The old school hip hop styling of Katibe 5 filled the Beirut Theater on Dec. 30, as the underground band gave one of their most high profile performances to date.
The performance at Beirut’s hub of underground music was an end-of-year highlight for Beirut music fans, always eager to take in a performance by edgy up and coming artists. Katibe 5 was accompanied onstage by Al Tahar band and local poet Abdel Rahman Jassem.
Katibe 5 is a five-member group of twenty-something MCs: Tarek “The Butcher” Jazzar, Amr, or “C-4,” Yousri, known as Molotov and Nader, alias “Moscow” and Bobo, originally from Sierra Leone. They have been recording music together since they were 15-year-old classmates in Beirut’s Bourj El Barajneh refugee camp.
While many Lebanese teens are hostile towards the Palestinians living in their midst, the atmosphere at the performance was one of tolerance and understanding between a group and an audience connected by a shared love of music and a readiness to understand one another.
Katibe 5’s catchy beats and clever lyrics are undeniable, and place them firmly within the tradition of political resistance hip hop. While this type of hip hop is disappearing due to the de-politicization of American rap as a result of consumerism, youth from the Arab world and beyond are increasingly turning to music, and rap in particular, as a form of resistance.
Palestinian hip hop artists like DAM and Shadia Mansour have found success on the international stage with their music, which resonates with youth for both its edgy beats and meaningful lyrics. Through hip hop, these young Palestinians and others have found a voice they would otherwise have lacked.
For the members of Katibe 5, music is the only weapon they possess in the fight for better living conditions, political solutions, and international justice. The young men are well-read and educated in spite of their difficult situation as refugees in Lebanon. They hope that their lyrics can educate people and expose the connection between social and political problems around the world.
Although four of the group’s five members are Palestinians, Katibe 5 see the issues they address in their music as universal problems that affect oppressed groups the world over. They sing about everything from refugee life and corruption in NGOs and humanitarian agencies, to the conflicts in Iraq and Palestine and capitalism. As for many young Palestinians, Che Guevara and his message of revolutionary Marxism is a powerful icon for Katibe 5.
The group found relative commercial success in 2008 when they signed with local underground record label Incognito, an independent distributor associated with a local record store in Beirut. They released their first album, “Welcome, My Brother, to the Camps,” the same year. Their latest album, “Tareeq Wahid Marsoum,” is out now.
At the concert, Katibe 5’s energy was infectious as they performed signature beats combining traditional Arabic melodies with poetry, news footage, rap and beat boxing. The combination of the clever lyrics and catchy music, punctuated with well thought out interventions, resulted in a unique sound that is both political and musical, leaving a strong impression.
Indeed, it seemed that they managed to get their message across to their audience, who responded positively to the universal message of the group’s music, some of which resonated with the social and political issues faced by Lebanese youth today.
The strength of the group’s music and lyrics, their passion for spreading the word about social and political injustice and their growing audience of fans indicates a bright future for Katibe 5, as they continue to grow and mature both musically and politically, nurtured by their daily experiences living as 21st century refugees in Beirut.