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Music as a Tool of Liberation: On the Music of Palestinian-Canadian Musician, Nemahsis

todayNovember 17, 2023 2

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Music tugs at your heart and forces you to reconcile your humanity. Instead of choking you, music forces you to sing. Image: i wanna be your right hand album cover by Nemahsis

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You see a musician/And they see prohibition”

On Oct. 12, 2023, the Palestinian-Canadian musician Nemahsis shared a TikTok, detailing that her previous label had dropped her due to her pro-Palestine advocacy. In response she captioned her video “let THIS be a message. [F]ree my people”.

 On Twitter, she elaborated by saying “after being dropped by my new label for speaking up against the occupation of my homeland Palestine [I] was insecure. [I]t was suggested to cooling down the pro-Palestinian posts. [I] didn’t stop. [I] kept going. [I] had nothing left to lose [and] [I]’m so happy [I] didn’t give into the pressure”.

The surge of demands to free Palestine came in response to Israel’s bombardment and blockade of the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, 2023, though the occupation of Palestine by the illegitimate state of Israel dates back to 1948.

Since the latest bombardment began in early October of 2023, the illegitimate state of Israel has committed several war crimes in occupied Palestine.

Social media has been a crucial tool to share information relating to the occupation of Gaza. Young Palestinians like Bisan Owda and Plestia Alaqad have been documenting the destruction of their homes and the terror inflicted on their people so that witnesses worldwide can join humanitarian advocates in demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.

This new function of social media as a tool in advocacy, policy, governance, and international relations can be overwhelming. While all people should recognize the power of their voices calling for a humanitarian ceasefire, some tune out, and others weaponize this useful instrument.

Social media makes it easy to share information, but it can also facilitate the twisting of the truth. 

People choke on the flood of information, obscured by a cacophony of misplaced opinions and hatred.

Humanity, urgency, and sympathy become secondary. Music is a powerful tool utilized by human rights activists (such as Nina Simone, Sinéad O’Connor, and many others) throughout history. Music tugs at your heart and forces you to reconcile your humanity. Instead of choking you, music forces you to sing.

Throughout her career, Nemahsis has contributed many anthems of liberation. Her lyrics reflect her experience as a Palestinian woman in Canada, relating themes of discrimination, isolation, and emancipation. So far, her discography includes 3 singles and one EP, eleven archers.

Here are my favourite songs by Nemahsis, and their important messages.

“immigrant’s tale”

This first track of the 2022 EP eleven archers opens with haunting acoustic guitar interspersed with strangled electric guitar. Nemahsis’ light and hollow voice floats like wind through mountains while it carries the depth of a painful history. 

She sings “Planned to be the first to leave/Before her innocence is sold/Now those days are out of reach/Her hands were forced to let them go” recounting the displacement of many Palestinians. 

“suicide”

“suicide” jumps octaves and relays Nemahsis’ experience of innocence and resistance. Punctuated by soft drums she wails,  “You see a musician/And they see prohibition, oh, oh” seemingly predicting the persecution she has recently received for advocating for the freedom of Palestine.

“i’m not gonna kill you”

In this heartbreaking ballad, Nemahsis pleads with Islamophobes; “You like me better as an Emma/I would have gained your trust sooner with that name/But that’s not my name/I’m not gonna kill you, I don’t wanna hurt you/Don’t look so scared when I get close to you”. 

This song is one of many which explores Nemahsis experience as a hijabi in Canada. By discussing these issues, she makes space for her community. In fact, on Spotify, she dedicates her music to “everyone that doesn’t fit the mold and has felt the need to compromise their individuality in order to be accepted—my wish is to echo your voices”.

“i wanna be your right hand”

The cover of this most recent single features Nemahsis holding a grimace in an attempt to look like she is smiling, sticking out her middle finger.

This song is more beat than others and her voice more powerful than ever before.

The message could be interpreted as reflecting the exhaustion of an activist when no one listens. Nemahsis sings “Rain hits the window/Only to see the other side is dry/Depicts a feeling of being torn between two sides”.

In the interest of collective action and solidarity, exhausted activists should not be the only people taking action.

 Human rights, such as the right to life, should not be controversial, complicated, or debated.

This is not a situation to be in limbo between two sides. In the hopes that music revives humanity, taking action should be the next step.

Don’t let the flood of information choke you.

Take action.

Free Palestine.

  • Sydney Grenier is a third-year student completing a degree Conflict Studies and Human Rights at the University of Ottawa. She has been contributing to the Fulcrum since her second year. She is excited take on the role editor of her favourite section, Arts & Culture! When Sydney is not dreaming up new stories and solutions you can catch her going on caffeine fueled adventures such as hiking or searching for new music to add to her ever-growing archive.

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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