Gaza’s MC Gaza: Militant turned rapper
Gaza City - As a 13-year-old, 11 years ago, Ibrahim Ghuneim wanted to become a jihadist and take up arms against Israeli occupiers in Gaza. However, it took only one rap music concert to change his mind.
“I was really on my way to become a jihadist,” said Ghuneim, a well-known rapper who goes by the stage name MC Gaza.
“Had it not been for rap, I might have joined the Palestinian resistance and taken up arms against Israel,” added the still-rebellious, yet charming, Ghuneim.
After that concert in 2005, Ghuneim said he rushed home to check the internet for famous rappers to learn from.
“I took to the internet to learn everything about rap music. I found Eminem and went from there,” Ghuneim said, referring to the Grammy award-winning American rapper, songwriter, producer and actor from Detroit, Michigan.
“At first, I started doing it as a kind of challenge but then I couldn’t stop,” Ghuneim said.
Now, he hopes to become an international celebrity or at least Gaza’s Eminem. “I won’t give up my desire to become a global rapper, especially after I had successful experiences over the past ten years,” Ghuneim said.
In that decade, he has performed with Algerian rapper Fares Weld El Alma, a Danish rapper and Palestinian singers living in Israel, among others.
For many in conservative Gaza, ruled by Islamist militant group Hamas, rap is seen as an alien commodity imported from “decadent” Western cultures.
“There’s little appreciation for rap as an art and for rappers as talented artists,” Ghuneim said. “People here think that rap is haram, or banned by the religion, while they (Hamas) think that we’re imitating bad habits from the West.”
Socially, he said his profession may not be acceptable to the family of a girl he might want to marry. “If I want to get married, nobody will respect that I am a rapper. They won’t accept me. They think it’s shameful to be a rapper,” Ghuneim said.
Rap has existed in Gaza since the 1990s when young Palestinian musical groups returned from Tunisia, Algeria and Lebanon after performing in festivals.
Currently, Ghuneim said he was in a performing lull. There are two theatres in Gaza but neither allows rappers to perform because their owners do not like the music, he said, mentioning that a rapper must be sure his songs bear no political ramifications, as a Hamas regulation that bans inciting public sentiments can be widely interpreted.
“Like everyone else, we face censorship by the de facto authorities, Hamas, if we cross certain lines,” said Ghuneim, who maintained that often “I reach my limits and just can’t take the censorship anymore.
“Rap is my passion and seeing how it suffers here, this could pose a serious problem for me in my personal life.”
Ghuneim is far from alone in his struggle to pursue his passion as a rap musician in Gaza. Amman Mughamis said he returned to Gaza from Lebanon in 2001 during the second uprising against Israel’s rule.
“It was terrible times and we wanted to do something, away from the violence,” Mughamis said.
He said one of his early rap songs, which focused on living conditions in Gaza, became too politicised with many rioters singing it.
“I’m afraid for my family, for my daughter,” he said, noting that in 2015, Hamas questioned him about his music for five hours. “They wanted to show me that they’re there and watching me.”
He said when one of his albums was launched in France in March 2015, he was not allowed to take his family with him. On a positive note, Ghuneim said rap music can bring joy to people of Gaza by taking their minds off the miseries they have endured during the past decade.
“Rap is certainly it,” he insisted, pointing his thumb up.