Maysa Daw wrote her debut album as part of a university project

Released in June last year, the album Between City Walls, by young Palestinian singer-songwriter Maysa Daw, is a guitar-driven indie gem that refuses to pull any punches. Love under occupation, equality, the quest for freedom. It’s all there.

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“It was a very different world for me,” she recalls. “I grew up in Haifa, which is a lot more chill, a lot more relaxed, and suddenly I move to Jaffa and study in Tel Aviv and everything was so intense. Everything was so new.

“It produced a lot of stuff. Love songs, break-ups songs, political songs. It also produced one of my favourite songs – Crazy. I was so frustrated when I started writing this song. I was thinking of so many things at the time and I just wrote everything down. It’s exactly the way I was feeling – the things that I was asking myself. It talks about religion, it talks about death, it talks about politics. It talks about a lot of things.”

Featuring samples of classical Arabic songs, bursts of radio static, Spanish guitar, and live voice recordings from the West Bank, the album has helped take Maysa to a much wider audience.

 

On top of her constant gigging, she is also set to perform in Switzerland as part of a musical collaboration called the Basel-Ramallah Project, and was in Chicago last month to headline Palipalooza.

“You know, Haifa is very inspirational,” she says. “You’re living by the sea on a mountain and you have everything pretty much that you could ask for in a city. It’s very chill. And in Jaffa I didn’t really have that. You barely have any trees around, you barely have any nature around you or anything. Tel Aviv is a very big scene, but more for Israeli music, and for me it was hard to really relate to the scene that is happening there, or to feel that I belong.”

Maysa is very much a product of Haifa. Born into an artistic family (her father is the actor Salim Dau), she has immersed herself in the city’s independent Arabic music scene, performing at venues such as Kabareet and collaborating with the Ministry of Dub-Key, a Galilean group that fuses the sounds of hip-hop and dancehall with traditional Palestinian dabke.

She has also recently completed recording a new album with the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, whom she joined around five years ago. Early next year, she is due to release an album. The as-yet-unnamed album is her first full-length collaboration with the group.

Prior to the album Maysa and DAM had only made two tracks together, one of which was the feminism-infused #Who_You_R.

“The first time I sang on stage I was maybe 10 years old,” she says. “My dad was always at the theatre and always on TV, so it kind of gave me the feeling that this was the usual thing to do. I never really had that fear or that stress before going on stage. It was the natural thing for me.”

Maysa’s live performances with drummer Issa Khoury and bassist Shadi Awidat are both honest and raw, while her music is a primarily personal reaction to the world around her. As a Palestinian living inside the Green Line (Israel’s pre-1967 border), that can sometimes mean a world of conflict and complication.

Although her work is largely personal, much can be viewed as intrinsically political. Come with Me, for example, is a song about two lovers kept apart by the separation wall, while Radio features the voices of refugees living inside the West Bank.

Via snippets of conversation you can hear them talking about the separation wall, its impact on their lives, and their desire to tear it down. “I do talk about politics, but only because it’s a big part of my life, whether I want it to be or not. And believe me, I don’t,” she says. “But it is a part of my life.

“I started loving music way before I even understood what politics is. I only wanted to make music. But with time I understood more about the responsibility that I could accept to have – not exactly a responsibility, but a sort of a privilege. I have this voice that I can use and it has the potential to reach a lot of people. It made me realise that I can use this to talk about things that many other people can’t talk about.”

Maysa once said that “everything we do here as Arabs is connected to politics”, despite the perceived mundanity of everyday events. As such, there is a vein of resistance running through much of her work.

“The music industry here doesn’t really play our music,” she says. “They don’t say anything against us, but the big radio stations would play an Israeli singer singing Arabic, but would never play an Arab singer singing Arabic. “Of course, it’s not black and white, but in general you wouldn’t hear Palestinian artists on Israeli media.” Not that such silent discrimination is holding her back. She’s busier than ever, which means a new solo album is not around the corner.

“Who knows what will happen. Maybe some magic will happen and 10 songs will fall on me from the sky,” she says with a laugh. “I’m trying to write a few new songs right now, but time isn’t exactly on my side at the moment. But writing always comes in-between things, you know.

“I’m always having these new ideas and I write them down, or new melodies and I write them down. And at some point I’ll just gather them together and a lot of things will come from there.”

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Media: Getty, supplied

Words: Iain Akerman