INTERVIEW | MEET TAMER NAFAR (@TamerNafar) FROM PALESTINIAN RAP GROUP DAM

tamer

How did you and DAM begin?

I star­ted solo before DAM and then Suhel and Mah­mood came along and we formed DAM, but I did solo shows a year before that.

So then how did the form­a­tion of DAM come about?

It’s a small city. You don’t need to be the first rap­per there so that every­body can hear about you, it’s enough that you listen to hip-hop and people will think that’s rare. Talk­ing about before Ja Rule, way before Eminem; no white skin was doing hip-hop. I was that guy that was play­ing it in the car, burn­ing CD’s for the people. I used to sit with my friends and this is how I stud­ied Eng­lish; I used to trans­late the lyr­ics and trans­late to my friends as well.

I’m com­ing from the biggest drug mar­ket in the Middle East [Lyd, a city in Israel] so it’s obvi­ously dragged them in enough to say “Fuck the police” and they’ll like it. I’m vis­it­ing my brother in pris­on who liked it. So that’s when I star­ted at the begin­ning, but then I decided to release an EP in Eng­lish because that’s what I heard; I’d nev­er heard any­thing but Eng­lish in rap. I did a small party in my house and I invited my friends. One of my friends asked if she can bring her young brother, and he came and he said “I like hiphop, I also like rap­ping” and so we had the idea to form DAM.

And the young­er brother was who?

Well Suhel, my brother, was already with me on stage and he was film­ing stuff because he’s more into the cinema world. And then the third was Mah­mood who came; he used to be my friend’s brother and now he’s my wife’s brother; she became my wife. Me and her were friends forever and she just brought him to that party where we met and he showed me how much he loves hip-hop and we star­ted DAM.

I’ve noticed that every time we played the songs to people, I’d lose their atten­tion like a minute after and that’s when I star­ted work­ing on Arab­ic; they didn’t get the lyr­ics [in Eng­lish] it’s not my crowd. I heard that there was this Israeli hip-hop scene and I went there and it was way more developed. It was very developed. They were doing it in Hebrew, they had the tech­niques. They had the flows, the rhymes. It just shocked me and I star­ted doing it in Hebrew and devel­op­ing Arab­ic.

So you star­ted first in Hebrew and then in Arab­ic?

First Eng­lish, second Hebrew then Arab­ic. But it went inter­na­tion­al and very big, and went to the levels of being a super­star in Palestine when I released the first Arab­ic single. This was solo, before DAM.

Where? All of this happened in your homet­own of Lyd?

Nah, it’s big­ger than Lyd. It’s mostly Haifa; the North is more advanced cul­ture-wise. The centre and the south are more poor so the cul­ture and these things are more in Haifa, in Naz­areth; they have theatres. Even up ‘til today I did like fifty shows in Lon­don, 70 shows in New York, and may­be three shows in my city Lyd. It’s a hard place but we are devel­op­ing it.

When you’re away from your homeland, do you feel that oth­er people define you by what their idea of being Palestini­an is?

Ah, no but they have expect­a­tions that I don’t like to fol­low some­times; they just have expect­a­tions.

In what sense?

Like that’s my issue; that’s my thing. And it makes you feel that you have no… like it’s chal­len­ging because you wan­na prove you are not a geo­graph­ic­al tal­ent. I’m not a rap­per or have good punch-lines just because I was born in Palestine. That’s some­thing I added; Palestini­an hiphop is some­thing I added to Palestine. It just makes you feel that all they wan­na hear about is the cause and these things. I think Nina Simone had that same thing because she was an amaz­ing sing­er but as soon as she did “Mis­sis­sip­pi God­dam”, then sud­denly she became that thing for the struggle, and when she tried to come back to oth­er songs people just wanted to you know.

