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6Qs with Hip-Hop Trio DAM //


DAMWhen brothers Tamer and Suheil Nafar and their friend Mahmoud Jreri started DAM (Da Arabic MCs) back in 1999, they had no idea that ten years later they’d be touring the world, regularly. Now, with a debut album (Ihda’, 2006) under their belts, the pioneers of Arabic Hip-Hop as we know it are busy recording their next album, empowering kids with hip-hop and selling out venues from Brooklyn to the Basque Country. On stage, their energy is infectious. Whether you understand their mostly Arabic songs or not, you’ll find your hands up and head nodding within minutes of their entrance. And in true hip-hop fashion they’ve mastered the equation of fun on stage = fun in the crowd. We spent some time backstage with Tamer and Mahmoud before their recent show in Brooklyn, and they’re just as fun behind the scenes.

DAM – “Kalimat (Words)”

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Group Hangout: NYC
Best cook in the group: Tamer – “I’m the only one who can cook”
Favorite Rapper(s): Tamer – Lupe, MahmoudK’naan

1. Tell us about your humanitarian project and poetry teaching workshops.
We go to kids from broken homes and show them that we come from the same neighborhood, from the same situation, and that the world is bigger than where we live. Basically we go in and show them that they can write their own rhymes. We give them a word and everyone throws in their own word. Then you’re just rhyming ’cause when you drop 10 words, a few of them gotta rhyme. Then we show them that they can write it, then we teach them how to flow with it. And suddenly kids come to us with full songs, asking how they can record and where can we perform. When there are festivals, kids who didn’t know anything about hip-hop want to do shows.

2. How did Slingshot Hip-Hop affect your experience as artists?
We see Slingshot Hip-Hop as the degree. You suffer five years in college and you study and work hard and sometimes you’re just exhausted and you cannot go on, and suddenly Slingshot Hip-Hop comes along and it’s like ‘hey, here’s your degree man, here’s your marks, you’ve been doing well, we see your life.’

Not many people have the privilege to see their life and achievements documented. At some points you are so weak and suddenly you are watching yourself in a big film that makes you strong, so it just gives you the feeling that you can get over it.

And it really opened the door for us in the USA. Ever since Jackie dropped Slingshot Hip-Hop, we’ve been doing two or three tours a year. We’ve been big in Europe and the Middle East, but it really opened the door to America and Canada.

3. What can fan look forward to next?
The next album! We’re working on it, were halfway. It’s gonna be very different, we are working with very big artists, like Rachid Taha, and we have Trio Gibran — three brothers from Nazareth who play the Oud. The album will be very musically creative. It’s very different from the first album where we are just throwing words; now we are storytelling.

4. If there was just one thing you want people to know about Palestine/Palestinians, what would it be?
Ashab haq. People with cause.

5. Favorite on-stage moment?
Mahmoud – in the Basque Country, we performed with Farmin Maragoza, and there was like 50,000 people. It was a really good experience.

Tamer – My favorite moment is when people get the punch lines and start laughing and whispering. I love punch lines. So when I work hard on them and people respond immediately, I appreciate that.

6. Writer/Scholar Reza Aslan was in Israel a couple of weeks ago — upon his return he said, “as depressed as I was about the two-state solution prospects, I couldn’t help but notice that the most popular hip-hop act in Israel was a Palestinian group called DAM.” What do you guys have to say about that?

Whenever you are popular that’s good. I would say that we’ve been noisy. Nobody gave a damn about destroying the houses in our town, so they never came to document it. So I invited the top celebrities of Israel to the neighborhood for a bus tour, that dragged at least eight of the top media over there. So we know how to make buzz — when you speak with full confidence with a cause it creates buzz.

I appreciate that, it makes me proud. A lot of times, you just say ‘damn what am I doing? Am I doing it right?’ And when you hear stuff like that, it’s not money, it’s not a prize, it’s not an Oscar, it’s just just a compliment. When you hear that youre like ‘cool’.

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