GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — In cash-stripped Gaza, opportunities are few for a youth band. There aren't many festivals and sponsors, and instruments are either not available or too expensive, and even a studio to practice may be a luxury.
Yet Sol Band, a youth band, has not only managed to make their mark, but they also help other budding musicians at the music school they opened in Gaza City.
“Sol Band was formed in 2012,” said Majd Antar, 23, the coordinator of Sol Band. “Although we were young and had little experience and money, our shows had a good turnout. We just gathered and performed simple music shows. We participated in a special event at the French Cultural Center in 2015; we did not get any money but we became better known.”
In 2016, the band members opened the Sayed Darwish music school in a building owned by Salam Sarour, a composer and the father of the band’s keyboard player, Saeid Fadel. They use the ground floor both as a studio and a school, which they named after the Egyptian singer of the early 20th century known for experimenting with different music styles. Sayed Darwish school offers music lessons to various age groups, including children, free of charge. When it was first opened 10 students had signed up. Within three months, the number of students rose to 36, half of whom were girls. Today, the school has more than 60 students and has a reputation of supporting talented young musicians, including Nana Ashour, who is known as the drummer girl of Gaza.
The band’s female vocalist, Rafah Shamali, was enrolled as a student at the school initially. Shamali, 16, who loved singing as a child, participated in an open-mic event organized by Al-Qattan Center for Children, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote culture and education.
“I sang a popular song called 'Siti Elha Thob Wa Shal' ['My Grandmother Wears a Dress and Shawl'] and my performance caught the attention of the event organizers. They encouraged me to join the choir and take music lessons [at Al-Qattan],” she told Al-Monitor.
Shamali did not only learn to sing but to dance as well. In 2017, she started training with a dabke dance troupe, but her passion was singing. In 2018, she started attending classes at the Sayed Darwish music school, and shortly afterward she joined the band. “When I first started singing it felt a little strange being the only girl in a young men’s band. My participation in the band was controversial in a patriarchal society. But I have faith in my talent and I want to excel.”
She added, “Since early 2018 I have been taking classes with Sarour at Sayed Darwish school. The training revived my passion for old songs that my grandmother taught me. I feel I'm on the right track — I find myself while singing."
Antar said that the band performs different musical genres and sometimes performs their own songs. “We performed a folkloric song called 'Raafeh Rassi' with Hamada Nasrallah, the lead vocalist of Sol Band. The song got more than 1.5 million views on Nasrallah’s Facebook page in 2018," he noted.
The band often sings patriotic and revolutionary songs to show that resistance is part of Palestine, Antar explained. “This band sings for all Palestinian citizens who deserve to hear music and dance. It addresses Palestinians who have the right to live without fear," he added.
“When we teach music in Palestine we first focus on patriotic songs using different instruments, in addition to traditional songs,” Fadel told Al-Monitor. “In the Levant area, people prefer the Oriental music genre.”
Sol Band’s repertory includes national songs and resistance songs that express the living conditions of the Palestinians. They also perform songs from Egyptian musician Mohamed Abdel Wahab, such as "Ya Musafer Wahdak,” and songs from Lebanese singer Fairouz.
Antar noted that money — along with restricted mobility — poses a problem. Though the band members want to experiment with more instruments, they are either not available in the Gaza Strip or are too expensive. Lack of finances also stand in the way of making an album, so for now the band performs live in Gaza and has posted songs on YouTube.
Despite the challenges Sol Band faces, they have played at local and international festivals. In 2018, they performed at the Palestine International Festival and the Rooftop Festival sponsored by Youth Without Borders and the Palestinian Vision Organization with the support of the European Union.
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