Checkpoint 303: Sounds of life under occupation

Menna Taher, Sunday 29 Apr 2012

Palestinian/Tunisian band combines everyday sounds with Arabic rhythms to capture the essence of life under occupation

checkpoint 303
Checkpoint 303 in Paris

Organised by regional culture outfit Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy, this year's Spring Festival will offer a large variety of artists. Checkpoint 303, a band consisting of Palestinian and Tunisian artists, is definitely one of the more interesting highlights.

The band compiles sound bytes of everyday noises that conjure up life under occupation. Their music is a juxtaposition of old and new; it maintains the essence of Arab heritage in its choice of oud tunes and mixes that heritage with break beats, drum and base.

This mixture is accompanied with a video installation that provides an interesting and profound result. The music is both cryptic yet clear in its statements against occupation. The latest songs by the band were inspired by Arab revolutions, such as "From Sidi Bouzid to Cairo – Game Over."

"We started in 2004, recording sounds from the streets in the [Palestinian] West Bank. The idea was to use real sounds to document the reality of daily life under occupation," band members told Ahram Online.

"We started including different types of sounds, in addition to field recordings at military checkpoints, in traffic jams, during demonstrations, etc.,” they explained.

The band also uses sounds from radio stations and news networks, as well as the music of El-Sheikh Imam, excerpts from Arabic movies, Nizar Qabbani’s poetry and a lecture by late Palestinian literary icon Edward Said.

Iconic symbols can also be discerned in the video installation, such as images of Mahmoud Darwish, Handala, the cartoon character by Nagy El-Aly, along with other images linked to resistance.

One of their songs, "Not a Video Game," emphasises that those who die in political struggles are more than mere statistics.

"When people watch the news, the deaths for them are just numbers," said one band member before performing at Cairo's Genaina Theatre on 26 April. “We want to send the message that those who die have lives, families."

Combining activism with music, the main elements of their music are randomness, activism and aesthetics.  

The band was inspired by the revolutions that have swept the region and emphasise notions of Arab solidarity.

The band’s name is derived from Checkpoint 300, an Israeli checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. "We chose 303 as an iconic checkpoint that can transmit our message," said one of the band members.

Band members like to keep their names anonymous, using stage names instead, since this allows them to perform in Palestine and other Arab countries without hindrance by the Israeli occupation. They have also performed in Europe, the US, Australia and Japan.

In their performance at Cairo's Genaina Theatre, the band collaborated with the Lebanese Derar Kalash, which played a long saxophone prelude before the concert.

In the UK and France, they have opened for Massive Attack, and in Japan they jammed with Japanese band Akifukuin, in which the vocalist sang a Japanese translation of the work of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

The band is very enthusiastic about the activist art scene that erupted with the Arab revolutions.

"We have always supported and been part of Arab subculture and the underground art movement. It's an exciting time to be performing activist music," the band said.

"Underground music was around even before the revolution. People are discovering it now because the media is more receptive and open to it, and because more bands are being inspired by events and by the groups they hear," they said.

Checkpoint 303 performed on 26 April at the Genaina Theatre in Cairo and on 27 April at the Jesuites Cultural Centre in Alexandria. On 28 April, they performed with El-Rass at Beirut's Sunflower Theatre.

To listen to their music, visit:

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