North Africa, West Asia

Jowan Safadi: making sustainable independent music is possible

Jowan Safadi’s music is an important addition to the Palestinian music scene as a whole, making it a lot more diverse and sustainable.

Tugrul Mende
11 June 2019

"I wanted to be human without belonging

not political, national nor religious

I wanted to be human without any identity

without borders" - I wanted to be, Jowan Safadi

There are a lot of great musicians coming from Palestine, making the local music scene a fruitful ground for creating a discourse on the themes that they are affected with. While very fragmented and displaced in many areas, musicians from the region try their best to create a sustainable economy to make their art and music feasible. A lot of projects are happening in the region, becoming an important foundation for the scene, culturally and politically. While the political nature of the musicians living in the region is oftentimes the main angle when reporting on them, the music itself and what kind of achievements the musicians are reaching in terms of music should be taken more into consideration as well.

One of those projects which bring musicians together is the Palestine Music Expo which takes place every year in Ramallah since 2017. In it’s second edition, Jowan Safadi also participated in the event and was categorized as one of the established artists in the scene. According to their website, the “PMX is geared towards providing Palestinian artists with opportunities to showcase their music, learn new skills, and connect with the global music industry, aiming to celebrate the existing music scene in Palestine and lift up rising artists globally.”

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It’s not only about creating a sustainable music scene but also the environment in which they are living. It’s also about giving them a way to voice an alternative Palestinian narrative. Jowan Safadi is not only famous for his music, but also for his critical stance against the conditions in which Palestinians have to live and their daily suffering.

Stay Away from the Mid-Evil East and Sing for it is his latest release. Safadi has been active in the music scene for over 20 years and has performed in various countries with different projects. The songs from his latest album were written over a longer period of time, but now he was finally able to release the album. The title of the album was an inspiration that he had during his residency in Helsinki for prosecuted artists and two of the songs were written during his stay there. In an interview he remembers that: "most of the persecuted artists [in residency] were from the east performing their art in the west about the east, something that can't be really and freely done back in their home countries.”

Safadi was in Helsinki from March until the end of May 2016. This allowed him to record new music and get in touch with local musicians and to give some concerts and talks. It was arranged by Perpetuum Mobile. In its final release the album contains eight new songs, written and performed by Jowan Safadi and produced by Darwish, a Jerusalem based producer and longtime friend of the artist.

Most of the time, when Jowan Safadi is represented in the media, his lyrics are more highlighted than his music. But his music is very unique and diverse, which can be seen in the different projects he has been involved in. The new album is a new path for him not only in terms of music but in terms of how he is dealing with the production of his music as well. Since his 2012 release of Namrud (Troublemaker) he has been working on many new songs and has experimented with new styles and sounds, which eventually resulted in twelve songs that would form the core of this present album. Two differences are apparent between Namrud and this album. It is not only the name of the album, but of a documentary as well about Jowan Safadi, which was directed by Austrian director Fernando Romero Forsthuber. The first difference is his style of music, and the way he was working with his producer Darwish.

His music seems much more mature and developed. His use of various genres molding into one song is one of his strengths. In addition it was challenging to work with his producer because of the geographical difficulties and the way they had to work together. He explains that “the process was different, because Darwish is in Jerusalem. We were working a lot by phone and email, and met occasionally to record vocals mainly. Darwish did most of the work on the album, being a great multi instrumentalist, made it easier and cheaper”. Concerning the title of the album, Safadi says that it was inspired by an old Arabic proverb: “stay away from evil and sing for it” meaning stay away from trouble. “I played with the word shar that means evil, adding one letter to it to become sharq meaning east.” The album deals a lot with the subject of freedom of expression and art in the east or in the Arab world and under occupation in Palestine.

The album is a mix of various genres, mostly centered around post-punk, but with reggae influences and Jowan Safadi’s own musical style. The lyrics quoted at the beginning are typical for his style of writing, and a powerful message for those who are listening to his music. The lyrics explain the way Safadi sees the current situation he is living in, as he explains that the overall album does not contain a message in a traditional way, rather “it is not really a message as much as drawing the sad face of reality as I know it and presenting it in an artistic way. Mainly complaining about not being able to move or speak or sing freely, and what that does to you as a human being and as an artist.”

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The second single of the album is The Police Song. It is a very typical Jowan Safadi song, criticizing an unnamed authority in a satirical tone. The lyrics reflect the politics and the musical style of Safadi: “what can you say, whom will you complain to, if the police is not a police, the president is not a president, the judge is biased and whatever you do is pointless”.

While Namrud was self-funded, SAftME resulted from a crowd-funding campaign, where friends, fellow-artists, and supporters contributed to achieve his goal of releasing this album. Between 2012 and 2019 a number of artists used this method to find support for their art, from Mashrou’ Leila, El-Morabba3, 47Soul to Rasha Nahas all of whom made successful campaigns to promote their art due to their steady and loyal fan base. On his crowd-funding page, he writes that: “As an independent musician determined to protect his art from censorship of any kind or propagandist abuse, the high costs of professional production have always been a challenge for me. It often stopped some of my most promising ideas from evolving into a shareable work of art.”

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In an interview, conducted via email, Safadi explains further the reason behind his choice of using the crowd-funding method. “Yes others did it, and that helped me feel less awkward about asking my friends and fans to take part in my production and support me with money. But I started to find it fair, when I spend so much time and money making something for people to enjoy, it should be ok to involve them in the production process. I made this campaign in Arabic making my audience and community my main backers despite the stereotype about Arabs being sceptic and apathetic when it comes to crowd-funding. I am glad and proud to have proved that we care and support when we believe in something.”

The crowd-funding method is a direct way to give the artists the means to connect with their fan base and help them in creating new releases. His music was from this point on always available for free either on platforms such as Bandcamp or SoundCloud, and thus he is able to give directly something back to his fans.

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Jowan Safadi’s new album is an important part in his current career, and it is more important that it was made possible for him to create two projects from his campaign. His lyrics, style and the message he tries to convey, are part of his nature and the way he sings about things. While most of the time, his lyrics are more noted because of the controversy of the texts which surround them, talking about political, social and human rights issues, his music needs to be addressed more too. His music style is very different to the type of music you find in the current Palestinian music scene. It is very diverse and sustainable at the same time, and it doesn’t try to find a single voice and sound, but many different types in the post-punk circle. Jowan Safadi’s music is an important addition to the Palestinian music scene as a whole. He is creating a way of making music, and is showing younger generations of musicians that it is possible to combine creative music with powerful messages.

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