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Checkpoint 303 Rocks the Bay //

byMarwa Helal

checkpoint303_lrgThe air is thick with gray sheesha smoke at the Pork Store Cafe in San Francisco, CA. It seems every Arab-American in the Bay between the ages of 21 and 35 is here tonight. The cafe is abuzz as young, hattah-clad women kiss each others cheeks in greeting and the guys give each other man-hugs or clink their glasses.

It’s 10:00 pm and Checkpoint 303 is setting up for the night’s show. But as the screen behind them indicates, this isn’t going to be the usual set…

The one-of-a-kind electronic experiment that would become Checkpoint 303 kicked off in 2004 when Tunisian sound cutter, SC MoCha teamed up with Bethlehem-based Palestinian sound catcher, SC Yosh. The idea was to cut, track, fragment and reconstruct the audio soundscape from daily lives in the Middle East, creating new audio reporting on injustice.

Checkpoint 303′s music and visuals are an emotional journey, with audio that will surely shake you like the shells that shatter in Palestine and footage that ranges from a man carrying a sack marked “propaganda,” to officers directing hectic traffic, a debkeh troupe dancing, and wrinkly, handkerchief-ed Palestinian women clapping their hands to to an old 1920s song by a Jewish-Tunisian singer–reminding us of a more peaceful time. They succeed in creating an alternate reality. Taking you through the heart-pounding experience of coming face-to-face with Israeli soldiers, and the indignation of Palestinians at the cement walls that surround them.

But emotions aside, 303 also masterfully manages to engage the audience’s mind as well as heart. Using the visual effects of multiplication and black and white filters on their footage, the words “25 feet high, 5 feet thick, 35 km long” in juxtaposition with an iconic photo of Edward Said and the title of his memoir, Out of Place, preceded by clips of a vintage Atari video game with the text, “my life is not a video game,” you can’t help but think of the impact scholars, organizers and politics have on the lives of Palestinians everywhere, whether it be positive or negative. The subtle (yet, acoustically loud) delivery of 303′s message is what makes them effective as both artists and champions of injustice.

After the set, FEN sat down with Paris-based SC MoCha who reworks the field recordings made by SC Yosh in the occupied territories into rhythmical transcriptions that range from raw acoustic aggression to synthetic soothing tunes with everything in between. This is what he had to say about how it began and where they’re at:

“When I met SC Yosh in Tunisia there was an immediate connection due to our common interests in music and Palestine. We decided to mix our interest in music with the feeling that something has to done about the injustice and the breaches to human rights in Palestine.

“After we produced a couple of tracks, people responded so positively that we had to put it online. There was an overwhelming interest, with over 1000 downloads immediately. So we produced new tracks and added visuals for our live performances.”

Despite the positive feedback they have received he says,

“We’re not naive, so we know the music won’t change the situation on the ground. It’s just a new way to express what’s going on in Palestine without the biased, sensational, mainstream media crap.”

While navigating that fine line between naivete and idealism, he still believes artists can have a positive impact,

“Artists can support hope by creating music that speaks about hope.”

As their innovative sound and visuals gain popularity, they are sticking to exactly what gives them their creative freedom. “Several people have tried to pull us into the mainstream,” he says, “but at this point we are making a deliberate choice to remain as independent as possible, so that we can continue to make the music we want and spread the message we want.”

Checkpoint 303 has taken their message to England, Belgium, France, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Australia, Japan and the list goes on. For downloads and more on them, visit Checkpoint 303′s official website.

Here’s one of our favorite tracks: “Gaza Calling”

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Check out their video, “Streets O Ramallah” here >>

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