UK hip hop producer to take recording studio to Gaza

Dai DreamDai Dream may be a British hip hop producer from Liverpool, but he has a huge fan base in the occupied territories. "I love Palestine and I love the country" he tells me.

Recently, Dai worked on an album with MC Gaza, who is based in the Strip, and through this became well known in the region. It was also a way for him to discover more about the conflict.

Since Gaza is under the control of Israel, getting in and out is difficult. So is accessing the right equipment to set up a place to record. "So I thought why don't I go over there and take a recording studio for the young people."

When he's there Dai will run a series of workshops, but they aren't just for hip-hop veterans. He assures me that anyone can have a go.

"The workshops are mainly for people there that are just interested but haven't had the opportunity to try it. It's mainly going to be for the children and young people and the actual recording studio is for the ones that want to record and those that know how to record."

At the same time, Dai will be recording his own mix tape. The idea, he says, is to get as many artists as possible on board, then to promote it. His project has already been endorsed by George Galloway, Spike Lee and Chuck D on Twitter.

In Gaza, restrictions on equipment have driven up charges and created a monopoly on studio time. "People can charge as much as they want because there's no competition" he explains.

Though nobody will have to worry about paying expenses for Dai's studio, his first concern was to not to take away customers from the existing businesses.

As a result his studio targets a completely different audience. It will not be as high end; it's a completely different product and service.

The existence of hip hop in Palestine is not new, but it is certainly growing. When you get oppression, you always get art, says Dai. It's a way for people to express their feelings and ideas.

Originally, hip hop emerged out of deprivation in Brooklyn, it was a product of people that didn't have a future, and were oppressed. In the American and western world now it's not as poor as it once was, neither is it as violent or hard core he says. But politics is also not as central to the music.

"With the whole shift in popular music and popular media conscious lyrics about politics and society disappeared. Whereas with Arab hip hop it's still there, the politics and the social aspect is still there and it's still relevant."

It's not difficult to see why. Largely Palestinian artists focus on the occupation since it's so central to their lives. "It's always there and in your face" says Dai. "Especially in Gaza, it's very hard to avoid it. Your whole life is dictated by this occupation."

Hip hop can therefore give people a platform to "share their struggle with the world," to tell their stories and feelings in the form of music, which ultimately gives them hope.

Even though Palestine and Egypt are leading the Arab scene, Dai explains that this genre of music "promotes unity across the hip hop community across Egypt, Lebanon and the Middle East and keeps everyone connected and together."

Rather than there being a rivalry between countries they respect each other's styles. "There's not too much hatred or envy or nothing like that. Everyone seems to help out each other and share with each other. There's no competition between Egypt and Libya and Lebanon. It's just one culture, one community."

As with everything in Gaza, there are a number of obstacles to Dai's plan. One that he has pre-empted is the issue of electricity, or lack of it, which could make working with the equipment tricky.

Instead of using conventional plug sockets, Dai plans to power everything using his MacBook. The keyboard, controller and drum machine will all be powered by USB. "They don't need power or electricity as long as the MacBook is charged up" he says.

The upshot of this is that his backpack studio can travel around Gaza to maximise the amount of people who will be able to use it. The downside is it will be harder to get past the border guards at the Rafah crossing.

Most artists from the Middle East rap in Arabic, but for Dai this isn't a problem. "It's more than just words, it's emotion and feelings" he says. "I don't really look at negatives until I come across them. I'll just deal with that as it comes along."

The big problem, he tells me, is with Hamas who aren't "a big fan" of hip hop. According to Dai, they see it as a western influence and view it with suspicion largely because the subject is politics and so they see it as a threat to their power.

Besides this, Dai is positive about his project. It certainly sheds light on another side to a region that is often just associated with war and terrorism.

"People forget that; that these countries are actually countries, they are operational, they have supermarkets and restaurants and theatres. They're actually real countries, people in the western world can't seem to get their head round which is strange."

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in Middle East Monitor