Archive for Interviews

‘Hip Hop is what gives us hope for the future’: interview with Jackie Salloum, director of Slingshot Hip Hop

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 31, 2009 by Jack

Several weeks ago I stuck up a review of a truly original and exciting documentary, ‘Slingshot Hip Hop,’ which tells the story of the hip hop scene in Palestine. Against the backdrop of racial discrimination and occupation, Palestinian youth have since around 2000 built a vibrant cultural movement that expresses their frustrations and needs through the medium of rap in Arabic. Watching the film is inspirational, and reminds you of the very real social power hip hop as a movement has all across the world.

Jackie Salloum

This week I was very lucky to catch up with Jackie Salloum, the director of the film, following a screening at the Glasgow Film Theatre introduced by her and Suhell Nafar of DAM. Here’s what Jackie had to say about the film, the scene in Palestine, and what she’s working on next:

FCBF: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background as an artist, filmmaker and activist?

JS: I’m a 1st generation Arab-American, my Mom is Palestinian and my Dad is Syrian. When I was growing up we saw only negative images of Arabs in the media and popular culture. The message put across in the media is important, and when I was younger it had a negative impact on me-I didn’t want to be an Arab.

When I got older I became focussed on challenging stereotypes. I used pop culture references like bubblegum machines to put across a message. In 2002 I heard [DAM’s track] ‘Min Irhabi?’ [Who’s the terrorist?] on the radio and I flipped out, I was so excited. I went on the internet to find out more and discovered the arabrap site.

I made a video for the song, using images we never see in the US, of the intifada. It was very effective, and had a big impact on the people that saw it. People that previously had no interest or support for Palestine were moved, and when I asked them why they said, “Because it’s hip hop, it’s from the heart.”

My Professor suggested I should make a documentary. I thought it would be easy and take about a year! In fact it took 5! It was an amazing experience, and I learned so much I didn’t know about Palestine. My family are from the West Bank, I’d never been to Gaza.

FCBF: What difficulties did you encounter making the film?

JS: A lot of the problems were just more of a nuisance. I was typically held at the airport for 4-7 hours coming into Israel. You get passed from interrogator to interrogator, and you don’t know if you’ll be denied entry, which is something they do all the time to Palestinians from the diaspora. Once you’re in it’s not so bad, but you still have to get through checkpoints, and getting into Gaza is different, and more difficult.

In terms of the film, I wasn’t from a film background. Things were a bit unplanned, I just went in with a love for the subject. I didn’t wait until I got funding, I just went ahead and started. In some ways I think that was an advantage, but it meant I had to fund a lot of the film myself. I had to move back home and work in my parents’ ice cream parlour. That’s why I put Fresh Booza Productions at the end of the film; Booza is Arabic for ice cream, and it’s a tribute to them and their support.

I left cameras with some of the artists, and between us we collected 700 hours of footage, and so a lot of work went into editing.

FCBF: And what were the highlights of the process?

JS: Getting to know the artists; we became very close, like family. Before I met and saw them, visiting Palestine was quite a depressing experience for me. But seeing the hip hop scene in Palestine gives you hope, a small dose of hope for the future.

What was also great was meeting grassroots people who helped with the film, in the US and Canada as well as Palestine. Artists like Patriarch, The Narcicyst, The Philistines and Invincible came to help with the film, but have continued being involved and are a huge support to the artists in Palestine, for example by making beats. The Philistines made ‘Free the P,’ a compilation of hip hop and spoken word artists from around the world in support of Palestine, and all the proceeds helped fund the film.

I was lucky to work with Waleed Zaiter, who did all the graphics and animations in the film, as well as a lot of producing and editing. I was worried that if people didn’t know the background to Palestine, where Gaza and the West Bank were, they would be confused. But I also didn’t want to hit people with too many facts and statistics. The maps and graphics really help get the facts across.

FCBF: What differences are there between the hip hop scene in Palestine and other parts of the world? For example, there seems to be a lot more support from the older generation, and the position of women, both as artists and audience, seems to be much better than other places?