Yeah, but I’m try­ing to break through. My last four singles in Arab­ic, I think they were very enter­tain­ing and very dance, and they are being played in clubs like a good main­stream song and I’m enjoy­ing that cause for me to do a main­stream song, a com­mer­cial main­stream song, is also some­thing that’s res­ist­ance and revolu­tion­ary because they boxed me into this “the polit­ic­al rap­per”. I’m not talk­ing about “suck my dick”, “show me your tits”. Music­ally, the way people approach the song or they play it and they dance to it, I think this is some­thing that I’ve been able to do for the last four or five years. For me, it’s res­ist­ance. For me, I just wan­na show that I’m an artist; I’m not just a geo­graph­ic­al pro­duct.

So even if you’re not neces­sar­ily talk­ing about the res­ist­ance, the song that you’re mak­ing is with­in itself an act of res­ist­ance.

If you go to my Palestini­an fans, they will quote polit­ic­al songs, but they will quote also the fun songs. But when it comes to West­ern media that’s it for them, it’s just “he’s from Palestine.” But for example, if they wan­na inter­view Jay-Z, they will be inter­ested in his new work, his new art, his latest things; on “4:44”. But for us, I can­not remem­ber one West­ern inter­view where they didn’t ask about “Who’s the ter­ror­ist?” which is some­thing we released in 2001, but it’s a polit­ic­al song and we have thou­sands of songs that are not polit­ic­al. I can under­stand it but some­times it pisses me off and I feel that it’s ste­reo­typ­ic­al. So are you telling me that in the case that Palestine is free, that means that there are no tal­en­ted people over there?

They should see the occu­pa­tion as a bor­der for us to get into the world, and not some­thing that we need to feed our art because I would fuck­ing love it to write a full love album. I would love that and the only thing that’s annoy­ing me in a way, to go full LL Cool J, as an example. It’s just annoy­ing that they don’t come and they do an inter­view where they ask me about a cer­tain line. It’s “So, how is Palestine? What do you think about what happened?” Ok, in the crowd you have like three hun­dred Palestini­ans, go and talk to them about Palestine; there is noth­ing spe­cial about me. But study my lyr­ics, ask me about the hook. How come this bass-line is this? They nev­er go there.

In most cases, I don’t think that people know any­thing about Palestine that is bey­ond the struggle. We have people that die from can­cer. We have people that have alco­hol­ism. We have people that drink only one glass of wine a day. It’s just like every oth­er soci­ety, and yes we have that fuck­ing occu­pa­tion.

But it’s not everything that you are?

Most def­in­itely not.

So I hope it doesn’t annoy you to ask this now, but my favour­ite song is لو أرجع بالزمن (If I Could Go Back in Time). I’m won­der­ing, how did you come to this idea, and then of doing the song back­wards? 

We didn’t invent the wheel. Nas did it. He did it in “Rewind” [from Still­mat­ic] but he didn’t do it about hon­our killings.

So when there’s a crime, there’s an invest­ig­a­tion. And when an invest­ig­at­or wants to invest­ig­ate, he goes to the scene. He goes back­wards and he tries to under­stand what led to that. But when it comes to women, there is no invest­ig­a­tions. A guy killed his sis­ter, and it’s like oh, prob­ably shar­moota [derog­at­ory term mean­ing whore] she prob­ably slept with someone. So they don’t invest­ig­ate. Like when an Israeli sol­dier just shoots a guy in Gaza, there are no invest­ig­a­tions; he prob­ably threw a stone, prob­ably a ter­ror­ist. That’s it. The case is already closed before the crime and this is it with women. I decided to go in like an invest­ig­at­or, to go back­wards; to go to the crime scene. That’s why it starts with the line “Before she was murdered, she wasn’t alive.” So we went back; the bul­let comes out of her head, we go back to the house… it’s like an invest­ig­a­tion. And I wanted to deliv­er the mes­sage of it’s a crime, just invest­ig­ate it and don’t just say “Because she’s a woman, that’s it. We don’t invest­ig­ate it. He prob­ably had a right to do it.”

