It's Not Complicated: Ma3azef's sonic protest for Palestine
Arab music’s effervescent motherboard, Ma3azef, has extended its cybernetic arm to release “It’s Not Complicated”, a compilation album raising funds for Medical Aid for Palestine and Grassroots Al-Quds.
The 19-track expedition, out on the 6th of July, is home to a roster that alternates between eminence and intrigue, with appearances from Brian Eno, Nicolas Jaar’s alias “Against All Logic”, Lee Gamble and Julmud piquing the interest for most armchair enthusiasts of electronic music.
The album, prompted by Israel’s most recent onslaught in The Occupied Palestinian Territories, neatly situates itself within an ever-growing body of trans-national, trans-sonic collaboration for the Palestinian cause. Yet, as the title “It’s Not Complicated” suggests, the album was also borne out of a clear sense of frustration, and defiance to those that doubt.
"When your very existence is disputed, negated, and denied, you don't learn the answers, you know them. For them, those questions, however complex for the privileged mind, are simple, and the answers could be spoken in a single breath, or they could fill volumes"
Spaces, individuals, and institutions otherwise defined by their empathy towards ‘decolonisation’, ‘critical theory’ and ‘post-colonialism’ quickly became parodies of themselves, covering their eyes and ears whilst playing devil’s advocate. Worse yet, many of these same groups continue to stifle and impede Palestinian voices.
This is the disastrous irony that remains lodged in many of Europe’s “club capitals”. Free-speech, LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter are all supported unconditionally, as they should. But Palestine, that’s too complex, let’s not go there. The messaging behind the album “It’s Not Complicated” is therefore clear. It’s not complicated, it never has been.
Despite social media’s unique impact in shifting the optics of Palestine’s occupation, Palestinians and their allies continue to be suffocated by a type of banal apathy that, at its most productive, extends to occasional instances of performative activism.
This message is presented in far more eloquent terms in the album’s blurb by album co-curator Zuhour Mahmoud, which is as stark as it is stirring:
“Few ask the right questions about Palestine, yet they are answered time and time again. They are shouted and written and drawn and thrown at the world. They are hacked into the digital sphere and sprayed onto every wall. Every single question has already been speculated, thought of, and answered. When your very existence is disputed, negated, and denied, you don't learn the answers, you know them. For them, those questions, however complex for the privileged mind, are simple, and the answers could be spoken in a single breath, or they could fill volumes. For them, it's never complicated. And to them, we humbly dedicate this work”.
“The music, however packaged, however experimental, remains the key focus. First and foremost, we wanted to create a high-quality album”, Rami said. Long gone are the days where music must be explicitly political to be considered as such - sights and sounds now evoke, constitute, and shape political practice. In the Arab region in particular, music and 'musicking' are visceral intermediaries between politics and emotion.
The curators of the album, Rami Abadir and Zuhour Mahmoud, told The New Arab they envisaged the album as an opportunity to “counter discourses that dilute the [Palestinian] conversation”, to “re-tell the Palestinian story through the narrative of a soundscape”. “It’s Not Complicated” is an album of protest no doubt, but also proves that the sounds of protest need not be reduced to cliché.
“All of the artists we initially selected were producers we have long admired, either through their residencies on Ma3azef.com, radio sets, from the regional scene, or international acclaim”, Zuhour added.
“We had a long-list of more than double what ended up being on the album, frankly we were shocked at the enthusiasm of contributors”. Yet, after an arduous process, the album was whittled down to 19 producers, accommodating artists from across the world, conscious of both demographic and gender.
Showcasing artists from Palestine, Chile, Lebanon, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Britain, Canada and more, “It’s Not Complicated” is an authentic reminder of the powers of the global collective.
For those more familiar with the work of Ma3azef, personifying such disparate creative influences for the Palestinian cause shouldn’t be a surprise. As Zuhour and Rami emphasised, “It’s Not Complicated”, like Ma3azef’s previous compilation “Nisf Madeena” (that raised funds for victims of the Beirut Port blast), is a live entity. As compilations should, the album moves and breathes at varying speeds, fracturing if only to conjoin and resonate as a singular frequency.
How individual producers react to Palestinian sumud (steadfastness) is subjective, aesthetic political resistance always is, yet the album triumphs in naturally dissolving these differences into a bubbling cauldron of international, domestic, and diasporic solidarity.
Thanks to the masterful curation of Zuhour and Rami - and the magisterial engineering of Heba Kadry – the Palestinian experience gradually unravels: the idea of the Palestinian people with a land, the violent and enforced rupturing of identity after the Nakba, the slow torture of non-existence, to a final crescendo of renewed activism and resistance. Yes, the electronic intifada is alive and well.
All proceeds from the album will be donated to Medical Aid for Palestine and Grassroots Al-Quds. Ma’an Abu Taleb – founder of Ma3azef - told The New Arab that the work of community platform Grassroots Al-Quds was an especial inspiration behind the compilation.
"Through its archival resources and activist movements, Grassroots Al-Quds remains a vital platform to remind us of Al-Quds/Jerusalem’s Palestinian essence". It's work remains particularly prescient, given the existential threats that Palestinian communities in Occupied East Jerusalem presently face.
As “It’s Not Complicated” proves, creating and listening to music can represent an explicit call to the participatory. There are many ways to resist for Palestine. From cultural isolation to political engagement, Ma3azef’s work to turn the Arab region into an omnipresent sonic force forever blossoms.
The album “It’s Not Complicated” is available to download on Ma3azef’s Bandcamp page now.
Benjamin Ashraf is a non-visiting research fellow at the University of Jordan's Department of International Studies and a researcher at the University of Jordan's Center for Strategic Studies. He is also part of The New Arab's Editorial Team.
His interests encompass Critical Theory, Post-Colonialism, Aesthetics, and Sound Studies.