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LEBANON: Palestinian rap duo welcomed in Europe, but not in Arab countries

February 26, 2010 |  7:16 am


It's hard out there for a Palestinian playah, especially in the Arab world.

I-Voice, a Palestinian hip-hop duo, has played to thousands of its fans in sold-out auditoriums from Austria to Spain.

But it can’t cut a break on Arab stages from Casablanca to Dubai.

Denied entry to Morocco recently, I-Voice had to cancel yet another tour through the Arab world because of what they describe as discriminatory practices against Palestinian refugees and their descendants. 

“When I went to Austria and Spain, it was no problem," said Yasin Qasem, 21, a freelance sound engineer who is one-half of the duo."For Cyprus, I got it on the same day. But with Arabic countries, I don’t know why. Maybe they are scared from Palestinians."

I-Voice, short for Invincible Voice, features Yasin as well as TNT, aka Mohammed Turck, 20, who supports his family by working as a foreman.

Yasin and TNT, both raised in Lebanon's Bourj al Barajneh refugee camp in south Beirut, have performed together and independently since 2006, among the fresh faces of rap music emerging in the Middle East.

Their MySpace page boasts more than 20,000 visits and their media correspondences suggest an international fan base. Yet they face obstacles performing their music in the Arab world.

Most recently, Laltanmeya, a Moroccan nonprofit, invited Yasin to lead a sound engineering workshop.

The embassy declined his request for a tourist visa after several weeks. It said that it had attempted to call him but that his phone was not working.

“I have a tour this December in Morocco and I will apply again," Yasin said. "But because I’ve been refused before, I think it will be a problem.”

This year, Eka3 Productions invited I-Voice to Dubai to finish production on its album, "Tahiyate" ("Greetings"). VIP Travel Agency in Beirut authorizes visas to travel to Dubai, but the two were denied entry.

In December, I-Voice was scrutinized en route to Spain at the Middle East Airlines ticket counter at the Beirut airport. 

“TNT and I gave the woman the visa and she just had to give me the ticket," Yasin recalled. "She is not security. She just has to check how many kilos are in my bag and give me the ticket. She saw the passport and said, ‘You are Palestinians! Wait, wait!’”

The airline representative called the head of security, who insisted that their paperwork was legitimate.

In contrast, at the Rome airport, en route to Spain, the customs agent wished Yasin a safe tour and asked for a free copy of their CD.

Last summer, Arab Digital Expressions, or ADE, in Cairo organized youth summer programs and invited Yasin.

He and two of his associates from the group told the woman at the check-in counter in Beirut that their visas were at the airport in Cairo so she would let them leave.

"But she said to me, ‘You’re Palestinian and you can’t enter Egypt. No, you’re not Lebanese; you’re Palestinian.’ I heard her tell the other representative, ‘Keep talking to him until he misses the flight.’ I called ADE but the MEA reps refused to speak to my boss. They said it wasn’t their business, so the flight left without me,” Yasin recalled.

After several days, Yasin was allowed to fly to Egypt.

But at the Cairo airport, he was detained and questioned for two hours.

Again in August, Yasin prepared for his return to Egypt for ADE. He spent days scuttling between the camp, Beirut airport and Egypt Air’s downtown office.

“At the airport, Egypt Air told me that the guy who has a copy of my permission note isn’t at work and he’s not picking up his phone. The copy is in a drawer, right in front of us, but the guy has the key and the drawer is locked,” Yasin said.

He flew the next day; upon his arrival in Cairo, he was detained for four hours.

“I kept asking for my passport, but no one would answer me," Yasin said.

Now, I-Voice is preparing for another round of tours and still needs to finish its album. Yasin’s long-term plans have certainly been affected. “I want to study music sound engineering," he said. "And I want to continue my career."

He added, "And I’m not going to apply to any Arab country.”

-- Becky Lee Katz in Beirut

Photo: I-Voice promotional material. Credit: I-Voice

Video: I-Voice performs in Beirut in 2008. Credit: YouTube