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Update: ‘Raise your keffiyeh, raise it,’ Mohammed Assaf sings, and there is jubilation in Palestine

on 48 Comments

Updated with tonight’s performance.

Ramallah June 21, 2013 (photo: Joseph Dana)


It’s the final night of competition on Arab Idol, and Mohammed Assaf sang his trademark song Ali Keffiyeh, and the crowd is going wild both in the auditorium and throughout the Arab world including of course…Palestine.

Here’s Mohammed singing the song, recorded in Gaza circa 2008, and we all know what happened in Gaza that same year.

The song is sung in a pure Palestinian dialect, and Assaf sings it with his Gazan tilt.
The song lists several names representing different singing and music styles of the Levant– in the same way that blue grass and the blues are associated with certain regions in the US– but in this case Ataba, Mijana, Diheya, Jafra are all folk music styles very popular in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Here are the Lyrics:

Raise your Keffiyeh Raise it
Sing the Ataba and Mijana and enjoy it

Shake your shoulders tenderly
Jafra, Ataba and Diheya

And let guns contribute and make it more fun [interesting double meaning, the song so far has been describing a wedding where people are singing the Ataba and Mijana and doing dabka, traditionally those were always accompanied by shooting guns in the air]

Raise the flag in Ramallah and Mountains of fire [Nablus’s nick name]
your proud head band is a symbol of grit and determination [Keffiyeh as a head dress was traditionally associated with head bands 3qal]
The first bullet tells the story of the journey
When the time comes, we make what’s up go down [rearranging an old Palestinian proverb]

Raise your Keffiyeh Raise it
Sing the Ataba and Mijana and enjoy it

We grew figs and olives in the orchard
We brought the wheat seeds and the lemon trees

When you call my country .. we will be ready
Lighting the victory paths in the battle day

Raise your Keffiyeh Raise it
Sing the Ataba and Mijana and enjoy it

It’s time to celebrate.


Previous posts about Mohammed Assaf here, here, here, and here.

Proceeding post 6/22; ‘A voice we will remember’ — Palestine waits to learn if Mohammed Assaf has won Arab Idol–UPDATE: Mohammed Assaf IS Arab Idol!!!

Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is a mom, a human rights activist, and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area and likes to garden. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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48 Responses

  1. annie on June 21, 2013, 5:15 pm

    i so wish i had the video of tonights performance. we will add it when we get it. for anyone wanting to follow the excitement of tonight follow the hashtags #MohammedAssaf #ArabIdol and #Assaf.

    i won’t be around but hopefully readers can post the link and one of the editors can add it to the top.

    I hope commenters can keep us up to date especially if a video gets released.

  2. Maximus Decimus Meridius on June 21, 2013, 5:33 pm

    ”i so wish i had the video of tonights performance. ”

    Here you are, Annie:

    • annie on June 21, 2013, 6:42 pm

      thank you maximus, updated with video from tonight!

  3. just on June 21, 2013, 7:00 pm

    Exciting and humbling. Tears and laughter– both coupled with goosebumps. He brings such incredible joy to my heart and soul.

    • annie on June 21, 2013, 7:45 pm

      just, here is another incredible song he sang tonight

      • just on June 21, 2013, 8:11 pm

        Thank you Annie!

        Do you know if the lovely woman with the white headscarf that the camera kept panning to is perhaps Mohammed’s mother (or a sister or aunt)?

      • Susan A on June 21, 2013, 9:28 pm

        Yes, Just, it’s his proud mum AND dad, who sang with him when he was a boy, (and maybe his grandmother to the left?) I bet she has some stories to tell……
        And Annie, you passed the fever on to me, or should I say Mohammed Assaf did? I’ve read hardly anything on Mondo for 10 days because I’ve been doing nothing but watching videos! I’d seen the Global March to Jerusalem video last year and noticed the nice, smooth voice but then thought no more of it; little did I know what he was capable of. I’ve always been a sucker for a song. Apart from the commonality of our love of Palestine (and Mondoweiss) I also felt very strongly about Mohammed Sabaaneh: so much so that his ‘dreaming of freedom’ cartoon has been my FB status ever since his kidnap. I just didn’t get round to signing in and telling you this. I came out from ‘under [my] rock’ the day after you posted the ‘fever’ article, because I’d missed the other one. Palestine’s spirit will NEVER die! Thanks for all the wonderful posts, Annie and Mondo and all its contributors!

      • annie on June 22, 2013, 12:05 am

        so glad you commented susan. And i could not have written these last 2 posts without Enass, it is really her who deserves all this thanking.

        exciting isn’t it!?!

      • RudyM on June 22, 2013, 9:21 pm

        I am just floored again. To me he sounds like a master of Arab song.

        (And the judges all look like they can’t believe what they are hearing!)

  4. philweiss on June 21, 2013, 8:24 pm

    My question to US foreign policy makers: Can anyone say that Palestinian freedom is not a leading cause across the Arab world? And has been for decades, and will continue to be so long as the occupation continues? Assaf is such a symbol of national pride, in the face of endless humiliation…

    • just on June 21, 2013, 8:38 pm

      It is perhaps the most “leading cause across the Arab world”. Many dismiss the cause as not important, but in the wake of so much imperialism and colonialism, it is the most grotesque slap in the face of the indigenous people of the region. The “West” maligns Arabs and all other Muslims and others as “primitives” and “terrorists”, yet they never examine their own role in this debacle. All we do is crow about our own democracy, technology and wonderful way of life that others should aspire to, but the “others” don’t deserve any of it because of a, b, c, or d. I am sick of hearing about the “22” other countries that Palestinians should go to.

      They want to be in their own land, in their own homes, and with their history and true legacy.

    • Susan A on June 21, 2013, 9:29 pm

      Yes, Phil, the spirit and pride is still and will always be in evidence.

    • AlGhorear on June 21, 2013, 9:34 pm

      Phil, when I read what you just wrote, I thought about the angry arab, As’ad AbuKhalil, and how he repeatedly says he’s against nationalism, flags etc., except for Palestine (sorry for the poor summary), but I hope you get the gist. To me it means that something must be done to restore the rights the Palestinian have deserved for so long. It’s one nationalist cause to be supported.

    • Citizen on June 22, 2013, 4:17 am

      Reminds me that Hillary Clinton said, wherever she went in the world to meet with its leaders the first thing they asked about was the Palestinian situation. It seems to be on the whole world’s mind, except in America. And, amazingly, we don’t have Goebbels, and we have a lot more media avenues than a free government radio per family with only one channel station. And we use to have “the fourth branch of government” and “the fourth estate.” Free speech. Freedom of the press. Now our congressmen and WH speak in a simple code, dictated by AIPAC. And, despite serquestration, aid to Israel never stops, increases. Per capita, every Israeli gets a bigger US check than every American.

  5. RudyM on June 21, 2013, 9:42 pm

    I don’t know about the song itself, but isn’t that very unusual sounding percussion specifically Iraqi? I’ve only ever heard it in Iraqi music.

    • Enass T on June 22, 2013, 3:43 am

      yes yes yes !

      The music of this song is Iraqi folk music with some modifications :)

      good music ear

  6. kayq on June 21, 2013, 10:44 pm

    I just literally watched this on tumblr right now… Amazing song! He did Palestine proud, and well if he doesn’t win, he still did Palestine proud. Allah ynaj7ak ya Mohammad!

  7. Enass T on June 21, 2013, 11:06 pm

    I am still speechless
    He was sick ( had the flue) last night, as noted by one of the judges
    His first song is a very difficult song technically, he sang it so perfectly that Nancy wished she would be this sick if she would sing like that…..
    the second song was also as difficult and he sang for the great Saudi Singer MOhammad Abdo
    then it was the Kiffeyeh

    I am happy and in awe and sad that this journey on arab idol is over

  8. bijou on June 22, 2013, 12:04 am

    The song recorded in 2008 – is that also a young Mohammed Assaf?

