- My Voice is My Weapon: Music, Nationalism, and the Poetics of Palestinian Resistance by David A. McDonald
David McDonald’s My Voice is My Weapon investigates protest songs and performers of the Palestinian Resistance, and in doing so, provides the first thorough examination of the relationship between Palestinian nationalism and musical expression. McDonald demonstrates that, in the absence of political and economic means, Palestinians dwelling in different geographic zones can often only unite and reveal sentiments through communicative media like music. The songs provide a forum for subaltern/nationalist ideologies and promote powerful feelings “of national identity both within and between communities in ’48 (Israel), in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip (al-bilād), and in exile (al-ghūrba) (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon)” (p. 39). But beyond this, songs frequently have a greater purpose, in that they actually generate sentiments, shape national identities, and provide a space for signifying power structures. As the title suggests, the voice, the song, is the weapon, not just a mirror, but the tool of action or defense.
The introduction and first chapter discuss theory and methodology, noting that the approach blends historical and ethnographic modalities to explore the cultural meanings of the music. McDonald then presents a historical overview of the canon of Palestinian Resistance song, as chapters 2–5 focus on works within the changing social and political landscape dating from the late Ottoman period into the twenty-first century. The second half of the book departs from the general historical narrative with a chronological ethnographic perspective, first concentrating on the career and life of the musical artist Kamāl Khalīl, and then concluding with the activities of the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, which at the time of McDonald’s research presented a new direction in Resistance songs that was taking hold among youth in the West Bank and Israel, where the band resides. Through accounts spanning almost a century, McDonald elucidates the fact that cultural perspectives shift, as does the nature of the musical compositions under consideration.
Following the introductory material, chapter 2 opens with a brief description of present-day displaced Palestinians who come weekly to a Jordanian tourist site atop a mountain to look down at the “ancestral lands they are prohibited from ever visiting” (p. 36). Here, a group of young girls sing a famed folk song of the Palestine al-nakba (“catastrophe,” i.e., 1948 exodus) with text such as, “It is better to be killed by daggers than ruled by the unjust” (ibid.). Following this, the topic jumps to the songs of Nuḥ Ibrāhīm (b. 1913), a Resistance poet who represents the early feelings toward Zionist expansion before 1948, before al-nakba. His works, composed in a colloquial style and dialect, appealed to rural, [End Page 146] nonliterate villagers of the time. For instance, he set texts to the traditional musical art of muḥāwara, sung dueling, but rather than have tribes or Arab groups engage in an improvisatory verbal battle as was the traditional approach (Lisa Urkevich, Music and Traditions of the Arabian Peninsula [New York: Routledge, 2015], 22), Ibrāhīm’s most famous muḥāwara has preset lyrics pitting Zionist against Arab, e.g., “A[rab]: I’ll erase the name of Zionism in the protection of my country Palestine.” “Z[ionist]: My wealth is from lies, and I must own Palestine” (p. 47). The modern-day protest singing of the Palestinian girls at the Jordanian tourist site, who arguably represent the future, juxtaposed with Ibrāhīm’s long-ago defiant “folk genre” piece, demonstrate the extraordinary breadth, length, and perseverance of the Palestinian struggle. This sets the tone for the historical stages presented on the subsequent pages.
At various points in the text, McDonald notes the fact that protest songs were not just generated by Palestinians, but were penned by those from the greater Arab world as well. Beginning...