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In the News
Last Updated: 09/07/2010
British Palestinian rapper conducts a 'musical intifada'
Jon Donnison, BBC News

BBC writer, Jon Donnison, interviews Shadia Mansour, 24-year-old British Palestinian-born female rapper, who discusses her childhood influences as well as her present-day influence on West Bank youth. Mansour, sometimes referred to as the the first lady of Arabic hip hop", considers her work to be a form of "non-violent resistance."

British Palestinian rapper conducts a 'musical intifada'

"It's a musical intifada, a musical uprising," says Shadia Mansour squinting in the sunshine outside the hip hop workshop she is running in the West Bank city of Hebron. From inside, a DJ can be heard cutting out beats on his decks. Ms Mansour has been dubbed "the first lady of Arabic hip hop", but she is perhaps the only lady of Arabic hip hop. The 24-year-old British Palestinian rapper grew up in South London, but she is currently on tour in the West Bank. Ms Mansour is giving concerts in Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah but is also working with local young rappers in free flowing jam sessions.

Revolutionary music

"They're impressive," she says. "The first thing I noticed with the local hip hop artists is that their music is revolutionary - very similar to mine." Ms Mansour says she first started singing at the age of five or six, often accompanying her parents at pro-Palestinian rallies in London as a child. "We would sing protest songs," she says. "I come from a musical family, a revolutionary musical family." Ms Mansour was inspired by classical 20th Century Arabic singers such as Lebanese artist Fairouz and Egypt's Mohammed Abdel Wahab. She moved towards hip-hop in her teens. But what distinguishes her from many other British rappers is that she chooses to rap in Arabic even though English is her first language. "Arabic is the language of poetry, a very classical language," says Ms Mansour. "For me it's all about originality. I am Arabic, my name is Arabic, and I believe I should rap in Arabic."

'Non-violent resistance'

"My music sometimes sounds hostile. It's my anger coming out and it's resistance. It's non-violent resistance.” (Shadia Mansour)

Ms Mansour's music is very political. Many of her videos are accompanied by images of decades of conflict in the Middle East. She has sung about Israel's major offensive in Gaza starting in December 2008 in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed as well as 13 Israelis. The Israelis say they attacked in order to stop the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas militants. "My music sometimes sounds hostile," she says. "It's my anger coming out and it's resistance. It's non-violent resistance." In a small summer school in the centre of Hebron, over the years, often the scene of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Ms Mansour sings in front of an audience of young schoolchildren. "They came and destroyed our houses; They came and killed our children," she raps. The six and seven year olds clap along, the lyrics perhaps a little over their heads.

Local celebrity

But Ms Mansour does not shy away from what she sees as Israel's 43-year occupation of the West Bank. While the Palestinians view the land occupied by Israel in 1967 as belonging to a future Palestinian state, Israel says Jerusalem and the major Israeli settlements that have grown up on the West Bank should fall within its borders. The two sides began a fresh round of peace talks in Washington this month, saying they hoped to reach a deal on borders and other core issues of their decades-old conflict within a year. Back in the West Bank, Ms Mansour is perhaps better known than she is in the UK. "Everybody here knows Shadia Mansour," says 16-year-old Shanab Shaana, a Palestinian rapper from Hebron. "This visit means a lot to everyone here." For her concert later that evening, a crowd of around 400 turn up, including a foot-tapping local mayor. "I don't worry about performing," says Ms Mansour. "I just hope I don't offend the more conservative elements of society." And she says it's about more than just performing. "It's not just prancing about on stage. It's about showing support and showing that there are Palestinians in the diaspora who want to promote their identity and culture."

"Everybody here knows Shadia Mansour. This visit means a lot to everyone here.” (Shanab Shaana, 16 Rapper from Hebron)