Palestine Music Expo 2019: hope and creativity

Palestine Music Expo 2019: hope and creativity

For the first two years of the Palestine Music Expo (PMX), our Programme Manager Katherine has represented the festival at this groundbreaking event. This year, it was the turn of our Creative Director Paul. He reflects on his experience here…

I’ve just returned from the third Palestine Music Expo (PMX), staged in Ramallah in the West Bank. It was an amazing experience. Not just the privilege of being back in a place and with a people who I love dearly (going back to Palestine always feels like a sort of homecoming), but being a part of such a wide and impressive range of music industry professionals from all over the world, gathered to lend their support and commitment to Palestinian music-makers.

From setting up a new recording studio in Bethlehem (thanks to In Place of War and PMX) to establishing a permanent office base in the West Bank for PMX, the work that is being done to support, grow, encourage and better expose the music talent of Palestine felt very real.

From top-flight music producers (working with big-name global acts) volunteering their time to work with Palestinian musicians in local studios to produce new work, to experienced music lawyers helping set up local frameworks around things like copyright.

And from bookers and promoters – including from Glastonbury Festival – looking to bring Palestinian talent to a global live audience to publishers and label representatives, the PMX delegates were in a position to make a real difference. Plus, each year PMX always boasts a wild card! In 2018, Brian Eno was one of the delegates. This year, Glen Matlock of Sex Pistols fame, no less, was with us. 

It’s great for Greenbelt to be a part of this network and experience – not seen as some sort of niche, festival in the corner, but in the thick of things, in the mix, part of the conversation – contributing and being listened to, as well as listening and learning, of course. It’s a credit to Katherine, Greenbelt’s Programme Manager, that she has championed our presence and participation in PMX since its inception.

The highlight for me was seeing the Golan-based band Toot Ard headlining on the second night. We had Toot Ard play at Greenbelt back in 2017, after Katherine saw them at the first ever PMX. Since that time, they’ve been taken on by a major UK booking agency and toured relentlessly all over Europe. Their live show now is mesmerising and magical. Sublime and irresistible. If this is just one example of how PMX can boost and develop a Palestinian band, then it’s doing a lot right.

100 acts from all over Palestine apply to play at PMX and these are narrowed down to just 20 acts who each perform short 20-minute sets over three night of showcases. From young bands and artists just starting out, to bands playing very traditional Palestinian classics in new ways. And from grassroots hip hop bands from West Bank refugee camps to acts from Gaza (this year, for the first time, some of the musicians from Gaza who were  were selected were granted permission to travel to be at the event). The array of talent, styles and stories was amazing.

The delegates’ days were filled with round tables, workshops, mentoring, specialised trips to cater to what particular delegates had to offer and also to main group trips to Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron.

In Jerusalem, as well as a whistle-stop tour of the old city, we had the privilege of visiting the Edward Said Conservatory and to enjoy recitals from their young super-talented students in the amazing Yabous Cultural Centre opposite. 

As I left the West Bank and the life and culture there, my heart was filled again with hope. No matter what this week’s elections in Israel bring, and no matter how indifferent the international community seem to be to Israel’s pervasive occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, the Palestinian people themselves somehow continue to live dignified, hospitable and creative lives. For our part at Greenbelt, we will continue to platform their hope, artistry and beautiful resistance at the festival so that we can all share in and support them in their struggle.

And finally…

As for the Eurovision Song Contest coming up in May is to be staged in Tel Aviv, we’ll be joining forces with others (many of whom were at PMX) to use that weekend to celebrate the great art coming out of Palestine. The aim will be to use Eurovision’s core values of inclusion, diversity and unity to highlight the extent of the oppression of Palestinian identity and human rights. Watch this space …

Pictured: Toot Ard