JS: The cross generational support is so nice to see, it’s one of my favourite things about the scene. They get into the lyrics, which lift their spirits. Because the lyrics talk about the occupation and the problems facing Palestinians, older people support it.

The groups get invited to so many different kinds of events. One event we see in the film is at an Eastern Orthodox Easter celebration!

My other favourite thing is the women’s involvement, and the way they are treated. Artists in Palestine don’t try to imitate what they hear coming from elsewhere, before they heard Tupac they weren’t into hip hop. There’s a completely different attitude towards women.

FCBF: It’s particularly interesting to see considering the main stereotype we are told in the west is that Arab societies are really oppressive to women.

JS: Right. I mean, there is oppression of women everywhere, but it takes different forms.

FCBF: Does the support for women’s involvement cause any problems within Palestinian society? We saw in the film how one female artist is threatened out of performing because relatives don’t think it’s appropriate.

JS: There’s absolutely no organised opposition to women’s involvement. Where there are problems it’s really internal to one particular family or local region. But other artists have very supportive families. Where there is opposition to hip hop, it’s on the grounds that it’s seen as something that’s ‘American’ and foreign.

FCBF: Something that’s really interesting in the film is seeing people use the internet and digital technologies to overcome the checkpoints and barriers of the occupation. What difference has the internet made for hip hop in Palestine, and how limited is it?

JS: It’s made a huge difference. It’s what made me aware of the scene, and when I went to shops asking for this music they kept giving me rai, which wasn’t what I was looking for! The only place you could find it was on the internet.

In Palestine, as you see in the film, people are separated by the occupation. People that may live only a short distance from each other are never able to meet because of the boundaries of the occupation. But they are able to connect online. It’s what made the scene possible. It’s not really smooth, but it is doable, and that’s what matters.

FCBF: Obviously the situation in Palestine forces artists to be political. But how far has hip hop crossed over from being a cultural movement to a political one? How much time do artists devote to politics vs. their music, or do they not see a distinction between the two?

JS: To be in Palestine, everything is political. What separates the good from the crap is talent, and the popular artists in Palestine are really, really good. The scene there is so huge, and is so saturated with political content that talent really makes the difference.

The music appeals to hip hop heads, as well as activists as a voice of the oppressed. It’s more attractive to many than classical Arab music because it’s in a form that people all over the world can recognise.

The film holds a special appeal in the Arab world, it’s won best film awards in film festivals in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. In some ways that’s a more difficult audience because they already know the narrative of the Palestinian, it’s not new to them. They like it because they’re not allowed to go to Palestine, and so it’s the first time they see different aspects of daily life there, it’s the first time they see Palestinians happy. They love to see Palestinians smiling and happy instead of just images of suffering, and it lets them learn about daily life in Palestine.

FCBF: Is there an influence from traditional Palestinian music and poetry on Palestinian hip hop?

JS: Definitely. The lyrics reference poets like Mahmoud Darwish. And the artists are always aware of incorporating Arab musical influences, and use Arab instruments live on stage.

FCBF: From early on in the film I was impressed with the quality of the beats. What kind of beatmaking facilities do people have access to? Who’s doing the production?

JS: It’s different in different places. In Gaza for example there’s no access to beatmaking facilities, and the beats are downloaded off the internet. This made it difficult for us to find beats to put in the film, because many of those used by the artists were originally very well known ones. But after 6 years making music, DAM started making beats, and a lot of the ones used in the film are theirs. DAM produce for a lot of others as well, but now other groups like WEH and Arapeyat are producing beats for themselves as well.

FCBF: Is there a strong hip hop scene in all it’s different aspects? We saw a bit of graffiti, but what about DJs, breakers etc.?

JS: Graffiti is a really strong part of Arab culture, but it’s not necessarily hip hop graffiti, it’s political. People have been using graffiti in Palestine for a long time to express their political frustrations, and the artists are not necessarily hip hop.

There’s an increasing amount of breakers, especially in Gaza. As for DJing, in the occupied territories it’s mostly using CDs as people just don’t have access to records and record playing. In Israel itself there is access to that kind of stuff because it’s popular with Israelis as well, but the key issue is whether you can afford it.

