Written by Nazeeha Saeed
Photography by Zara Nabr
Cover design/image editing: Mohammed Moe Mustafa
Creative director: Khalid Abdel-Hadi
Translated by N.H.
Copy Edited by Eliza Marks
Palestinian musician Faraj Suleiman has just released his fourth album from Paris. It is the first album to include vocals, but the piano, like his previous work, continues to be the focal point of the tracks. He considers his tracks to be a blend of Arabic, jazz, rock, and classical music.
Suleiman is also collaborating with world famous graffiti artist, Banksy, by recording musical tracks to accompany his works in “Walled-off Hotel” in Bethlehem, Palestine. The music will be played continuously throughout the opening hours of the exhibition. Suleiman is the latest musician to lend his music to the exhibition, which will be played continuously throughout the exhibition, following a number of international musicians including the British band, “Massive Attack,” and the American singer and actor, Tom Whites.
Born in 1984 in the village of Al-Ramah in northern Palestine, Suleiman moved between a number of Palestinian cities in pursuit of his art and music, but eventually wound up in Paris at the beginning of 2019. He has devoted his time to composing more and connecting with his European fan base through live performances.
“When you listen to my music, you may think that it’s jazz, rock, or classical music, intercut with Arabic rhythms and musical phrases. It’s a blend.”
The World of Toys
Suleiman performed, “The Toy Box,” in 2017, but his relationship with toys started from childhood. His father owned the only store that sold toys in their area, and it was where all the children and their parents went to buy them. His childhood was full of toys and gifts, and when he grew up a little, he began accompanying his father to the store, where he could play with the toys he didn’t own himself.
Suleiman says, “When the era of video games dawned, the Atari sales agent in Palestine would give my father a box full of Atari games. My father would give me the responsibility of selecting which games to sell at the shop. I used to try them all out, and then choose the most exciting games to sell at our store.”
Love for Music
Suleiman’s relationship with music began when he was 3 years old, when he was living at his grandmother’s home not far from the Institute of Music, where his uncle, Yusuf Basila, taught music and trained the village choir. Suleiman loved to go to the institute and listen to the music and rehearsals stealthily at the door. “The family then decided that I had a musical ear and should begin learning to play,” Suleiman says.
Suleiman’s uncle began teaching him to play classical Arabic music on the piano, and after about three years, he shifted to learn classical music with a Russian teacher. He didn’t like this shift, but was forced to continue anyway. Suleiman trained with the Russian teacher for two full years before he stopped, and by that time, he was nearly 12 years old.
Suleiman reflected that in this period, “I didn’t like studying music, and I refused to go, but my family insisted. I wanted to play in the neighborhood with my peers instead of learning how to play the piano.”
The Secret Language
When he was twelve years old, Suleiman invented a secret language with his cousin, and every media outlet was talking about it. They were even invited to television and radio shows, and performed shows in front of live audiences. “It was fun. People used to call in and give me a sentence. I would then act out the sentence to my cousin, who would be wearing headphones with loud music on. My cousin would then translate my gestures into a sentence. Everyone enjoyed it!”
After graduating from school, Suleiman wanted to be a lot of things: a lawyer, a nurse, a social worker, and a psychologist, among other things. He eventually settled on studying music to become a music teacher like his uncle Yusuf. “My family welcomed the idea, and also encouraged me to become a wedding organist.”
Suleiman says that he bought an organ and started to learn how to play wedding songs. However, not only did he not succeed, but he didn’t learn anything; he couldn’t distinguish between one wedding song and another. He sold the organ for half its original price a mere two months after he bought it, losing both his money and his family’s dream.
At the age of 19, he moved to Haifa to attend university and study musicology, which included subjects like history and music theory. This was not a “hands-on” education, but it was where he discovered his love for music and piano. Starting from age 21, he would spend 6 or 7 hours playing until he graduated.
Suleiman later joined a company, Ringtones, that produced ringtones for mobile phones. “Every morning we received a number of new albums by popular artists. At the time, it was singers like Haifa Wehbe and Elissa. A coworker and I chose the best 30 seconds of each song and sent them to telecommunications companies, who in turn sent them to customers to buy.” Suleiman left this job a year later, because it was not the kind of job he wanted.
Suleiman worked as a music teacher at a school in Jerusalem, but was let go after one academic year because they did not deem him “serious enough.”
Suleiman said, “I do not want to be a school teacher, because there is an entire world out there waiting for me. Schools stifle me and codify my capabilities. In Jerusalem, I decided to complete my Master’s degree. But, during the vacation between the first and second semesters, I was sitting on the grass next to my friend Majd Kayyal, a writer, and he suggested that we both go to Haifa so I could perform my music for the first time. That move to Haifa ended up being permanent for the both of us.”
In 2013, Suleiman put on a musical called Log In, which he believed was a failure. “It was a very bad show. Not one person gave us a single word of praise. And we, the people participating in the play, knew that we were bad. It was a failure on all levels”.
“The world is still backwards because we are not equal, and because we still consider some people to be normal, while others are seen as abnormal when it comes to their sexual orientation or practice of gender roles.”