It’s like hav­ing lib­er­als. For example, there was these Israeli snipers on the bor­der of Gaza who shot a guy and they star­ted laugh­ing. The right wing people star­ted say­ing “he prob­ably had a gun” and you can see that he doesn’t have a gun. May­be he had a stone but between him and the sol­diers, there’s two miles. He’s not a threat and he’s behind a wall. You don’t kill that guy. The lib­er­als got pissed off because why do you cel­eb­rate his death? You don’t have to cel­eb­rate his death. They are miss­ing the fuck­ing point; you killed and inno­cent man in a way.

So this is it when it comes to women. Some might say, “yeah, she prob­ably had sex with someone”, some might say “you can­not know, but I don’t know, may­be she pro­voked him” That’s the lib­er­al. Let’s just check it; was she killed because she had sex? I had plenty of sex, you wan­na kill me as well? And then we go all the way back to the day she was born, and this is where we found that she is guilty; as soon as the doc­tor said she was born a girl. And that’s “you are guilty until you are proven”.

I treat the woman issue in the same way; I want to take respons­ib­il­ity in the same way I want the occu­pa­tion to take respons­ib­il­ity for what they did to me. Look at the occu­pa­tion. I want you to apo­lo­gise, I want to do this and this and this; this is how I feel. And I go to the women and ya3ni, may­be it’s not 100% com­par­able but that’s how I think of it.

 Well it’s oppres­sion; and oppres­sion is oppres­sion no mat­ter what.

Yeah, but this time I’m the oppress­or. So it’s dif­fer­ent.

 But it is the issue of suf­fer­ing at its core. It’s unusu­al for me to hear a brown man talk about women’s rights. It’s not some­thing that we see gen­er­ally, but espe­cially when it comes to men of col­our.

Niz­ar Qab­bani [Syr­i­an Poet] did it. Mah­moud Dar­wish [Palestini­an Poet] did it. I chal­lenged him too; there’s a line that I really like. He talks about how we will become a nation and we don’t have to carry Palestine on our backs the whole time. One of the lines is, we will become a nation when a poet can describe a female’s body in an erot­ic way.

I took that line and I chal­lenged him say­ing “May he rest in peace, but I think we will become a nation when a woman can describe a man’s body in an erot­ic way.” in the song “Ye Reit” from the Junc­tion 48 soundtrack. The fem­in­ist basics are there. I’m sure my son, or someone else’s will hear the line and take it fur­ther. May­be he will give it a third twist about the LGBT for example. I don’t know.

To build on the work that’s already been done?

Yeah, adding to it.

What do think at this point the future looks like for DAM and also for you?

It looks amaz­ing. DAM just signed with Cook­ing Vinyl, and the album is more than 80% ready. It looks like we’re gon­na release it in Janu­ary. I hope so, Insha’Allah. It sounds fresh and I’m fuck­ing enjoy­ing every work with it. Cook­ing Vinyl is an amaz­ing com­pany and they’re tak­ing good care of us. They’re based here in Lon­don. DAM has a fresh sound now because Maysa is an offi­cial mem­ber. She star­ted as a sing­er with us on stage, she’d do the hooks but now she’s lit­er­ally in the stu­dio with us, cook­ing with us, so it’s her melod­ies, her lyr­ics, and she’s doing rap as well, she’s singing the hooks; we’re singing.

It’s just very very inter­est­ing the way it’s being cooked, and it’s very inter­est­ing because the musi­cian work­ing with us, Itamar Zie­g­ler, doesn’t under­stand Arab­ic. He did the soundtrack of “Junc­tion 48”. He’s an amaz­ing tal­en­ted dude, and the thing is with him, he doesn’t under­stand the lyr­ics right? Of course he under­stands the con­cept but he doesn’t under­stand each line because he’s a poetry guy as well, so he really cares about the meta­phors, about the alleg­or­ies. But what makes it a very hard pro­cess but very pro­duct­ive and unique is that I write a verse, Maysa has a verse, Mah­mood has a verse. I go and I start spit­ting and on the third line he’s like “Ok, stop. I want Maysa to come in now.” It’s like but dude, doesn’t make sense lyr­ic­ally. “I don’t care. Change it.” So you for­ce your­self to change it because music­ally it would sound more fresh if she came in after a bar and a half. And then she comes in and he’s like “Ok, ok stop. Bar and a half. Come back do words.”

And you just start writ­ing again and re-writ­ing again and it’s very hard and it’s frus­trat­ing and you just wan­na punch him. But when you listen to it your like damn, that’s fuck­ing fresh.

Because he under­stands the con­cepts.

Yeah. It’s so hard when you’re an emcee, you’re really in to the lyr­ics; you think that every lyr­ic is a part of your body. Like if he takes one line that means he just cut your fin­ger from your body and it’s pain­ful, but when you listen to it and you see the way it’s shaped and it’s beau­ti­ful it’s like “Dude, he just made my nails; he didn’t cut any­thing, just my nails… look how beau­ti­ful they are.” That’s what he did.

I worked with Udi [Aloni – Dir­ect­or of Junc­tion 48], and he’s an amaz­ing ment­or for me. For the last three years I’ve learned some­thing, I’ve learned, for me at least, the essence of writ­ing. I don’t waste my time on find­ing a way to write good; I use my time on know­ing what to delete. That’s the advice for me, that’s how I work. I’m try­ing to develop a tal­ent where I can know what to delete and what to edit.

To be select­ive?

Yes. Yes. It’s very hard. It is very hard. And I learned that I do it, but it’s bet­ter if I give it to someone else. And I still have that thing where I send it to him and he’s like “Let’s delete that line.” And I’m like “Are you fuck­ing crazy!? It’s an amaz­ing line! And we remove that line it’s gon­na fuck up another line, and it doesn’t make sense!” And he’s like, “Just fuck­ing delete it.” And then I delete it, and then I record it. First time I hear it, it makes sense but I will not admit it. After five or six times, I’m like “Whatever man, do whatever you want.” So it’s very hard ya3ni, bas it’s an amaz­ing pro­cess. For me, hiphop is based on six­teen bars. For me to deliv­er a mes­sage in four bars; I wan­na do it once in my life. But actu­ally that’s the hook.

Take a Drake song for example, “God’s Plan”, I don’t know the song; I heard it once. But I always repeat “She say, “Do you love me?” I tell her, “Only partly” I only love my bed and my mom­ma, I’m sorry.” It’s stu­pid but the way it’s done, the way it’s said, the way it’s planted there; it’s like a hook but it’s not a hook, it’s a verse. But people no longer sing hooks in hiphop and that’s it, they sing a few lines and it’s like a hid­den hook inside. To plant these things, this is what we call a “tex­tu­al tat­too”.

Like if you take that Nep­tun­es tune with Jay-Z. Go to a club, every­body, even people who don’t like hiphop; they’re gon­na sing the hook because the hook is there. But they will also sing a few lines. Like every­body in the club will say these two lines; “And I wish I nev­er met her at all”. People who don’t like hiphop will repeat these lines. And it’s art, I know it’s com­mer­cial and I know that people who come from the KRS [One] era, and com­ing from Mos Def and Talib Kweli; they look at Drake and these people like this. But I think it’s art.

And it’s still part of the cul­ture.

Yeah. And I want to be an enter­tain­er, not just the guy who wants to say some­thing. C’mon, if I come to a Drake show, I want Drake to tell me some­thing new, to freshen my polit­ics. I want him to take a side again­st guns. But I also wan­na dance. If I go to a KRS-One show for example, a Dead Prez show for example; yes I know I’m gon­na get some­thing about Palestine, about the US but give me some­thing to Dance to aswell. Give me some­thing to have sex to. I deserve that; I’m not com­ing to a lec­ture. And that’s what I’m try­ing to take; it’s why I can­not hate on Drake; you can learn so much from these guys.

So I write lines and I record it, then I delete stuff. Then I play it to people who under­stand the lyr­ics. And I stop it and I ask them “Do you remem­ber one line?” And if they don’t remem­ber any line then I go back. That’s how I star­ted and now it’s very easy for me to do it. Now, I feel that people leave the show and they listen to a song one time; they already have lines in their heads. If a guy picks a line and is like “Yeah, I like that. I think of that line.” Then I’m going to mute the drums and keep that prize. It’s a pro­cess. It’s a fun fun fun pro­cess. Nobody asked for my advice, but it’s very cool to give some­body who doesn’t under­stand the lan­guage a listen to it, and see when you lose him.

