Nisaa FM: - Palestinian British MC (rapper) Shadia Mansour embarked on her music career at the same time as she became interested in the political situation in the Middle East. She considers herself to be part of a 'musical intifada’ against the occupation of Palestine, conservatism and oppression of women.
She grew up listening to American rappers and she easily related the stories of injustice and oppression voiced in American hip-hop to the experiences of the Palestinians. "I thought, we’re suffering the same issues," she has stated in an interview. "We've got police brutality going on right here in Palestine." She also said, “My music sometimes sounds hostile. It's my anger coming out and it's resistance. It's non-violent resistance.“
Music is Shadia Mansour’s non-violent resistance
Shadia Mansour was born in London in 1985. Her parents are originally from Haifa and Nazareth. Influenced by Arabic performers such as Fairouz and Umm Kelthoum, she began singing at Palestinian protest rallies as a child and she became known in London’s Palestinian community for performing classical Arab songs of protest at an early age. She went on to study performing arts before beginning her career as an MC.
Bursting on to the hip-hop scene in 2003, Mansour has since been crowned with the title of 'The First Lady of Arab Hip-Hop’.
She has gained recognition in the Middle East, Europe and the US for her own songs and collaborations with other artists. Her first single, 'Al Kufiya Arabiya’ (The Kufiya is Arab), was written when Mansour discovered an American made blue-and-white colored Arab scarf with Stars of David on it. Mansour introduced her song on stage in New York with the words, “You can take my falafel and hummus, but don’t fucking touch my keffiyeh.”
'The Kufiya is Arab’ translated from Arabic:
No matter how they design it, no matter how they change its colour
The keffiyeh is Arab, and it will stay Arab
The scarf, they want it
Our intellect, they want it
Our dignity, they want it
Everything that’s ours, they want it
We won’t be silent, we won’t allow it
It suits them to steal something that ain’t theirs and claim that it is.
Shadia Mansour has recorded music with producer Johnny 'Juice’ Rosado of Public Enemy, who, when asked to describe her, pointed at the controversial combination of women and rapper in the traditional Arab culture, “the women have to be quiet…but Shadia comes here with a forceful voice.”
She has also collaborated with artists like Iraqi rappers Lowkey and Narcy, and Palestinian hip-hop group DAM. Mansour has toured with Existence is Resistance, an organization supporting hip-hop shows in Palestine, and is part of the „Arab League“ of Hip Hop, a collection of performers who share views on the Middle East.
During the spring of 2010 Shadia Mansour and Iraqi rapper Lowkey joined scholar Norman Finkelstein on his book tour to tell the truth about the Israeli military's attack on the Gaza Strip. The artists complemented Finkelstein's talks with hip-hop tracks and spoken word. Later in the studio they discussed the convergence of their music and political activism in the project 'Cultures of Resistance’ (for a link to video see right).
Gender and music in the Arab world
Shadia Mansour also takes a stand against stereotyping of women and uses her platform of musical fame, when tackling the thorny issue of gender within Arabic culture. She has refused to perform to gender-separated audiences. Though she is immensely proud of her heritage, she takes a stand against some details of Arab orthodoxy and actively opposes traditions such as gender separation. Mansour's music has been challenged by conservatives within Palestine, and she has addressed that opposition to her music in her lyrics.
Though Mansour’s voice comes from South London, it speaks out for Palestine. Her intention is to establish and retain the sanctity of a distinct Palestinian national identity. “As Palestinians, and as Arab people,” she explained in an interview, “we have to preserve everything. Our Arabic language, our clothes…it’s a matter of existence.”
Although English is her first language, Mansour raps in Arabic, believing that it represents a unity of heritage and a shared cultural communication across the Arabic-speaking world. She also chooses to perform in traditional Palestinian clothing. In doing this, she rejects the overt sexualisation of women in hip-hop, stating that she dresses in this fashion “because it’s our heritage…we have our own culture, and for me there’s nothing more beautiful”.
Shadia Mansour has stated one overall goal; to tell the world that “Palestine is on the map,” and always will remain so.