Suleiman was depressed for half a year after, and felt like failure. That was until his second show that Faraj wrote and performed in, Three Steps, debuted. According to him, it was a good show, and it allowed him to rebuild some of his confidence in himself and his work. “People were afraid to attend a show I was in after the first failed one,” Suleiman jokes, “It took some people a few years to trust that I could do something well.”
After Log In, Suleiman was approached by writer, Amer Hlehel. Hlehel opened up doors to new paths and experiences, offering many work opportunities. “Amer was my gateway to singing, poetry, Arabic poetry, and theater. I also worked with him on Love in a Cloud, which was a musical made up of a number of poems—by Mahmoud Darwish, Taha Muhammad Ali, and others—that we turned into songs.”
Suleiman has worked on a number of projects since then, including: a poetic music project, “Al-Bashiq” (2014), the play Mid-Spring Festival (2015), the performance “Wahl” (2015), the play Azza (2016), the play Ikara (2017), the album Once Upon a City (2017), the performance “The Toy Box” (2017), the album Love without a Story (2017), the children’s album My Heart is a Forest (2017), the performance “The Cabaret” (2018), and the album Second House (2019). He is currently working on a new album that will be released this year, which consists of instrumental music without vocals.
Love and Equality
Suleiman believes that love is the foundation of everything; it’s woven into all of his passions and his musical works. He notes, “I think that the second there ceases to be love, whether between two people or love for a city or specific person, life will then cease to have meaning… My music is very personal; It reflects my inner state and feelings, and is shaped by the cities I am in more than the people I meet.”” This connection between music, feeling, and spaces is evident in the song, “Space,” written by Alaa Abu Diab, composed by Suleiman, and performed by Terez Suleiman, in which the singer asks an Arab man for more space and freedom.
The central themes of “Space” also illustrate Suleiman’s views on women’s issues and the LGBTQ community. “I am surprised that in 2020, we still have to demand women’s rights and equality among all people. The world is still backwards because we are not equal, and because we still consider some people to be normal, while others are seen as abnormal when it comes to their sexual orientation or practice of gender roles.” He adds that, “For me, these matters and rights should be agreed upon among us. We can’t still be discussing them and arguing over their essence and mechanisms.”
Suleiman emphasized that his future work will primarily revolve around women, whether through lyrics that serve women’s issues and rights, or through the inclusion of female composers or singers in his works. He said that this would be a priority.
“I am, essentially, working on making my own music, music which cannot be categorized as Palestinian music, because it is not similar to other musical experiences in Palestine. The artists currently on the Palestinian art scene, each make their own work without there being a common factor between these works.”
He reflects that, Everything we, as Palestinians, do is political. Our existence is political. That is why I insist on being introduced as a Palestinian musician at festivals. These are small achievements that we are proud of… I, as a Palestinian musician come from a life full of conflict, an unusual life. The Occupation is part of our daily lives, so the listener can experience a lot of anger, difficult rhythms, loud noise, and tension in the music that I make. The music is full of details and information. It serves as a reflection of our lives as Palestinians and of my life as Faraj Suleiman. All of this is reflected in the music I make. “
Suleiman stresses that Palestinians are living under a cultural occupation that attempts to impose a certain identity that has nothing to do with Palestinians who have been on this land since ancient times. “Although we do not suffer from war like in Gaza, we struggle daily to exist in the face of the occupation.”
Suleiman wishes to work with a number of artists and composers in the future, and stressed that many artists he worked with when moving between cities impacted his development as a musician. Two people who still have an influence on his artistic career so far are writers Majd Kayyal — who was by his side throughout his artistic career as a friend and critic, and provided the lyrics in the latest album — and Amer Hlehel — who was the key to many of the experiences that Suleiman went through during his artistic career up until now.
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العربي ? تحت . SOGI people in Iraqi Revolution point to majority concerns… interviews with Palestinian emerging actress @yarajarrar, Yemeni feminist singer @intibint and Queer singer artist @zan.pk… more articles from @lizzycollier @musashadeedi @rayanjk and more. Gazing at us from our digital cover for issue #69 is Palestinian singer and musician @faraj_suleiman interviewed by Bahraini journalist @nazeehasaeed , photographed @xxarax. Read this issue’s structure and access some of the recently published articles, link in bio, linked ?in bio. Cover design by: Mohammed Moe Mustafa – @moe.mus . معاناة النساء اللاتي يتعرضن للعنف بسبب رفضهن لرجل ما، استخدام الطبقة السياسية العراقية الجنس كجزء من خطابها المعادي للثورة، تجربة كويرية مميزة وجريئة لشخص ترعرع كمثلي في المجتمع الهندي… بضع من عنواين هذا العدد. أيضا يطل علينا من غلافنا الإلكتروني، ضيفنا لهذا العدد (#٦٩) الفنان والعازف الفلسطيني فرج سليمان الذي حاورته الصحفية البحرانية نزيهة سعيد، بعدسة زارا النبر. هيكل العدد وبعض مقالاته المنشورة حديثا متوفرة على موقعنا. الهيكل مدرج في الرابط الذي في ? البايو. تصميم الغلاف من عمل محمد مو مصطفى – @moe.mus