by Aidan Andrew Dun
Many of us don’t expect young Israeli DJs to fall in love with teenage Palestinian women-rappers, but it happens in Unholyland, as in real life! This verse-novel is driven by what’s currently taking place in the youth-culture of modern Palestine/Israel. The real Arab revolution is the explosion of politico-spiritual rap from subculture, a music which carries the nonviolent message: ‘Putting down the gun and pickin up the mic…’
“The time is right, O Rasta children…” (Israel Vibration, aka I Vibez.)
There’s nothing the Israeli government fears more than the nonviolent wave of angry, truthful, lyrical Arabic rap pouring out the West Bank and Gaza. Young Israelis, plugged into American culture, are very aware that Slingshot Hiphop is now in 2012 more hip than any rap coming out of NY or LA. These kids pack venues in Tel Aviv to hear their ‘enemies’ tell them the truth through the medium of a musical form which – to add to the irony – is often not very well-received by those in positions of authority in, say, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, where Slingshot Hiphop is despised as decadent western soul-poison.
At one crucial point in the process of writing Unholyland I saw a documentary called Syrian School which told the story of two beautiful young teenage girls from a Palestinian refugee-camp outside Damascus, both of them completely determined to rap in Arabic and tell the story of their painful exile. I saw their suffering as they struggled to become rappers. I heard the nonsense of their teachers – in total denial – facing down these courageous young women, blocking them from performing their raps in the school concert.
Putting this scenario together with the hopeful fact that Slingshot Hiphop is so big in Israel I had a sort of theophanic moment in which it seemed that Plato’s idea of the Golden Age returning through music was happening for real in the Middle East.
Anyways, that’s how Unholyland was born.
In the poem there’s lots of charge. Green burns in subterranean venues and raps blaze in smoke-filled vehicles travelling at supersonic speeds through The Galilee. Someone’s recently called Unholyland ‘Pushkin with a spliff’. Well, that was nice of them. ;-)) In fact the work shows both sides of what Baudelaire called Les Paradis Artificiels, the double-edged sword of ‘narcotics as substitute for enlightenment’.
The poem is constructed in 12 chapters, 264 sonnets in total, and the sonnet-form is actually the one Pushkin developed for Eugene Onegin – an amazing structure of fast-moving short lines with an elliptical, asymmetric rhyme-scheme which spins and dazzles. (This form can actually be traced right back to the Troubadours, so I believe.)
If Unholyland makes a few little waves for peace in Palestine I’ll be happy…