With the state of pop music today, it’s hard to find artists and lyrics that really challenge the social norms the way the artists often did during the 60s, 70s and 80s. War, economic strife and the resulting upheaval was seen as the prose for many lyricists whose songs have been seared into our subconscious and will be for generations to come.
But where do we find today’s version of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and so on? We have to look and think outside the box. The artist that are challenging the social norms are the ones who have to literally battle it in real life. Take for instance Palestinian rap group Dam, who are hardly making headlines on every magazine in the checkout stand, yet their music is infiltrating the young Arab generations and having a major impact.
Coming from an area in the world renowned for its political strife, this group has been using this as the background to songs about issues such as the Israeli occupation of Palestine. And now the trio of men have added a female to their group, singer and rapper Maysa Daw and are tackling the issue of gender stereotypes which are still extremely pervasive in much of the Arab world and even beyond it.
The song is called ‘Who You Are’ and describes the role of women and men and confronts how shockingly discriminatory it can be.
“I am the single, the sterile, and the divorced. I am the ‘better living with a man than live along'” sings Maysa in the catchy chorus.
“I am the dishes, I am the ironing, I am everything, I am nothing. But remind me, who are you? I am the women gossip. I can’t give birth to boys. I am the strong. I am as 100 men. I am the honor, the shame. I am everything, I am nothing. But remind me, who are you?”
The narrative constantly interchanges between the male and female perspective, and exposes some of the well-known ways women are treated. Interestingly they also mention other countries such as India, know for its high percentages of rapes being reports, and the US where human trafficking happens every day.
“Either it’s justice for both genders, or we start honor killing men. We abuse her in Egypt, then oppress her in Lyd. Women trafficking in the US then rape her in India. Then expect her to be on time and raise the kids. Are we talking about Super Woman or a human being?”
Aside from the confronting lyrics, we also see Maysa and the men interchanging roles between the traditional expectations, to swapping it around where we see the men doing the ironing and the household duties, and Maysa as the woman driving and doing the more “manly” tasks.
The video is being supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which is focused on changing sexist attitudes in the Middle East. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Maysa Daw talks about the mission of this music video.
“The role changing can really make people think twice about what the lyrics are about,” said Maysa.
“The first time I hit my sister my parents applauded and said ‘You’re the Man!'” the lyrics state at one point throughout the song in reference to honor killings and gender violence that inflicted by men on the females in their families.
The weight of importance, seeing this dynamic and talented group of musicians present a message that can change their generation is huge. But it also comes at the right time. It’s great to see the uprising of women to are demanding equality, but for men to see other men doing the same and standing alongside women is heartening.
“The mentality of the new generation is willing, it’s looking and it’s like, yo, that’s not cool, we wanna change it,” said DAM founder Tamer Nafar.
According to Al Jazeera, DAM are the first Palestinian rap group, but with the influx of rap groups across the Middle East and in the Arab world, they believe it is more progressive than rap in the US. Come to think of it, they have a damn good point (booty-popping dancers in hip hop videos, anyone?)
“You’ll be amazed at how chauvinistic the American, the ‘modern’ societies will be compared to Arabic Hip Hop when it discusses women’s rights, prostitution rights, it discusses homophobia,” said Tamer.
The day we hear 50 cent, Lil Wayne and whoever else in the rap world dissect these issues in their lyrics will mark a huge shift in the the American Hip Hop culture for sure. And it is sad that the genre is seen as such a chauvinistic battle ground because the genre itself was born out of much social struggle and battling the status quo in white-dominated American life. Where has that intensity and passion gone from our music? The answer is: it’s happening in the Middle East, and it’s exciting!
In an interview with 972 Mag about the video, the group say they were excited to tackle the patriarchy in this song.
“I’m very proud of both the song and the video. I think it is an honest attempt at criticizing our society. Men try to stereotype women all the time, and I just want to ask which stereotypes define men, if any?” said Maysa.
Tamer also says that men who call themselves “feminist” should also be called into question and made sure their actions match their intent.
“We speak out against our own oppressive society, of course, but I believe it is just as important to criticize the hypocritical part of our society, which likes to play ‘make believe feminism’ from time to time,” he said.
As part of the hype surrounding the video, DAM are asking fans and viewers to upload images and videos of themselves carrying out tasks which are the opposite of their gender stereotypes, and promote it using the hashtag #who_you_are. They have uploaded a number of images to their Facebook page already.
Take a look at the full video below, we know you will want to watch it more than once. Here’s to a generation of men and women standing side by side to dismantle stereotypical and hurtful ideals that lead us to regress, not progress.