FCBF: So you’re still in touch with people from the film, what’s been happening since it was made?

JS: Since the film hip hop in Palestine has just been expanding, there are more and more people performing. DAM are working on their second album. PR [Palestinian Rapperz] are separated by the occupation, but they’re continuing to use the internet to make music. Arapayat are still making music, and Mahmoud Shalabi is playing the kawala, a traditional Arab flute now, and incorporates it on stage with DAM.

FCBF: How can we in other countries help and support Palestinian hip hop and the Palestinian people?

JS: Support the artists, support oppressed people! I think that art and culture are more effective at opening many people’s eyes than purely political activism. So get the artists out to perform, and buy their music. If you’re part of any kind of institution that has funds to bring people over or to send people to Palestine then use them. Even recording one song is so expensive for these artists, and they’re still working and struggling financially. Just bear in mind no major music corporation is going to invest in Palestinian hip hop any time soon, so they depend on grassroots support.

FCBF: What are you working on next? I heard you’d like to make music videos for Arab artists?

JS: Suhell and I just now are writing a children’s film. I’m not going to make the mistake I made with ‘Slingshot’ and tell you all about it before it’s made. I would like to make more videos, and make them available through youtube. A lot of the artists now are making videos, like the Letters video by Suhell [see below]. Abeer is making a documentary as well, she’s making videos as well as music.

I don’t want to do another documentary for a while, I’d like to work on something a bit more structured with a script! I’m sure that will come with it’s own set of problems, but I look forward to finding those out.


A little Hobbit who we all admire

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 21, 2009 by Jack

Fatcatsbiggafish is privileged to present an interview with young (17) up-and-coming Scottish hip hop producer Matt, aka BilL Breaks.

FCBF: Tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got into hip hop and hip hop production?

BB: Hey, well my name is Matt to people who are not privy to my secretive stereo-propagating alter-ego – BilL Breaks. I am a producer/beatmaker from Glasgow, Scotland, leaning towards the ol’ hip-hop but dabble in Drum n’ Bass, Dubstep, and general noise. I got into hip-hop after listening to my brothers ‘generic rap compilation’ CDs and old Tim Westwood tapes, went through the whole 50 pence/guns and money phase, grew up, got introduced to Gangstarr, etc and started working on beats, diggin for breaks and being educated by my mentor, a guy called c0mplex then started finding out more about the local scene and started focusing on that. And here I am today.

FCBF: How much material have you been able to put out? What difference do you think digital technology and the internet has meant to someone like you just getting started in production?

BB: Physically, Fade to Static is the first real thing I have put out, but I have made beats for a lot of people especially in the Scottish scene which have been put out. Technology and the internet made a huge difference for me when I was just starting out in production. Without it I wouldn’t have had access to any of the information I did through forums, blogs, etc. People can lose sight of the whole point of making music though with the wealth of technical information available, being submerged in technicalities and techniques isn’t always good for the music, I can see myself doing that sometimes but do I try to focus on the music.

FCBF: What’s your production approach? I remember reading at one point that you’re really sample based, what about synths etc.? What do you think about the big turn towards electro/dance music type beats there’s been in hip hop in general, and in the UK grime scene in particular?

BB: Typically I’ll chop a sample, layer some drops and see what fits, filter some bassline action or play out a synth effort, it just depends on what’s sounding good to me. I used to be very sample orientated, and I still am generally but I have been incorporating my hardware synths more and more which is a lot of fun, as well as purely synth based tracks. As long as there is vinyl crackle somewhere among the montage of waveforms then I’m happy. I don’t think much of the turn towards electro/dance beats, to be perfectly honest. I get the feeling that a lot of it is made to just make money or follow some gimmick or trend, I don’t go in for that malarky. I don’t know much about the UK grime scene, they do their thing and I do mine, we don’t cross paths much so I don’t have much authority on the matter.

FCBF: What type of equipment have you got available to you? Do you get access to a studio or do you just work from home? What would you like to work with?

