“My mother told me, don’t get involved in politics – it’s like stepping into a fire. But I say, I want to be a firefighter. If there’s a building that is burning, I want to get people out.” – Tamer Nafar
With that segue, Palestinian hip-hop artist Tamer Nafar continued a scorcher of a set at (Le) Poisson Rouge on Monday night. Mr. Nafar was in New York City as part of the Other Israel Film Festival. The night before, the festival screened “Junction 48,” hailed by the New York Times as a highlight of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows Nafar and a group of Palestinian friends for whom music is a way of reckoning with the personal and political upheaval of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
As a young man, Mr. Nafar was drawn to hip-hop in part because of the depiction of gritty urban scenes in a Tupac video, reminiscent of the streets of Lod outside Tel Aviv, where he grew up. His songs convey rage without descending into hate. He sings and raps about occupation and about love that transgresses boundaries. The rapid-fire delivery, alternating between Arabic, Hebrew, and English, builds a sense of urgency and engagement with the political milieu, but also of openness with audiences of all persuasions. Indeed, a portion of the New York crowd was drawn by special guest Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons) and unacquainted with Mr. Nafar’s work. But it did not take long for Nafar and his collaborators (including Samar Qupty, who co-stars in “Junction 48,” and Maysa Daw), to win over the audience with their electric energy.
Maysa Daw & Marcus Mumford Getting Ready – NY
Posted by Tamer Nafar on Monday, December 5, 2016
Mr. Mumford joined Nafar’s crew for two songs, including a rendition of “When I Get My Hands On You,” from the New Basement Tapes project based on recently uncovered Dylan lyrics. And while Mumford was the known name, Mr. Nafar was the star of the night. In a particularly kinetic moment of call-and-response, Nafar stood at the edge of the stage, foot planted on monitors and microphone thrust into the crowd, the bright lights creating a halo behind him. At that moment, an older man stepped up from stage right. It was Udi Aloni, the Israeli-American director of “Junction 48.” The smile on his face was visible even from the shadows as he held up his smartphone, recording the moment.
“Salaam aleikum!” Mr. Nafar said, thanking the crowd — peace be upon you. The audience’s rousing response, if not in the same language, communicated the same solidarity.
If an image below is pixelated, please click through the “view full size” link for a better view.