Since winning Arab Idol last June, Mohammed Assaf's life has been a whirlwind, from adoring fans in Gaza, Ramallah, Amman and Dubai, to concerts everywhere. He has been the positive story of the summer in the Arab world, a summer that has seen drastic changes in Egypt, Syria and many places.
Enass Tinah sat with Assaf in his Grand Park hotel suit in Ramallah, for an exclusive interview with Mondoweiss. We talked about his vision of his future career, how he sees the role of music and singing in a social frame, Netanyahu's complaint about his song Ya Tir Ya Tayer, and many more matters. Assaf seemed aware of the responsibilities he carries not just as a popular winner of Arab Idol, he is aware that there are hopes and dreams built on his story and success, both musically as an extraordinary talent with a golden voice, and as a Palestinian whose message has affected not just Palestinians and Arabs, but a global audience as well.
Tinah: In one of Martin Luther King's speeches he said “As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free." He referenced psychological freedom and self-esteem as "the most powerful weapon" against physical oppression/slavery. Assuming he is correct, how do you think art and beauty strengthens that weapon? Where do you see the role of art and music in giving freedom for the oppressed human under oppression and injustice?
Assaf: From more than one side, look at the Palestinian people, they have been suffering under occupation for more than 60 years, but despite all the suffering and the pain, they do feel happiness. People get married, they have weddings, they celebrate graduations, people are living normally like anybody else, like someone living in Britain. There are differences of course, they are under pressures. The secret in the Palestinian people, is that despite their ordeals and suffering, they can celebrate any place and at any time.
Tinah: But how do you see art, music, poetry. How can they help us?
Assaf: They do help us, music is essential, the music for little children before they go to sleep, it’s calming for them. Music is something that changes the world, it prompts yearning and longing, love, so many noble things. Music is a noble message that reaches people’s heart faster than anything else.
Tinah: Phil Weiss wrote on Mondoweiss, “His career, we can only hope, will be as a singer for the world, not just for Palestine." He didn’t use the words 'a global star', he said artist of the world. If he chose the right path, he could be a singer for the world, his message will not only reach the Palestinians or the Arab people, it could reach other nations who are suffering. What do you feel about this, can you deliver Arabic music and culture to non-Arabs?
Assaf: Of course. First, these days singing in many accents and languages is not an easy thing maybe, for me. But if I work on it I can improve myself, I can actually sing in different accents, this is one thing. Second thing, music and singing I want to tell him is not about music videos, people dancing, fame, lights and stardom; art should be a message; this is what it is basically. You can use it in any pathway you feel suitable. You can change things, you can help a cause. Songs are not just for love, you can talk about women issues in the Arab world, I am not talking in general terms, but specific issues, like the right of women to inherit, her right to work. Even these issues can be put in songs; you can try and solve problems. more