BB: I use my Akai s2000 to chop up samples and filter them, record them into the computer, put everything into kontakt and do the bad thing in fl studio. I’ve got turntables, mixer, yada too, Roland SH-09 and Juno 106 synths and piles of weird, crap, funky and awesome records. There’s lots of other little things but there’s no point getting to technical with soundcards, etc. So basically it’s just my bedroom I work from, no studio action for me. I prefer having my bed right next to my set-up anyways. I keep going through phases of wanting an MPC but I’m not sure how well I would get on with that. I did have the MPD16, the midi controller version of the MPC but I managed to spill a glass of milk over it and my first priority was the records sitting underneath it. Hopefully I can buy a new one soon though. I like to think that it’s not what you use, it’s how you use it… but it’s not just as fun without hitting some pads.

FCBF: You’ve got the Fade to Static EP available at the moment, how have things been going with that? Why did you choose the title?

BB: At first I thought I wasn’t selling any but I seem to have ran out of copies now, most are being sold at gigs and there is some available in Mixed Up Records in Glasgow. If all the copies are sold then I’m thinking about getting more copies done too. I suppose people are offered a thousand different CDs or downloads on the internet and nothing of any worth gets seen for what it is. Being under-18 never helps either, a lot of CDs get sold at gigs and nights but… they’re pretty hard to get into without a hassle. The title comes from a strange feeling I get when a record fades out but the static remains constant. Call me strange but here’s something quite moving about that for me and I hoped to achieve that with the CD, I failed but I took it somewhere else which is what the whole creative process is about – Having an idea and seeing where it takes you.

FCBF: Explain to us why you start the record with Leonard Nimoy singing about hobbits?

BB: Well the lyrics give a pretty close description of me, I am only 3 feet tall, I live in a little hobbit hole and I seem to know a lot of people. I don’t suppose you expected to hear it either? That means I won (haha). The cuts on that are pretty bad, listening back.

FCBF: Fade to Static is pretty much new beats to classic (and homegrown Scottish) raps, have you worked with any MCs and is there anyone you’d like to produce for in the future?

BB: I’ve worked with a few Scottish emcees – Nity Gritz (I produced his LP – Love Sick as well as countless other tracks), a few of the guys from The bEINGDoonhamer, Skribbo, Loki, etc… I’ve worked with a few other emcees in and outside of Scotland but I lose track of older projects. As for emcees I would like to work with? Anybody who is on the same wavelength as me . . . that is a tough thing to find when you don’t know your own wavelength. I’m enjoying doing instrumental things just now actually, I can get a bit weird without upsetting any emcees haha.

FCBF: How in touch are you with the rest of the hip hop scene in Scotland? What do you think of the state of Scottish hip hop? What could advance it do you think?

BB: The state of Scottish hip-hop? The state of Scottish hip-hop is something I hear about way to much and see nothing of. I genuinely don’t think I know enough to comment, not being able to go to many gigs means I don’t have a good opportunity to see the scene ‘in action’ so to speak. I’m just glad I don’t emcee though.

FCBF: What’s next from you and what are you working on just now? How far do you aim to take the work you’re doing? Is it just for fun, or is there a long term career plan?

BB: Imminently, Fade to Static: White Noise Gradients – more Scottish remixes, more instrumentals and more generally pretentious beats. After that I have a few projects with people from the Scottish scene then I’m going to get stuck into my instrumental album and I’ve got a lot of ideas and breaks for that. It would be amazing to do music for a career but just now its just for fun/expression/release teenage angst/whatever you want to call making music without a career. The plan is to live without having to work and just make music all day – I am still working on that one but its looking grim.

As BilL/Matt mentioned, copies of Fade to Static are available at Mixed Up Records in Glasgow, or by getting in touch with billbreakz (minus the space). And at a mere five pounds for remixes of KRS-One and J-Live, as well as more local acts such as The Being, evaDe poD and Holmes, it’s well worth parting with (a little of) your hard earned cash!

Edit-meant to mention that all artwork for the EP is BilL’s work as well. Man’s multitalented!