Muqata'a at Refraction Festival

  • Muqata'a premieres a new composition that expands on his noise-inflected experimentations with instrumental hip-hop.
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  • Frequently hailed as the "godfather" of Palestinian hip-hop, Muqata'a made the switch to focus on producing and composing around 2009 after garnering local and global attention rapping under his Boikutt alias as a founding member of the Ramallah Underground collective, alongside Stormtrap (now Asifeh) and later Aswatt. The martial style of beatmaking he's honed since packed its full punch last night as he premiered a new piece as part of two-week-long streaming event Refraction Festival. While other artists in that evening's program, like MoMA Ready, object blue and Omar-S, were paired with audiovisual collaborators or had videos accompanying their sets, Muqata'a's offered no visuals, instead urging listeners to focus on the sounds at hand. With this in mind, I lay on my bed, head propped up by a small mound of dirty laundry, ready to face the music. What greeted me was bass that rattled the dishes and eerie fragments of melody and texture which furrowed through the impinging sound like magical schisms. Muqata'a picked apart classical Arabic music—like that found in his grandparent's record collection—weaving remnants of tunes into bulky soundscapes or julienning hand-drum patterns until they toppled over each other in rapid succession like splinter-thin shards. He honoured his musical lineage through this sampling, before fusing it with the erratic present by introducing heavily processed field recordings caught at protests or on neighbourhood strolls. Some of the recordings he works with were taken in his hometown of Ramallah, teeming with the mechanized sounds of Israeli military checkpoints, helicopters surveilling above, and soldiers yelling through thick bulletproof glass. In one of the performance's most chilling moments, Muqata'a takes a fragment of conversation and stretches the voice from regular speech into an agonizing bottomless scream. Advancing at a downtempo pace, he fuelled the composition's confrontational charge with unforeseen glitches and falling bricks of noise. Though there were moments when it was hard not to nod my head, like when he whooshed us away into a momentary torrent of breakbeats, Muqata'a never let the beat stabilize long enough for dancing to be within our reach. His distinctive experimenting with the form and aesthetic of instrumental hip-hop imbues it with a sense of heaviness and defiance. These types of emotional elements are what first drew him to hip-hop as a teenager. "I felt connected in many ways to the sound of someone responding to the injustices they face," he told Cultured Mag. "Even though I barely understood what was being said in the lyrics, it was in your face, and it felt right." No audiovisual accoutrement was needed for this—the sounds created an imagery all on their own. Throughout the hour-long performance, they held you in discomfort, confronted inattention with their sonic resilience and lifted you to short shrifts of jubilation. Refraction Festival continues online through July 31st. All events are free to attend with organizers suggesting those able donate to the following entities: Color of Change, The Bail Project, Primary Colours, The Okra Project and Afrotectopia. The festival continues tonight with performances from Regularfantasy, D Tiffany & Roza Terenzi and Daniel Rincón. An archived version of Muqata'a’s set can be found on Refraction's website.