The Intifada 1987

16/02/2022Recovered, Restored, Reissued: Riad Awwad's Long-Forgotten DIY Album Of The Palestinian Uprising

December 1987 marked the First Intifada, a series of Palestinian protests and violent riots against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. A week into the popular uprising, Riad Awwad, "an electrical engineer specialising in musical equipment," got together with his sisters Hanan, Alia and Nariman and began recording an album in their living room "on equipment he had made himself." 

Fast forward some 34 years to Jenin, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, where London-based Palestinian artist, actor, film maker and music collector Mo'min Swaitat found himself in 2020, walking the streets of his hometown, unable to return to the UK during the first lockdown. He passed the record store of an old family friend and, as fate would have it, decided to get in touch. 

As a result, Swaitat gained access to the shop and began digging through a dusty cassette archive of long-forgotten music, eventually "bringing five suitcases full of [tapes] back to London," where he began digitising his finds. "I listened to 10,000 tapes over eight months - lots of synth stuff and funk and disco, wedding music, revolutionary tracks, [but] one of the most special finds was this bright yellow tape with no information on it except a sticker with the hand-written word 'intifada'," he told The Guardian.

Captivated by the synth-led, lo-fi sound and "the poetic lyrics describing a lost homeland and the struggle for freedom," Swaitat listened to the tape over and over again. "On one occasion he left the tape rolling and [...] after a few minutes of silence, the composer named himself [...], thanked his sisters for their help in creating the album, as well as [Palestinian national poet] Mahmoud Darwish for writing the lyrics to one of the songs."

The 3,000 original copies of Riad Awwad's "The Intifada" album were almost immediately confiscated by the Israeli authorities, fearing their revolutionary nature might "incite people to violence." Riad himself "was arrested, interrogated and detained for several months" and even tortured, according to The Guardian. He later continued making music and engaged in musical education, but was tragically killed in a car accident in 2005.

Thanks to Mo'min Swaitat's discovery, however, Riad Awwad's legacy lives on. Swaitat has meanwhile established the Majazz Project, "an alternative research platform as well as an archival record label reissuing and remixing vintage Arab vinyl and cassettes," run from London. 

You can preview the album's first two tracks on Bandcamp and there should be a vinyl record of the album arriving in April, now available for pre-order. Read more on The Guardian and Pitchfork and relisten to a recent "Palestinian Sound Archive" show by Majazz Project & Luke Kulukundis on NTS Radio.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom