#Who_You_R: Interview with DAM’s Maysa Daw

Art in all forms has the power to deliver a message and inspire people with the ideas it is portraying. It magnifies the voices of those who are on the margins and may raise them beyond what power can silence. Many individuals and communities around the globe have used art as a way to raise awareness about several social and political issues. Singer, songwriter, and musician Maysa Daw, who recently joined the Palestinian hip-hop trio DAM (see video), talked to Palestine Square about the power one’s voice can acquire towards challenging the systems around us.

Maysa was born in Haifa, where she grew up and lived most of her life. Caught up with music since she was little, Maysa first took at stage when she was ten years old. Starting her vocal lessons at the age of fifteen allowed Maysa to have her first professional performance three years later. “I always knew I wanted to do music and nothing else, since I was young I knew I wanted to sing, even before I knew that I wanted to sing for a certain message, I just always knew that I want to sing.”

A passionate artist with a desire to be a messenger for her community, music was the natural fit: “It is what I love to do, what makes me feel comfortable, what makes me feel that I can talk about whatever I want.” This is not to say that Maysa’s lyrics are political anthems. On the contrary, she described her work as mainly “personal,” but she believes that the issues we face on a personal level as individuals are connected to a larger story. “Everything we do here as Arabs is connected to politics, so when I sing about something I consider personal, it is somehow connected to the politics we go through every day,” Maysa related. Her lyrics are shaped by her daily encounters with people, but she explains that the unifying thread through her work is ultimately one of individual rights and freedom. A fluidity that reflects her style preferring to be “easy with her music” and not confine herself within any specific brand or genre of music.

In 2013, Maysa joined DAM as the only female member in the leading Palestinian hip-hop group. Maysa’s addition had brought a soulful and melodic voice to the group, especially in the new hit “Who You Are.”

I think hip-hop is one of the most honest arts out there,” Maysa told us via Skype. “When hip-hop music came out and started, it was from an honest place and a tough reality, and similar to how it started in the [inner cities] among African American communities, it started in Lyd [Lod] among Palestinians living in Israel. Lyd is a difficult place. Yes, it is a different language that we sing in and different topic that we talk about, but it is coming from the same place that wants to shout out about what is going on and deliver a message.”

Many have described “Who You Are” as a feminist anthem raising awareness about gender roles around the world. The lyrics are amplified by the visually performative reversal of roles between DAM and Maysa where the chorus and raps are “performed” by Dam and Maysa, respectively.

Maysa’s lyrics are “sung” by (brothers) Tamer and Suhell Nafar and Mahmoud Jreri:

“I’m the spinster,

I’m the infertile,

I’m the divorced,

In the Shadow of a man,

But not the shadow of a wall.

Washing and Ironing

I’m everything but I’m nothing.

But tell me, who are you?

The video was directed by Scandar Copti (the filmmaker behind the Oscar-nominated Ajami) and was funded by the United Nation in an effort to challenge sexism in the Middle East.

Maysa related the idea behind the song, “The chorus of the song are words that women get labeled with everywhere, not only in the Arab world, but pretty much everywhere around the world. They are words that women get identified with, so this song comes and says: ‘Okay, I am all of these things, but tell me, who you are?’ That’s the issue that the song is trying to address.” 

The release of the song was accompanied by a social media campaign with the hashtag #Who_ You_R encouraging fans to send videos of themselves challenging traditional gender roles. The campaign received countless support from fans around the world who contributed videos and pictures rebuffing the male-oriented traditions in society.

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Maysa described the campaign as a big success and a great step towards encouraging people to “put themselves in positions that they do not usually picture themselves into, only if it is just for a minute to take a picture or make a video!” 

This article is by Institute for Palestine Studies’ intern Ghadeer Awad.