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Meet Gaza’s first rock band

Members of a rare Gazan rock band say the traditional society has had trouble accepting them.

A passion for Western art and music has found its way into the hearts of five young men from the Gaza Strip. They began learning music and playing instruments when they were children, before they formed what may be the first rock band in the Gaza Strip in 2017.

They faced many obstacles, including Gaza's conservative traditions and customs.

Moamin el-Jaru and his cousin Raji el-Jaru first came up with the idea of forming a rock band back in 2007. They were both passionate about rock music, but it took them 10 years to finally form Osprey V.

Moamin, 32, is a lawyer as well as a bass guitarist and songwriter. He told Al-Monitor, “We were only kids when we first listened to rock music. We immediately liked it and thought that it reflected our living conditions in the Gaza Strip, including wars and the ensuing suffering and pain. Our song ‘Lost and Insecure’ spoke about a friend of mine who planned to travel with his fiancée in search of a better life. But he lost his fiancée in the 2014 war.”

“My family was worried that Gazan society would reject us for playing rock music. But I immersed myself in rock and its details to be able to present it in a professional way that does not clash with our society. My family finally saw that rock was not negatively affecting me and started showing interest in our songs. I would translate the lyrics, since our songs are in English, so that my family could understand their meaning,” he added.

Moamin went on, “Any band in Gaza faces challenges, mainly because society still does not accept anyone playing instruments or singing. But this culture has recently started to be more accepting after singer Mohammed Assaf won a talent program [Arab Idol in 2013]. But in our case, society might not be as accepting since our songs are in English, so it is our duty to clarify the meaning of our lyrics.”

Siraj al-Shawa, a 28-year-old agronomist, is the band’s electronic music producer. He was first introduced to Osprey V through his friend Raji, who encouraged the amateur musician and beatboxer to join the band.

He said, “Raji was looking for a drummer and he proposed the idea to me, which I accepted since I love music. I started learning to play the guitar, drums and piano despite the lack of musical institutes for adults — most institutes are dedicated to children. So I relied on myself and learned music on the internet and by watching YouTube videos. In Gaza, we learn to overcome obstacles in an environment that pushes us to confront the difficulties and find alternatives.”

Shawa added, “I also learned electronic music, which helped the band include more variety to the traditional rock music it plays.”

He continued, “We got in touch with artists on the internet who supported us and we benefited from their experience to develop our own music. We also aspire to participate in concerts and events outside Gaza to get our humanitarian message through, since music is a simple language that everyone understands.

The band produced the song “Home” in 2019 about the pain Palestine suffers during war times. The band members believe that many other countries face the same suffering.

Said el-Jaru, 29, a lawyer and guitarist in the band, told Al-Monitor, “Music touches the soul of those who listen to it. When we play sad music, you can see that everyone is touched because music is a universal language. Rock music in particular expresses the pain that many of us in Gaza feel. … So Gaza is like an inspiration for this art.”

The band is working hard to be accepted by society. But its first concert proved successful, with many people, including foreigners such as Egyptians, attending the event in Gaza.

Raji, 29, the band's singer and guitarist, told Al-Monitor, “We received positive and negative feedback from the audience. But we saw that many were interested in discovering more about this music and our songs.”

“We also receive mixed reactions when we share our videos on social media. But we will not give up and we will continue to work to participate in more events inside Gaza and abroad. We are seeking to convey our humanitarian message to the world. Despite the challenges and the lack of support, we are striving to succeed and we hope for a better future,” Raji concluded. 

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