Shatea, the Pioneers of Arab Rock, Are Reuniting for One Night

Shatea, the band formed during the first intifada, is getting back together for a single performance during the second intifada. This is one of the reasons why the band members feel the subjects they once sang about are still relevant.

Shatea, the band formed during the first intifada, is getting back together for a single performance during the second intifada. This is one of the reasons why the band members feel the subjects they once sang about are still relevant. "One of our hits was `Miriam,' about a Palestinian girl who lives in a refugee camp during the first intifada and doesn't know what games and holidays are," says lead vocalist Safa'a Ammar. "Fifteen years have gone by since we first sang the song, but in my opinion, Miriam is still the same Miriam. The girl who suffered then because of the war, is still suffering today."

Shatea, the first Arab rock band, was considered innovative when it was set up. It replaced the traditional melodiousness of popular Arab music with angry guitars; protest songs replaced the typical love songs.

The troupe got together in 1988, playing popular music at weddings. A year later, they decided to change direction and try rock `n' roll and the final makeup of the group emerged: key boardist Kareem Nusser, guitarist and vocalist Klofa Totary, bass guitarist Raymond Haddad, drummer Samer Azar and lead vocalist Safa'a Ammar. The band members, originally from Haifa, chose the name Shatea (Arabic for shore).

They released an album, "Paradise doesn't exist" with covers of familiar Arabic songs with rock arrangements. The album was surprisingly successful.

In 1990, the band had its first performance, which was also the first concert of Arab rock in Israel. The band members, who rented the Armon Theater in Haifa and pasted up advertisements themselves, worried that no one would come. A big crowd showed up, around 1,000 people filled the hall to capacity.

In 1992, they used their own money to finance the disk, "Waiting," after long deliberating whether there was any point in releasing a disc when most Arab homes did not own compact disc players. Unlike the premier album, the band wrote the lyrics and composed the music for all eight songs on the disc (six in Arabic and two in English).

The album included songs of political and social protest and was not afraid to break certain taboos. "The songs reflect ourselves as a Palestinian minority in the state. The words reflect a longing for a society with more freedom, equality, individualism and mutual respect and less suffering for the Palestinian people who are under occupation and face religious coercion," says Nasser.

In those days, the possibilities for playing the album's songs on the air were limited, because there were still no Arab radio stations, other than the Voice of Israel in Arabic, Reshet Dalet. Nevertheless, the band was successful on Radio Monte Carlo, which broadcast to the Arab world from Paris. The station frequently played their hit songs, "Hours" and "Waiting." The disc was a commercial success, "but because of an unfair distribution company, we never saw a shekel of the profits," says Haddad.

In 1995, the group split up from burnout, financial constraints and a desire of some members to start families. Today Ammar is an accountant in the mornings and in the afternoons sells fish with her husband in the family business; Nasser is an occupational therapist; Totary owns a garage; Azar is unemployed and only Haddad has continued since then in the music business, and, among other things, plays with Amal Murkus.

This is their first reunion after unsuccessful attempts to get back together. The band will do a single concert at the Sham a-Nassim Festival on April 17 at the Tzemah beach and is being produced by Yazid Hadid. The festival includes a marathon of 12 Arab bands and performers, featuring classical Arabic music, trance and rap.

Shatea is a path-breaker in Israeli Arabic music," says Shadi Balan, anchor and editor at A-Shams, the regional Arabic radio station. "The band performed at a time when there were no Arab musicians in Israel producing original material, only wedding bands and singers who did covers of Arab pop songs, most of them banal love songs. This band opened the door for many other bands that now perform original material and were influenced by them, such as Halas, Shem Zmani and Shoshana Pra'it. It is returning at a good time, when there is a flourishing of Arab rock, which is gaining ground now that the wave of local hip hop has subsided."