    • annie on June 22, 2013, 12:15 am

      yes it is bijou. and i also linked to it in the 4th paragraph of my first article about mohammad assaf here:

      i didn’t show it earlier because i was hoping all along he would sing it and i wanted to save it til now. and if he didn’t sing it on arab idol i still intended on featuring it when he wins tomorrow.

      the song is very popular. from the first article According to my Gazan contacts, his song Ali Keffiyeh recorded in 2008, is “really popular here. Everyone knows it.” and it’s easy to understand why. plus, i love watching all the kids happy dancing both in their traditional dress and in their jeans. it’s hard imagining this was the place they bombed, same year same people and i’ve wondered often if all the dancers survived. i’ve watch the first video too many times to count and it always brings joy to my heart and makes me cry.

      edit: and thanks for your question. i realized i had not made it clear in the text it was him singing, so i fixed that.

      • bijou on June 22, 2013, 1:20 am

        Wow Annie, color me impressed. Awesome work!!!
        Thanks so much.

      • annie on June 22, 2013, 2:14 am

        ;) it’s not work to me bijou, i’m completely hooked on mohammed assaf. i literally have…the fever.

        needless to say i feel extremely fortunate phil and adam have allowed and encouraged me to indulge in my obsession here. very lucky indeed. also very lucky to meet Enass in the comment section, another totally die hard fan who so generously translated palestinian prisoner Hussam Shaheen’s letter and co wrote/translated “Your voice is measured by a golden balance”, which of course completely blows my mind.

        anyway, call it what you want, but it’s not work. more like… love.

  9. seafoid on June 22, 2013, 2:23 am

    It is wonderful to see the Tarab طرب, the harnessing of the emotional energy in the room via the interaction between the singer and the crowd, to deliver a euphoric buzz

    Shukran ya Annie wa Enass

  10. seafoid on June 22, 2013, 2:34 am

    It must be great for Palestinians living in Israel who have to put up with all the crap about the superiority of Jewish culture to watch Mohammed Assaf deliver such a performance . I bet there’ll be more than a few teachers in Sakhnin, Nazareth and elsewhere in Galilee showing that video on Sunday morning.


    • annie on June 22, 2013, 2:58 am

      seafoid, it occurred to me many palestinian kids are probably going to be singing a lot more! and parent might be signing their kids up for singing lessons!

      • seafoid on June 22, 2013, 5:06 am

        There must have been an amazing atmosphere in Sabra and Shatila as well.

  11. Citizen on June 22, 2013, 4:09 am

    Think of Balata, then of Assaf. I wish he was on American Idol, singing. Then, young Dick and Jane might hear a bit about what their ignorant parents have paid for, for so many decades now. We sure won’t be hearing him sing on PBS.

  12. Citizen on June 22, 2013, 4:44 am

    A patriotic song for the Palestinian diaspora:

  13. seafoid on June 22, 2013, 5:12 am

    The Arab Idol orchestra are the dogs bollocks.

    Zay el eshta.

    • bijou on June 22, 2013, 8:22 am

      Annie, I would love to know more about his life. He is from Khan Younis, but what came before that? What is his family’s story vis a vis the Nakba? Where are they from originally in Palestine? And how did he start to sing and what training has he had to reach this glorious and amazing potential? The story of how that was possible to achieve even in besieged, phosphorous-bombed, raped, and abandoned Gaza is the story of how the human spirit will never be defeated. I haven’t seen this written up anywhere yet, although I haven’t scoured as thoroughly as you have…

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius on June 22, 2013, 11:20 am

        ” The story of how that was possible to achieve even in besieged, phosphorous-bombed, raped, and abandoned Gaza is the story of how the human spirit will never be defeated.”

        I agree. If he’d been a black from Apartheid SA, or a Tibetan, or Burmese, he’d have musicians from all over the world clamouring to have their photos taken with him, for some of his wonderfulness to brush off on them. Bono would have adopted his as a cause celebre. Instead, we’re supposed to fret over the sentences handed out to Pussy Riot.

        And I know this is superficial, but can I just say what a remarkably good-looking young man he is? If scientists were to devise the perfect face, it would end up looking very like Mohammed’s.

