05f11c5014df654571904700c5df9a27_lgI am horrible at time-keeping. It is eight o’clock, and I’m standing at the bar. Muhammad, the bartender, greets me with a smile. “Kif halak?” “I’m fine,” I say, scanning the room. Ol’ Blue Eyes stares down at me from the wall, framed black and white. Welcome to Sinatra’s. On weekdays you can hear The Voice, crackling from a small array of speakers, while you check your Gmail over high-speed Wifi. At present, only a handful of people are present, including the two girls who’ll be stamping concert goers’ wrists shortly. They have yet to take up their position at the door. It’s eight o’clock, and I’m standing at the bar, as I said, horrible at time-keeping. After two and a half years still a rookie. I cannot not be on time. Silly me.

Frankie Boy shakes his head with the disapproving cool that only a twentieth century crooner-icon is able to muster. From the patio a murmur of sound-checks and last-minute cable-taping is carried in by a spiky draft. Summer evenings around these hills can be deceivingly chilly. Frank Sinatra doesn’t sing Stormy Weather. He merely tuts, and goes about his business hanging from a nail in twenty-first century Ramallah. I, the tutee, decide by taxi to quickly backtrack to my abode and pick up some textiles. Meanwhile it’s eight thirty, and the downtown is a bumper-to-bumper love affair. Cars crawl around the Manara circle like a slow-motion mating ceremony. Each one courts the Thursday night, expects different things from it. I look at my watch, and my pulse gives a quick nudge, pointlessly. Relax… I will never learn.

Back at the café, nothing’s changed much, save for the huddle of baggy-clad youngsters in the forecourt. The ticket-girls have shifted, and are taking aim at a slow trickle of attendees. “Have fun!” they cheer, stamp in hand.

Mr. Sinatra frowns at the shuffle of sneakers and polo shirts. “Is there some kind of sporting event I should know about?” One way or another, I feel, the New York New York of today would render the old man a-huff just as much. A chatter of girls in shoulder-less tops scurry toward the patio. I shoot a warning glance at The Groovy Galahad, but he can’t help himself. He sings it quickly, between gritted teeth, before assuming his innocuous pose in the frame. “The lady is a tramp.”

A different generation… I turn my back on Frank, and ask Muhammad for a cold Taybeh. My friends have arrived, and a heady base-kick lures us to the improvised ground-level stage outside. It’s about nine thirty, and an actual crowd has collected there, circumscribed by green laser-beams, slicing overhead through a smoke machine’s ether. “Aiwa heek!” will be the catch-phrase of the night. Yep, that’s how it is. The Ramallah Underground takes center stage, a Pandora’s box of voraciously popular rap-talent, born and bred locally.

The DJ weaves a tenacious web of melody over syncopated beats, a bumper crop of decibels. It’s started. “Aiwa heek!” Twenty-somethings Boikutt and Stormtrap grab the microphone and they will cling to it for the next hour and a half, spitting verse after verse on life’s constraints. The occupation, corruption, economy, and the abysmal state of world affairs. Throw your hands in the air like you care a lot. Two hundred-plus heads bob to the staccato’d tales, buoyant on slick drums and dramatic samples. Despite the serious topics, all seem lost in the music, temporarily transported to a different place, happy.

All, save one. Frank casts a grumpy regard at the revelers, wishes he were somewhere else. A different generation. “Start spreading the news….”

Blog comments

3. I was really entertained wjhen I read the line that says:” they are aware of their internal problems”. I think it is great to realize one’s own problems and just BE a thinker, a realizer and a self-critical rather than being or made into being a “suicide-Bomber” and what is even greater is to be a rapper of all of realizable and unrealizable conflicts. I doubt if it is possible to read the Palestinian fragmentation in isolation to occupation. The internal problems that palestinian rappers are storming about are only a result to the Israeli occupation that has been lasting for more than 59 years. If Palestinians were enjoying freedom they would definitely enjoy democracy and much more….just like their neighbors…. bayan shbib, Ramallah, Aug 18 2:08PM

2. This blog gets better every day. Nice to hear about the ‘other’ side. Revi, TA, Aug 15 2:08AM

1. Woohooo, I win. First comment props. Excellent piece. They just did a piece on the Ramallah Underground on the Israeli Channel 10 News – they apparently seem to be taking the world by storm. Whilst, I’m fairly certain that they must have quite a bit of anti-Israel lyrics (just because it’s a rather sore subject and rap likes to dwell on the angry and evil, you know along with 40s, blunts, and bi-atches), when they showed an interview of them, they actually spoke eloquently, with class and were pretty fair about the situation, speaking more about the Fatah/Hamas problem, and corruption. At least they’re aware of internal problems, and don’t blame everything on the “occupation”. Sharoney the Abalone, Tel Aviv, Israel, Aug 14 3:08PM


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