Sham MCs (Damascus)

In September of 2009, the 9-member rap collective from Damascus known as Sham MCs launched their debut album, “Crossword”, in a traditional home in their native city. The event captured the juxtapositional conflict between the first Syrian rap group to release an album and the deep-rooted resistance to what many in Syria call a “Western” form of music. The album has provoked a strong negative reaction from critics and even the groups’ own families, though the Sham MCs insist that their music is distinctly Syrian and not an imitation of American rap. With a local music industry oriented towards traditional Arabic music, it is nearly impossible for the Sham MCs to think in terms of making a career in Syria, though they have built a fanbase in Damascus and already performed around Syria alongside the country’s most popular singer, George Wattouf. In the meantime, the leader of the group, Hosam Essa, is pursuing a degree in finance and accounting, and keeping a close eye on the growing success of breakout groups from the region, such as DAM from Palestine, who have overcome resistance to Hip Hop in their country and emerged as leaders of a new cultural movement in the region.

Not the best concert footage ever but you see the crowd, you see the 9 MCs on stage (lookin like the Syrian Wu-Tang Clan), you hear the snake-charming flute riff and the shouts of “Sham MCs!” and “Hip Hop”, and it looks like everybody’s having good, halal fun. So why’s Syria hatin?

In this interview on Al Arabiya, the group talks about mixing Arabic and English lyrics and trying to fight the wave of criticism against them for imitating “American” music. But the most interesting part for me is seeing a female MC in the mix. Amazing how common that’s becoming in the Arab Hip Hop scene, even in Syria where the law limits sentences for so-called “honor killings”.

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