Monday, November 9, 2009

Checkpoint 303 Beats Drum for Resistance

Checkpoint 303 composes activist breakbeats and middle-eastern electronica to promote peace, human rights and justice in the middle-east.

Their music is available for free download at or Myspace:

Here's a piece the band recently wrote for Common Ground News Service (CGNews) available at:

Tear down the wall and dance!
06 March 2008

EAST JERUSALEM and LYON, FRANCE — We had nearly finished getting our gear off the stage when someone from the audience came up to congratulate us on our show. After telling us how much he enjoyed the music and video projection, he added, with a slightly troubled look on his face: “…but I have a problem. Isn’t it somehow wrong to dance to music that deals with the Palestinian cause?” He explained that while he found himself dancing to some of the more up-beat songs, he could not help asking himself whether it was okay to dance to the message our music embodies.

We were pleased to hear about his ‘dilemma’. This is precisely what our band, Checkpoint 303, is all about. Instead of telling the audience what to think about the issue of Palestine, which would be a ridiculously naïve attitude, we try to trigger a reflective process in our listeners.

This same question is put to us every now and again. Obviously there’s no universal answer. Every individual has to discover what they consider to be right, that’s the point; it’s ultimately all about the process of figuring it out. But for those who feel guilty grooving to the sound of a serious humanitarian issue, we have one consolation: silly I-love-you-baby lyrics need not be the unique criterion for danceable music.

This said, Checkpoint 303 is not a dance music band. The songs we consider successful are ones that involve the listener in the artistic process, songs in which the listener participates in creating the statement, as opposed to passively consuming a message. This can only be achieved by avoiding music with a ready-to-go, prêt-à-porter, take-away message.

How can this be achieved from a practical point of view? By contrast to other forms of musical activism, we do not rely on lyrics to convey our message. Checkpoint 303’s music is primarily based on field we record throughout the Middle East, and Palestine in particular—covering a large spectrum of predominantly urban sounds: people talking in the old city of Jerusalem, a traffic jam in Ramallah, excerpts of a local Bethlehem radio station, the sound of an identity control at an Israeli checkpoint, the chanting of a demonstration in the west bank, etc. We then transform the audio material into loops, onto which we add electronic beats, riffs and melodies played on oud (oriental lute), keyboard or guitar.

When our ‘sound catchers’, SC Yosh or Cheikh Julio, are on the street with their recording gear, they are not looking for a specific sound to convey a pre-defined impression or statement. The essence of our music is to capture, fragment, and reconstruct the soundtrack of daily life in the occupied Palestinian territories. Yet we don’t restrict our music to only portraying the suffering and hardship of life under occupation. The media is doing a fantastically wrong and biased job of exclusively depicting the negative aspects of life in this tormented region of the world. By contrast, our music includes rhythms of “normal” life, the supposedly insignificant things that never make headlines, but help make possible the very idea of “hope” in Palestine.

Many Palestinian families heroically try, against all odds, to get along with their lives, educate their children, and dream of a better future—one worth living for. There are positive stories to report from Palestine. Our attempt to make music based on objective field recordings in the Middle East is in itself a challenging intellectual exercise. But, at the end of the day, that is precisely what yields the necessary degree of realism and humanity that is the backbone of our music.
Our aim, then, is to blend the aesthetics of electronic music composition with the social, economical, and humanitarian dimensions of reality in Palestine in a way that actively involves the listener in shaping the message. But does this make our work political? Although it may be perceived as such, our creative intentions are not political per se. They are driven by fundamental humanitarian values. It seems to us that the universality of human rights should in theory be both the common ground and the starting point to achieve peace. Additionally, when it comes to the question of whether our art is politically correct or not, the answer is simple: we do not care as long as it is humanly correct. We are artists, not politicians; this allows us the luxury of being able to tell the truth from a humanitarian point of view with no fear of electoral consequences!

Electronic music and audiovisual experimentation are the tools Checkpoint 303 uses to react to both the virtual and physical walls the occupation has created. These walls are also being hacked by the flourishing Palestinian hip-hop and trip-hop scene (e.g. DAM, Ramallah Underground, G-Town, Arapeyat, etc.) but also international artists such as the British graffiti artist Banksy or the American indie songwriter and political activist David Rovics to name but a few.


This article is part of a special series on Art and Conflict, which surveys the work of art in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and examines the political dimensions of art in general.

Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Checkpoint 303 collaborates with film-makers, musicians, and visual artists from around the globe. Its free tunes from occupied territories are an act of resistance and a celebration of hope.

Checkpoint 303 was invited by Massive Attack to be a support band for three shows in the UK in 2007 and in France in 2008. We are also very much into performing in alternative venues and spaces where the aesthetics and meaning of sound/noise and its link to social activism can be reconsidered and explored...

Over the last two years, the band has performed electronic and live sets in several countries (USA, Australia, Canada, France, Palestine, Tunisia, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Japan, etc.) spreading the word for peace and human rights through a blend of twisted electronica, downtempo, break-beats, oriental riffs and field recordings...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent- I know Checkpoint 303. this collective is breaking artistic/musical/journalistic/activist boundaries.
They will be performing again with Massive Attack next week in Lyon, France.