x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A song for peace in Gaza

Artists from region and the US record a track that will be available to download for no charge.

The rapper Nasir Akmal, who performs under the name Jihad, wants to draw the world's attention to the conflicts in the Middle East.
The rapper Nasir Akmal, who performs under the name Jihad, wants to draw the world's attention to the conflicts in the Middle East.

DUBAI // A group of 40 musicians appalled by the scenes of suffering in Gaza is uniting to record a peace anthem for the Middle East. The artists from different parts of the world are collaborating on a track called We Want Peace, a response to the recent Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip. The project was conceived by Nasir Akmal, a Dubai-based rapper who records under the name of Jihad, and is reminiscent of Bob Geldof's Band Aid charity appeal for famine relief.

Akmal's intention is not to raise money, however. It is simply to spread a message of peace and he will make the track available through a free download, he said. The track will include hip-hop artists such as Bishop Lamont, who is signed to Dr Dre's Aftermath Records, and Desert Heat, a popular Emirati band. The idea came to him after he saw reports from Gaza on television. "All the images were of innocent people getting killed and I felt I wanted to do something about it," he said. "I wanted to step out of my sphere and use music as a way to raise awareness about what was going on in Gaza. I thought if I reached out to many artists then we could attract a bigger audience and use our work to do something positive."

Akmal contacted as many musicians as he could through friends, e-mails and phone calls. Within days he had a list of artists. Among those who agreed to contribute was Freeway, a Muslim African-American rapper signed to Jay-Z's Roc-a-fella label. Akmal also has confirmation of a contribution from the rappers Trick Trick and Crooked I, who have worked with Eminem and Dr Dre respectively. .

"Not all the artists are well known," said Akmal. "Many are from the streets and are fighting their own fight. They recognise the meaning of struggle and it is amazing that they want to take part in the record." A Los Angeles rapper called DK is performing on the track with his teenage children. Akmal has sent an e-mail to all the contributors with the basic beat and the first eight-bar verse of the song, which he wrote and recorded in Dubai. "I made the feeling of it clear with the first verse and set the tone for the others to follow," he said.

Another three verses have already been submitted and a Los Angeles-based producer, Big 40, is working on the record in America. "Once we have all the work in then we will mix it down and work on the arrangement which I will probably do from Dubai," Akmal said. "None of the artists are getting paid. It is all being done in the name of peace." He added, "If the youth hear us talking about these issues they might listen more than if they hear a politician speaking. Obviously there's only so much difference one song can make but at least we are doing something."

Eighteen months ago, eight Pakistani musicians produced a video titled Yeh Hum Naheen (This Is Not Us) to counter a perception that Pakistanis supported terrorism. It was a hit on YouTube with thousands of downloads and extensive play on MTV Pakistan. Although Akmal is Muslim, he maintains that We Want Peace will transcend the issue of faith. Akmal will talk about We Want Peace and his other work on Danny Neville's Radio 1 show tonight at 7pm.

aseaman@thenational.ae