Checkpoint 303 حاجز ٣٠٣ : 'The Iqrit Files'

Checkpoint 303 releases 13 new tracks in May, in collaboration with Palestinian singers Jawaher Shofani and Wardeh Sbeit and poet Jihad Sbeit. Always inspiring in his collaborations and his grasp of the complex human and social tragedy in Palestine, SC MoCha of Checkpoint 303 (CP-303) has created an incredibly moving document with this album and video series, the importance of which I think can’t be overstated. The poets and the singers speak the stories from within the limbo of refuge and from within the rubble of their home.

The Iqrit Files tells the story of Iqrit, a Palestinian village brutally and illegally demolished by Israeli forces in 1951. At the time of the proclamation of the state of Israel in 1948 (Nakba – “the catastrophe” – 15th May) some 360 to 412 Palestinian villages were evacuated by force and demolished or annexed (the number alters according to what definition of town you choose). The ethnic cleansing of Palestine following UN resolution 181 has led to around 900.000 Palestinians becoming refugees (520.000 according to Israel). The Israeli narrative has traditionally been that the exodus took place due to orders from Arab leaders, but historians have revealed that Israeli military forces carried out large scale ethnic cleansing from towns and villages.

CP-303 The Iqrit Files

One of these villages was Iqrit in the Upper Galilee. The villagers were ordered to leave temporarily, promised that after a couple of weeks they could return. The promise was never kept, and the empty village was eventually demolished. Young people and activists have been returning, and Israel continues to demolish their structures and tries to demolish the hope, but Iqrit has become a symbol of hope for Palestinean people around the world. The stories of the people involved are the chronicles of acts, communities and passions not recorded in the ‘victors’‘ history books. The storytellers speak the truth and we are charged to listen.

This album, says MoCha, “remixes the sorrowful history and celebrates the resistance of the Palestinian people, the quest for justice and the right to self-determination.” Bringing together Palestinian singers Jawaher Shofani and Wardeh Sbeit and poet Jihad Sbeit, The Iqrit Files tells the story, the history.

CP-303 The Iqrit Files

Jawaher Shofani (who features in the KKV compilation albums Lullabies from the Axis of Evil2004, and A Time to Cry2010 – both of which I’ve featured before on LDP) and Wardeh Sbeit are ritual singers in the Upper Galilee, performing important and epic songs at funerals, baptisms and weddings. Jihad Sbeit is a poet. Wardeh and Jihad grew up in Iqrit, Jawaher in a neighboring town. They are all among the most important carriers of tradition in their generation of Palestinians. For this album, they worked with Palestinian singer Rim Banna on the songs and stories. The recordings were made in the rubble of the town, and CP-303 weaves these stories and songs into new electro-acoustic soundscapes, as ever with a compassionate, aware and deft hand. The singers are enveloped in the sounds and voices of their world, and the echoes of tragedy. Field recordings and recycled audio snippets from radio, politics and commentary are embedded in breakbeats and minimal electronic rhythms, modern and ancient meeting in a perfect flow. The result is incredibly moving – both in the sense of paying witness to documented and undocumented history, and feeling the soul in the essential truth of the voices of storytellers. Never are these voices overwhelmed by the soundscape, traditional songs and laments sometimes float in seemingly from the distant past, sometimes speak up close, direct in our ears. It is a beautifully arresting production, both tragic and hopeful. The album booklet provides translations and information, and wonderful images of the landscape that is, on the surface, empty, but shimmering in the air, in the soft light, are the souls of the people.

رغم أنف الزمن أولادي
يعودوا لبيوتنا المدمّرة
أولادي وأحفاد أحفادي
تكون العودة أكيدة مسوجرة
تغرّد البلابل ع الجبل والوادي
تزول وتبعد الأيّام المعكّرة
بسكن بعريشة من وردة الحصّادة
لو كانوا أكلاتي رَشتا ومجدّ رة
نشقة هوا بتشفي فؤادي
أقضي الآخرة مع أهلنا
نرجع بلا تصريح وبلا تذكرة

In spite of time, my children will return back
To our demolished houses
My children and the grand children of my children
Will surely return back home
The nightingales will sing in the mountains and the valleys
And the disturbed days will go far away and vanish
I will live in a hut made from the straw of the harvest
And my food will be dough and lentil
A breath of air will cure my heart
And I will spend the last days of my life with my family
And we’ll come back home
Without a passport and without a ticket
CP-303 The Iqrit Files

Inspired by the name of a military checkpoint that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, Checkpoint 303 is led by sound-cutter SC MoCha from Tunisia, collaborating with many artists and activists from different countries, most particularly Palestine. CP-303 creates experimental electronic music to raise awareness about the struggle of civil society in the Middle East and throughout the Arab world for freedom, peace and justice. Using site recordings predominantly from Palestine and also from Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and many other of the countries of the Arab world, Checkpoint 303 construct soundscapes that weave cinematic audio with experimental sound processing and complex rhythms traditional oud sounds and modern beats, spreading a message of peace and a call for the respect of human rights. Importantly, MoCha and collaborators bring attention to the complex human story of a region that from the outside, is often viewed through the prism of western assumption and judgement.

“Contrasting with the mainstream media’s exclusive depiction of violence and suffering in the Middle East, CP-303’s sound collages also report on the heroic hope that subsists in the region as well as the seemingly banal but ever so meaningful little things that embody a daily search for normality in a state of emergency.”

The album was launched on May 15, at an exhibition The faces of Iqrit featuring photographs by Stig Indrebø and Berit Hunnestad, and video works by SC MoCha. The album is available now from the label Kirkelig Kulturverksted, and on iTunes.

You can also listen via CP-303’s Soundcloud:

Videos for this project are up on YouTube and are in themselves eloquent visual stories, beautifully made by SC MoCha, tragically poignant.

Come back home, all refugees features Jawaher Shofani inhabiting the quiet spaces emptied of community. Juxtaposed with the voice of welsh radio journalist Colin Edwards (Pacifica Radio Archives, 1972) and a raw piano, it is searingly emotional.

Fassalo Thobak also features Rim Banna, the beautiful Jawaher Shofani in profile in fading and shimmering light.

In 1948 // بسنة 1948 includes the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt reading excerpts from the declaration of human rights, and in stark and ironic contrast, recordings from the vote on the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 on November 29th, 1947, on the so-called partition plan for Palestine, which denied Palestinians their right to self-determination and led to the Nakba.

This is perhaps the most moving album I’ve listened to yet this year, and on so many levels it touches me deeply and feels very important. To amplify the voices of these storytellers is so critical when the individual and collective stories of humans are lost in political maneuverings, and associated media bias. War and occupation are never stories of battle lines, but stories of home, community, tradition and future. What is lost is not ground, but the opportunity to grow the collective human soul. The work of CP-303 and Kirkelig Kulturverksted, of Jawaher Shofani, Wardeh Sbeit, Jihad Sbeit, Rim Banna, and all our storytellers, must be amplified and shared, far and wide, if we are to collectively recover our souls, and return to freedom.