Sabreen is a collective of Palestinian artists and musicians formed in Jerusalem in 1980. Their vision has always been to focus on the development of the Palestinian modern song while giving a voice to the hopes and anger of the youth. Their second album, Death of the Prophet, was composed in 1987 just before the first intifada, released on cassette and subsequently became the soundtrack of the uprising. Now available on vinyl for the first time thanks to the great Akuphone label, this makes for the most fascinating listen thanks to the album’s fresh and freethinking take of both classical Arabic music and popular folklore.
In 2019, as part of a musical exchange organised by Marsm UK between Brilliant Corners, Beauty & the Beat and various crews from the Palestinian scene, the Jerusalem leg of the tour took place within the confines of Sabreen’s HQ, in the heart of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. This is where their recording studio is, and also where Saíd Murad (the band’s mastermind) lives. The party took place in the courtyard, with Said’s own son, Bashar, a bona fide pop star in Palestine, stealing the show with the most amazing and memorable live performance. We could feel and experience ourselves that night how very much alive and vibrant the artistic community around Sabreen (still) is.
As we were welcomed with open arms and enjoying the most incredible evening, one could forget even if just for a fleeting moment the repression that takes place on a daily basis outside of these walls for people born with the wrong passport. Fast forward two years to May 2021 and Sheikh Jarrah is at the heart of global news as settlers backed by the (Israeli) State are trying (and succeeded in the past) to wrongfully evict Palestinian families out of their homes, with the respected elders of Sabreen taking once again the role as leaders of the rebellion. “Those awaiting”, the name chosen by Sabreen rings sadly as relevant today as it was over 40 years ago.
The voice of the then 20 year old Kamilya Jubran illuminates Death of the Prophet, as the band develops their unique blend of alternative Arabic music, recalling similar experimentations done by Fairuz with her son Ziad Rhabani in Lebanon around the same time. “Classical, modern, jazz, blues, oriental, our music could never be defined” says the main composer Said Bashar. Both the oud and the kanun instruments are put to light in a very personal and modern way, forgoing any rules. To go along with this aesthetic quest, some of the lyrics used the words of revered Palestinian poets Mahmoud Darwish and Samih Al Qasem, famed their revolutionary opinions on post-colonialism.
With song titles such as “A Patriotic Song”, “A Song For Childhood”, “Dance of the Resistance” the feelings of the band are clearly expressed. The strikingly titled "Death of the Prophet” (an instrumental cut interestingly), which give its name to the album, is a wake up call for the resistance. “The Prophet won’t save us, we will” says Jubran. Elsewhere, the instrumental “Improvisation on a Moondance” is arguably the highlight of the set, a deep and wildly evocative oriental blues workout which sounds absolutely magnificent. Most importantly, Death of the Prophet is an incredible listen from start to finish, a landmark release to get deeply locked in and which you will come back to time and time again.