 'I exist'
    Tear the fear out of their souls with your kind look
    Grab your paintbrush
    Colour your life
    Throw the past behind your back
    And dream of dawn with an open book
    With black eyes and the colour of revolution 
    Give a vision that would shake the world 
    Play your thoughts and compose your wishes 
    The melody of freedom calls you
    Calls and says, 'Your dream is real, your dream is possible'
    -Lyrics by Typo

    "The people's positive reactions encouraged us to officially form our own band and organise our efforts in order to write and sing our own songs [instead of just cover songs]," Zohud said. 

    In late 2014, Typo began auditioning new musicians to participate in the band, eventually expanding to the five-member version that exists today.

    The members of Typo have had to make do with a lack of support and musical instruments in Gaza. Bass player Mohammed el-Balawi recalled mending his own guitar after it broke during a recording session.

    "We should not give up our dreams because of the blockade and suffering in Gaza," Balawi told Al Jazeera. "We need to be creative to overcome our troubles, and end up having the best songs and performance imaginable."

    In recent months, the group has been working hard towards the release of their second album. Securing funds has been a challenge, but the band was thrilled to receive a grant in 2015 from the Qattan Foundation, a cultural NGO in the occupied West Bank, after submitting a proposal. They won out against eight other, more well-established bands.

    Typo's music is inspired by everyday life in Gaza, a place where rock music is uncommon. This is what inspired their name - the fact that their music might initially be viewed as an "error" within mainstream society.

    "This kind of music is still alien to the Palestinian community. This is why we had to play a trick, and mix the rock music with Oriental drumbeats so that it can appeal to the Palestinians' ears," Zohud said.

    READ MORE: Palestinians hit the right notes in Gaza

    The song Dream of Dawn, for example, speaks of better days ahead for Palestinians in Gaza.

    "It is a call for believing in a better future that is yet to come," keyboardist Samier el-Borno told Al Jazeera. "Neither the Israeli occupation, nor its policies of onslaught and siege, can deprive us from a glimpse of hope to remain resilient and steadfast."

    'We look forward to putting on performances outside Gaza to convey our messages on a larger scale' [Photo courtesy of Typo]

    The decade-long Israeli siege of Gaza has affected all facets of life in the coastal enclave, including art and music. Typo was invited to perform five public concerts across the occupied West Bank last year, but after months of preparation and rehearsal, the tour was cancelled.

    "We did not get the permits to allow us to make it to the West Bank. That would have been a rewarding experience and a considerable feat if it took place," Zohud said. "Sadly, we have accustomed ourselves to such disappointments, given the suffocating Israeli policies that have left us largely isolated and cut off from the rest of the world."

    Since the release of their first album, the band has held five concerts in Gaza, earning a warm reception from fans.

    "What attracted me to their songs was the very sincere and accurate reflection of our lives in Gaza, [and] their courageous attempts to rectify misconceptions towards some marginalised communities in Palestinian society," fan Ayham Salamah told Al Jazeera, noting that he particularly admired one song that calls attention to the plight of homeless children in Gaza.

    The band has been offered funding from a number of cultural bodies in Gaza, including the French Institute, which expressed interest in organising overseas tours - but for the time being, Israel's blockade has put this dream out of reach.

    "We look forward to putting on performances outside Gaza to convey our messages on a larger scale and expand throughout the Arab world," Balawi said.

    "The established worldwide stereotype of Gaza being a city of death and war needs to be replaced with a positive image drawn by Palestine's youthful and promising generations." 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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