Like all musicians and songwriters, Bashar Murad hopes his music will evoke positive images and serene thoughts in the minds of those who hear it. And by the humming along to his songs and loud applause of audiences at his concerts, he seems to be meeting his goal.
A youthful twenty-four years old, Bashar has been performing since childhood. While the music is pleasing to his Middle Eastern audience, the topics of his selections and the lyrics he sings often are not. Gender equality, LGBT, free speech and freedom of choice remain far from acceptable subject matters in many conservative Arab-Islamic countries.
To some Bashar is a “Middle East revolutionary;” to others, he’s something else entirely.
Murad tells The Media Line of the difficulties he experienced as a child because of what was expected from him, and the “normal” role he was expected to assume. While his friends played with plastic cars and airplanes, he preferred dolls and hanging out with his cadre of female friends. Being different is not easy anywhere, but is particularly difficult in the Arab communities of east Jerusalem, where Murad was viewed as an outsider.
In response, Bashar’s music studio became a place of refuge—and his battleground; where he not only embraces the issues that make his neighbors uneasy, but does so with strength of conviction.
It wasn’t always this way, though. Bullying forced Murad to change schools three times: “They made me feel like I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin; it took me a long time to get over that,” he told The Media Line. “People don’t accept guys who do things considered effeminate; they encourage women to be different but when it comes to men, they mock them.”
Bashar spent four years in the United States studying communications at Bridgewater College in Virginia. There, he experienced the freedoms he credits with influencing him in many ways, all of which allowed him to finally accept himself as is. This empowered him to return to Jerusalem to influence and help others who, like himself, are different.
Bashar’s return was triumphant. He achieved celebrity status when, in November 2016, he published his first music video online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbjhcKpU8_E) racking up more than 100,000 views. The clip was considered innovative—and controversial—in that it depicted men and women working in fields deemed appropriate only for the opposite gender. Inshrah, who appears as a female truck driver in the video told The Media Line that her experience filming with Bashar was “amazing” and reminded her that “there are others who do things that are not traditional.”
According to Bashar, the message behind the song, pointedly titled More Like You, “Is to influence people in Arab communities to accept others the way they are, and to stop expecting everyone to be the same.” He tells The Media Line that, “It’s very important for a society to embrace its different individuals instead of putting them down.”
Not unexpectedly, many people oppose Bashar’s music, going so far as calling it destructive and unrepresentative of Palestinian society. Not so, however, for Raed Al-Kobare, the head of the Music Department at the Palestinian Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
Alluding to Inshrah, Al-Kobare tells The Media Line that there are “more than five Palestinian women driving trucks and buses in Ramallah itself; and Palestinian women race, play sport and do art.” But he agreed that certain stereotypes do apply to the other sex. “Males in Arab societies might hate it when men play roles that designated for females, al-Kobare says
Bashar is currently studying music at Rimon College in Tel-Aviv, and has just released Voices(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkUL5bTZztk), a new song about overcoming the penchant in some Arab communities to put down people who are “different.”
In the video, a traditional bride identified by her white dress is consumed by “so many voices in her head that put her down.” Eventually, she breaks out of her traditional “prison,” depicted by an explosion of colors, and the accompanying lyric, “everything is better with a little bit of color.”
Guitarist Ahmed Azizeh is happy to be a part of the work and its controversial topics. “I’m aiming to change people and encourage them to stop following the crowd and be themselves,” Ahmed told The Meda Line. For his part, Bashar says he “sings for change and a better future where people respect and accept each other without conditions.”
It is a positive message that appears to be catching on.