- Palestinian Music and Song: Expression and Resistance Since 1900 ed. by Moslih Kanaaneh et al.
Judging from the Preface and Acknowledgements at the front of the book, this volume developed as broadly collaborative and consultative work among a multinational group of musicians, journalists, and scholars. The project initiators, Stig-Magnus Thorsén, Heather Bursheh, Ahmad al-Khatib, and Moslih Kanaaneh, “motivated by their close familiarity with Palestinian society and culture”, “sharing the awareness of the crucial role that music and song have played in the lives of Palestinians as well as in their national-political cause”, and “strongly aware of, and puzzled by, the unfamiliarity (or sometimes ideologically motivated negligence) of Western scholars and the general public with this particular component of Palestinian reality” (p. vii), obtained three years of funding from the Swedish Research Council in order to establish collaborative work between the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and Birzeit University in Palestine. The group solicited participation from an international group of scholars, musicians, and journalists with the objective of working together, in person and remotely, to produce the volume in hand. We can all be grateful to these scholars, the Swedish Research Council, and, finally Indiana University Press for producing this stimulating book (indeed, the Indiana University Press, as well as the University of California Press and Duke University Press, offer a number of recent titles on Palestine that are well worth acquiring by individuals and libraries).
In his introduction, subtitled “Do Palestinian Musicians Play Music or Politics?”, Moslih Kanaaneh immediately takes on the issue of the colonization of Palestine, a sensibility so real to Palestinians and other Arabs but one that has been so difficult for North Americans, among other Westerners, to understand, if, indeed, the idea even penetrates their consciousness. Kanaaneh, an anthropologist by profession, writes, “On the one hand, Palestinians share the same discourses and sociocultural, political, and economic characteristics of all the deprived, oppressed, and marginalized peoples of the third world, whether in Asia, Africa, Latin America, or elsewhere. On the other hand, Palestinians are a unique case in that while the rest of the world has moved to the postcolonial condition, Palestinians are still stuck in the colonial condition and seemingly have a long way to go in struggling for survival, resisting occupation, and fighting for liberation and national independence” (p. 2). He outlines four broad processes affecting Palestinian music and its performance in the twentieth century, namely globalisation, the rise of political Islam, Arabisation in the region, and the involvement of Western governments and non-governmental organisations, altogether offering a good introduction to the essays in the book.
The editors organised the chapters in the book into three sections: Background, Identity, and Resistance. While these rubrics certainly indicate the orientation of the essays they label, they are not necessary to the value of the volume, nor, of course, do the chapters need to be read in order to be valuable. The sections do provide a convenient way of discussing the book below.
Rachel Beckles Willson opens the first section with a brilliant, really revelatory, essay on motivation and sources for Gustaf Dalman’s 1901 Palästinischer Diwan, linking Dalman’s work to major aspects of German orientalism. [End Page 156] Willson points out that this essay is closely related to her previously published book, Orientalism and Music Mission: Palestine and the West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). The essay will surely prompt readers to obtain the book and will be useful to teachers wanting a partial form of her larger argument for students.
A transcribed interview with Issa Boulos and Nader Jalal, both of whom are at once scholars and performers, describes the disruptive consequences of the nakba, or catastrophe of the 1948 expulsion of Arabs from Palestine. The inclusion of interviews characterises each of the three sections of the book and adds informative, first person narratives to the impact...