Egypt's Eskenderella and Palestine's Yalalan revisit Sheikh Imam's classic 'Ya Falastinia'

Nourhan Tewfik , Wednesday 17 Aug 2016

The song, produced by independent Palestinian producer Samer Jaradat, was released on YouTube on 16 August

Eskenderella and Yalalan

“O Palestinians, the fusilier has shot you
With Zionism which kills the doves that live under your protection

O Palestinians, I want to come and be with you, weapons in hand
And I want my hands to go down with yours to smash the snake's head
And then Hulagu's law will die

O Palestinians, exile has lasted so long
That the desert is moaning from the refugees and the victims
And the land remains nostalgic for the peasants who watered it
Revolution is the goal, and victory shall be your first step”

Ya Falastinia - 1968


Composed and performed by the late Sheikh Imam based on lyrics by Egypt’s the late "Poet of the People" Ahmed Fouad Negm in 1968, these opening lines to Ya Falastinia (O Palestinians) have over the years constituted a celebration of the Palestinian people’s steadfastness and resistance, both of which still persist today. 

The song, a masterpiece in its own right, has been revisited by many singers and bands across the Arab world, and most recently in a fresh and audacious collaboration between Egyptian band Eskenderella and Palestinian band Yalalan.

Released as a video clip via social media platforms yesterday 16 August, the song was recorded and filmed during Yalalan’s Egypt tour last June, during which they performed at the Cairo Opera House and Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

The almost five-minute clip comprises footage from Yalalan’s departure day from Palestine before they embarked on their Egypt tour last June, featuring snippets from their stay in Alexandria and Cairo, the studio recording of the song, as well as the rehearsal preceding the recording.

In their collaboration, Eskenderella and Yalalan pay homage to the iconic Egyptian duo, transcending borders and once again hailing Palestinian peoples’ ongoing resistance against the decades-old Israeli occupation.

Behind this new song, which has garnered over 6,000 YouTube views since its release yesterday, stands Samer Jaradat, one of the most celebrated independent music producers in Palestine today, and also a percussionist at Yalalan.

Upon its release in 1968,  Ya Falastinia, Joseph Massad argued in his article “Liberating Songs: Palestine Put to Music,” published in Palestine, Israel and the Politics of Popular Culture, “this underground song became popular in Palestinian refugee camps and among the Palestinian guerillas, as well as dissident circles in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.”

Perhaps the most profound proof of its soaring popularity at the time was when “Yasser Arafat visited Cairo in August 1968..[and] insisted on meeting the shaykh [Imam], who sang it for him,” explains Massad, who adds that “Arafat’s interest in Shaykh Imam is emblematic of the relationship between song and politics, wherein political songs become part and parcel of the very struggle they were representing and expressing.”

The coming together of Eskendrella and Yalalan is a lead-up to an even bigger collaboration between both bands, revealed Samer Jaradat in an interview with Ahram Online last June, who went on to explain that choosing this particular song from Sheikh Imam’s repertoire, constituted the  “perfect choice to embody the encounter between Yalalan and Eskenderella.”

Founded in 2005 by oud master and singer Hazem Shaheen, Eskenderella started playing in underground venues in Egypt before they became widely recognised, “shifting between revivals of the nation's classic tunes and ventures into new compositions,” according to their Facebook page.

Some of Eskenderella’s inspirations include famous Egyptian musicians Sayyed Darwish and Sheikh Imam as well as colloquial poets Salah Jaheen, Fouad Haddad, Ahmed Fouad Negm and Amin Haddad.

Yalalan Group for Music and Singing was founded in 2005 by a group of friends who were studying at Birzeit University as well as the ‪National Conservatory of Music in Ramallah. Performing together in a university troupe called Sanabel, they were revisiting and creating covers for songs that spoke to their grievances and thoughts, including nationalist songs, muwashahat (singular: muwashah, a genre of classical Arabic music that came to light in Al-Andalus — now southern Spain — and is an important facet of Tarab), as well as selections from the Arabic musical heritage, especially focusing on the period of the 1920s and 30s.

The group thus “took it upon themselves to disseminate the Palestinian and Arab musical tradition as a unified voice while they transmit their artistic and national message,” says the group's official Facebook page.

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