Like if you listen to Sai­an Supa Crew. A French col­lect­ive; like sev­en emcees on one stage. Back when Eminem released “The Mar­shall Math­ers LP”; he was num­ber one in all the world except France, he was num­ber two because they were num­ber one in France. These guys are… you can listen to their whole album, I don’t under­stand French but they are bey­ond emcee’s; they are musi­cians. You can see that there’s some spark.

I’m work­ing on an English/Arabic album now. I’m gain­ing con­fid­ence. I’m enjoy­ing this pro­cess. I’m doing it here in Eng­lish and then I’m going back to the stu­dio with them to do it in Arab­ic. It’s a cul­tur­al jet­lag for me to move from the Arab­ic lan­guage; it’s like fly­ing from Palestine to the US, you have that jet­lag. It’s becom­ing easi­er and easi­er and fun.

Now for a few lighter ques­tions…

Who are the rap­pers that have stayed with you from the begin­ning to today that you still appre­ci­ate, listen to and study?

Tupac.

Kanye. I know he’s a douchebag some­times, fuck that Trump shit.

There was a point where I was sick of hiphop; I felt that it had amaz­ing singles but shitty albums that don’t carry. I just got bored, and you know when I real­ised that I mostly appre­ci­ate Kanye? For me, he’s not the best rap­per, but when I moved out of my house I noticed that I had one album of this and that, and I noticed I had all of Kanye’s albums. I brought each one of them. And it took me time to under­stand which one I liked most because every one is dif­fer­ent. He is search­ing; I enjoyed his music. And fuck what said about Trump, and the shitty things that he says, and the cap­it­al­ism that he’s try­ing to pro­mote. But I can­not lie that my heart skipped a beat when I heard that he’s drop­ping four albums in one month, so I can­not say fuck Kanye.

I enjoy Kendrick. I feel some­times it’s too much but I enjoy him. What he did on the Black Pan­ther soundtrack is fuck­ing amaz­ing.

I really enjoy J.Cole. J. Cole has songs that I will carry for fuck­ing ever. Songs like “Lights Please”, songs like “Wet Dreams”. “Lights Please” taught me a lot. It’s a song about sex but it has polit­ics in it.

This guy whose name I can­not pro­nounce. That’s the guy who I’ve been listen­ing to mostly for the last three/four months. I can­not stop. XXXTenta­cion is his name.

Nip­sey Hussle is fun. If you miss West Coast stuff; he reminds me of when The Game came out.

Rhaps­ody. She is fuck­ing amaz­ing. She is very good.

What are your favour­ite words?

I hate the word lit­er­ally; because I can­not pro­nounce that word it’s piss­ing me off (he pro­nounces it lit­er­ately)

I love words with the let­ter R. I love the R because I think my R as a Middle East­ern is spe­cial. I just comes good. It rolls and I like it. It makes me feel like I’m start­ing a Fer­rari or some­thing. May­be to some people it sounds like a kitty purring.

It can be either.

Both are good. A pussy­c­at driv­ing a Fer­rari; that’ll be the name of my album.

Shukran Tamer.

Bless­ings.

Listen to Tamer’s latest song “John­nie Mashi” here

Add Tamer on Social Media

Ins­tagram — @tamerdam

Face­book – Tamer Nafar

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
Aisha Afifah

Aisha Afifah

Aisha Afi­fah is a Writer and Research­er based in Lon­don. She has spent over a dec­ade in the enter­tain­ment industry. She has dealt with enough bull­shit to feel like she can give an opin­ion. She Thanks you for read­ing.

About Aisha Afifah

Aisha Afifah
Aisha Afifah is a Writer and Researcher based in London. She has spent over a decade in the entertainment industry. She has dealt with enough bullshit to feel like she can give an opinion. She Thanks you for reading.