Last Saturday, the Cairo Jazz Club hosted Palestinian artist Jowan Safadi and Fish Samak to an enthusiastic, but small, crowd owing to the exodus of many Cairenes out of the city because of the Easter holiday.
During their entertaining bout at the Cairo Jazz Club, a girl angrily shouted: “Excuse me, but what is the message from Palestine?” to which Safadi, equally distressed, shouted back: “I am a human being before I am a Palestinian,” drawing cheers from the crowd.
Being a Palestinian artist carries with it expectations that may be unfair: a day later, Safadi used his Facebook page to comment that a Palestinian artist does not have to be a voice of the Palestinian cause to gain the acceptance of Arab audiences.
Famously arrested in Jordan on charges of insulting religion, because of his song “Ya Haram Ya Koffar”, Safadi claims he does not shy away from nor directly confront politics.
“We don’t stay away [from] or target politics; I only talk about something when I understand it because it’s a big responsibility,” he said.
These controversies often overshadow Safadi’s music itself and his band Fish Samak, who are every bit as charismatic and lively on stage as he is. Their music does contain much commentary on political and social realities in Palestine and the Arab world, but more than that, it is entertaining and energetic, drawing influences from many musical genres.
“Our musical influences differ as individuals but we all meet halfway. They include The Beatles, The Doors, Sheikh Imam, Palestinian folklore and Dabke music, Pixies, Nirvana, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd,” said Safadi, citing a few of them.
Reception to their music has been varied: they say some people get their music and some do not, in reference to their home audience; however, here in Egypt, reception seemed as good as it could be and the band outlined an instant affinity with Egypt and its public.
“It’s not every day that we perform for other Arab audiences; we are a minority in Israel and when we come here we feel like we are truly in the Arab world. I feel culturally close to Egypt, despite the difference in dialect. We have enjoyed Cairo very much, including the sights and the architecture,” said Safadi.
Safadi’s music is a quirky mix of fast upbeat contemporary rock and clear Arabic influences, with fast guitar riffs, distinct lyrics and a particularly outstanding drummer.
Safadi and Fish Samak remain optimistic about the future of the non-mainstream music in the Arab region: “The independent music scene has come a long way, this could not have happened five years ago.” Their optimism comes with good reason, with their Egyptian debut a modest but well-deserved success; that undoubtedly means we will be seeing Safadi and the band many times in the near future.