Palestinian Pop Artist Bashar Murad on His Life Affirming New EP ‘Maskhara’
House beats, Arabic instrumentation and a resounding story of self-belief against the odds became the fuel that drove the East Jerusalem-based singer-producer
Over a video call from his neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Bashar Murad sums up the journey so far as a pop musician. “When you’re a Palestinian artist, everyone has something to say. And I think that’s a good thing,” he says.
There’s a lot which can draw anyone to Murad as a personality as well as a musician. As a singer, he shot to fame after collaborating with Icelandic techno/punk group Hatari on the song “Klefi” in 2019 and also provided backing vocals on Coldplay’s song “Orphans” off their 2019 album Everyday Life. On his new EP Maskhara, his Arabic vocals inflect over lyrics about escapism, self-love and of course, protest.
As a persona, Murad is gay and a staunch LGBTQIA+ ally in the widely conservative Arab world. The 28-year-old was raised in what he acknowledges as a “protected and privileged” environment, born to Said Murad (from leading group Sabreen) and studying at the Jerusalem American School and then moving to the U.S. for an undergraduate degree. The artist says he grew up to Sabreen’s music as well as “big icons of Arabic music,” name-checking Lebanese star singers like Fairuz and Julia Boutros. He also got into Britney Spears, Madonna and then Lady Gaga, plus “big rock characters” like Queen’s Freddie Mercury and David Bowie.
Although he originally wrote and released English songs like “Voices,” “Hallelujah” and “The Door” until 2017, Murad gained larger acceptance once he began singing in Arabic. He went on to perform at Palestine Music Expo in Ramallah in 2019, which led to connecting with music label PopArabia, who have released Maskhara. A performer at showcase festival and conference Canada Music Week in 2019, Murad even remembers watching Bengaluru-based Kashmiri rock band Parvaaz performing, becoming an instant follower.
Watch the video for “Maskhara” below.
The release of Maskhara not only coincides with Pride Month but also comes at a time when Israel-Palestine conflict only recently simmered down. Hundreds of lives have been claimed in attacks which began in mid-May. Murad says the ceasefire was a way to draw eyes away from the real reason Palestinians have been protesting; largely driven by what he terms “ethnic cleansing” in his homeland. “They’re sort of ignoring what’s happening on the streets, and why people started to protest in the first place,” he says.
From that lens, Murad has been told how he should consider himself “alive because of Israel” to be a musician and that he’s not in Gaza. With Los Angeles producer Gannin Arnold, Murad created a resounding reply to the haters with “Intifada On The Dance Floor.” It’s a topsy-turvy yet steely dance-pop track led with house music production. “Right now, house and techno are becoming a big part of Palestinian culture, especially with the youth […] I wanted to highlight how even if we’re at a bar in Ramallah in Palestine, dancing, that is a kind of resistance, because just being there in that space, in the context of who we are and where we are… That’s resistance, that’s fighting occupation,” Murad adds.
The outspokenness runs throughout Maskhara, on songs like the electro banger title track, a tropical turn with rapper Tamer Nafar on “Antenne” and the uplifting “Ana Wnafsi.” As Murad talks about the way his music is received, he says that the EP as a whole is a way to talk back to all opposing forces. “They’re never pleased with what you’re doing. So it’s just about all these different opinions, and how we want to disconnect sometimes, to escape this reality of everyone having an opinion about your existence,” he adds.
With the pandemic still looming large in the region, Murad does admit things look a bit uncertain until vaccination rates pick up in Palestine in terms of gigging and touring. But it won’t stop him from dreaming. “I never feel like I’ve made it, because every time I get something big, it makes me want more,” he says with a laugh. “The goal has always been to make universal music that connects with the world. I want to help bring the Arabic voice, the Palestinian voice into the mainstream,” Murad adds.
Stream ‘Maskhara’ EP below. Listen on more platforms here.