Imagine not being able to play a gig 40 minutes down the road because you don’t have the right permit to travel, imagine there were no promoters to put on your shows at any stage in your career; these are just a few of the issues facing the Palestinian musicians we met recently as part of the newly set-up Palestine Music Expo (PMX).
On a humid November day in Ramallah, West Bank, seven international music industry representatives settled down in a local restaurant, ready to meet 12 Palestinian musicians for a historic lunch.
The décor was much like you would expect in a basic family run Mediterranean restaurant, with fans buzzing overhead and terracotta paint on the walls. A printed menu, with 5 dishes listed, graced each seat and fresh orange and lemonade in carafes waited for us on the tables.
With admittedly a basic understanding of the situation and a view completely constructed by the western media, I was intrigued and excited to meet everyone and hear what life for a musician in Palestine really meant.
Having started our tour of Ramallah in a local refugee camp, the day had begun in an emotionally testing way, but with the entrance of the musicians the mood was instantly lifted. What followed was an afternoon of education, laughter, excellent food, beers, hookah pipes and open and frank conversation.
“I WAS INTRIGUED AND EXCITED TO MEET EVERYONE AND HEAR WHAT LIFE FOR A MUSICIAN IN PALESTINE REALLY MEANT.”
On both sides, there were big questions about how things worked, both in the industry and how everything operated on a ground level. One of the things that struck me most from these conversations was as Palestinian’s they must obtain permits to travel into Israel, which are very rarely granted meaning not only can they not play in the country, but that some of their favourite artists will come to Tel Aviv and they have no way of going to see them; as no international acts play in Palestine.
In addition to this we heard frustrations of papers being delayed, meaning that tours and festival performances in Europe had to be cancelled, and to add to the problem there is no airport in Palestine so they have no choice but to travel to Jordan to fly anywhere, meaning more papers and added costs.
What was also clear was there is a lack of industry infrastructure. There are venues, but the bands have no option but to put on gigs themselves as there are no promoters, and beyond that an obvious lack of managers, agents and labels. These musicians have no choice but to be in control of every element of their careers, which is a big job on a full-time basis. Yes, bands starting out have to do this for a few years, but there seems to be no-one to turn to take things to the next level.
Everything about the Palestine music scene is internalised. No international acts are playing there and it is complicated for them to play outside of the country, plus the bands only have themselves to rely on; how could you not to feel frustrated and trapped in this situation?
“HOW COULD YOU NOT TO FEEL FRUSTRATED AND TRAPPED IN THIS SITUATION?”
That is precisely what Martin Goldschmidt and the founding team of PMX are hoping to begin to change by educating the future music industry and opening the doors to Palestine, both to international acts considering it as a touring destination and to aid the growth of Palestinian musicians in the global market. This is not a small challenge and this is only the beginning, but with the first PMX taking place taking place 5-7 April 2017, following this trip, I for one am determined to begin to try and change the outlook for these musicians.
To spend any time in these guys’ company you feel their hunger and determination for more, and to have been afforded the opportunity to meet them, and to be part of this historic lunch was a true honour, and I don’t exaggerate when I say it was life changing. It’s hard to make people realise how frustrating this situation is when just looking in, but to hear it from the affected musicians themselves was mind blowing; as to think of this situation applying to any of the artists on my roster was completely implausible.
No artist should have to go what these guys go through daily to do what they love, especially when the chances of breaking out of the local market given the current situation are almost zero.
PMX needs your support to change this and I hope together we can begin to add Palestine to the touring map and Palestinian musicians to our rosters.
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