      • annie on June 22, 2013, 12:10 pm

        bijou, according to his dad his talent was discovered when he was only 5

        and you can read more about his mentor, jamal al naffar, here

        there is also an interview w/assaf where he sings the national song his father mentions and there’s a video of that first recording there.

      • Enass T on June 22, 2013, 1:48 pm

        Mohammed’s family are indeed 1948 refugees, their village is from Ramla district.
        He was born in Libya, his family returned to Khan Younis in 1995. He was discovered when he called his mentor Jamal Al Najjar on the phone live on TV and sang for him, he asked him to come to his office the next day.
        Assaf was shot in the abdomin in 2008 by a stray bullet during Israel’s attack on Gaza, he is completely healed and he never mentions it in interviews.
        He is graduating with a media and public relations degree.
        He is completely self taught him self music.
        He used to sing at weddings to pay his way through college.

      • seafoid on June 22, 2013, 2:34 pm

        I would love to see him in concert in Jerusalem the day Zionism collapses.

      • just on June 23, 2013, 4:14 am

        “His mother’s family comes from the demolished Palestinian village of Beit Darras (today Beit Ezra, east of Ashkelon) and his father’s family hails from Be’er Sheva. His musical talent was discovered in childhood, and he became known in Gaza for singing at weddings and other events. Now his renown has even reached Chile, which is good news, since the Chilean Palestinian community is very wealthy, and after all, it’s all about business: The winner in ‘Arab Idol’ is the one who receives the most text message votes. Every text message costs money – a shekel and half to Palestinian cellular operator Jawwal and Wataniya Telecom company (down from 2.85 NIS when the contest began). ”

  14. Kate on June 22, 2013, 2:21 pm

    ecstatic crowd in Ramallah – posted 21 June

    • annie on June 22, 2013, 2:35 pm

      Thank you Kate! Enass sent that to me last night and i thought about adding it to the article. it’s amazing isn’t it. so much happiness and excitement. and i’d love a photo or video of the firecrackers set off in gaza.

    • seafoid on June 22, 2013, 3:15 pm

      It’s sad that Israel has none of that deep shared culture to dig into.
      All they have in terms of that , god love them, is Dersh and co with the shared hasbara bullshit but that won’t make it past the next generation.

  15. seafoid on June 22, 2013, 4:04 pm

    The tears in Hassan the masri judge’s eyes at 1.12

    This is way bigger than a song contest . This is about identity.
    And perhaps the birth of a musical legend.

    • MRW on June 22, 2013, 7:04 pm

      “perhaps the birth of a musical legend?”

      Thee birth.

    • annie on June 22, 2013, 8:35 pm

      And perhaps the birth of a musical legend.

      i think so seafoid, that’s what people are saying about his voice.

  16. kalithea on June 23, 2013, 12:09 am

    Someone should organize a world-wide “Raise your Keffiyeh for Palestine” march.

    • annie on June 23, 2013, 12:48 am

      go for it kalithea, we’ll publicize it.

    • just on June 23, 2013, 4:11 am

      I’ve got mine right here……….

      • Susan A on June 24, 2013, 11:38 am

        And I wore mine all day on Saturday! I had to! It was a must! :)

  17. John B on June 24, 2013, 7:33 pm

    Dear Enass & Annie,

    Thanks very much for the wonderful informative coverage, and translations!
    Assaf’s vocal ability is unique, I haven’t heard anything like it for many years! – wonderful!
    I love it, and I don’t know Arabic!

    Assaf’s winning Arab Idol and his story have been widely published here in the UK.
    It probably highlighted the Palestinian issue and drew attention to the plight of ordinary Palestinian more than anything else we usually hear from this part of the world.

    Listening to “Ally El Kofiya” linked above, Assaf starts with a Mawwal. It is wonderful to listen to.
    What do the words mean? any chance of a translation please?

    Usually, when Assaf performed El Kofiya in Palestine, the Mawwal he sung was different…
    [compare: go to 0:51
    and the mawwal was used- for Lebanon – in his performance of 17 May/Arab Idol

    Thanks in advance,



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