ESNS Exchange Editorial: Palestine Music Expo – Combining Peace and Pop Music


From a European perspective, the Middle East and popular music might seem to be terra incognito. However, pop music is a global cultural phenomenon. It springs from areas and regions across the globe, at times unexpectedly sounding no different – regardless of which hemisphere it finds its roots in.

Celia Palau Lodge

There are territories that are currently recognised to have harsh living conditions or to be facing challenging political situations. Take Palestine, it’s a region where rave and other music events might not be expected to be part of the residential cultural life. I was impressed to learn that the Palestine Music Conference (PMX) a showcase event has been hosted annually in Ramallah, West Bank since 2017. PMX aims to bring Palestinian artists and international industry professionals together, in an effort to build mutually beneficial relationships and develop valuable music industry networking opportunities in Palestine.

ESNS-Exchange had the pleasure to ask Celia Palau Lodge, part of the Management Board of this Showcase Festival, a few questions about this event. Palau Lodge sheds light on how music continues to be created and developed, despite the challenges or circumstances people face, and proudly shares: “PMX has played a key role in supporting Palestinian music culture. We have put Palestinian music on the global stage.”

Putting on a music conference in Palestine rather seems to be a peace mission instead of one that purely is driven by business motives, doesn't it?

PMX is a charity organisation and doesn’t profit from any of its activities, however, it’s our mission to help create a sustainable local music ecosystem that can eventually drive local and international business.

We started the annual music conference/showcase festival in Ramallah in 2017 as a mission to showcase the music scene in Palestine, after realising that there was no such international event hosted in the occupied territories. We’ve successfully hosted four showcase editions in Ramallah, three events in Gaza throughout the pandemic, and have been expanding our reach to work on the local scene as a whole through PMO (Palestine Music Office). It’s important for PMX/PMO to create a profitable environment for local musicians and the industry. We want to see artists grow and be able to make a living out of their artistry.

The political situation in the Middle East is kind of a humanistic misery. The death toll is high, the social situation is a mess and fundamentalistic mindsets counteract progressive developments in this part of the world to make things better. So, where is the fun for PMX?

It is an extremely frustrating environment, but learning to live with the local reality is a huge reminder that these conditions should not be normalised. Music has always been a universal language. Through music we’ve built a community of artists and international delegates who are in very close contact, looking for opportunities and mentoring each other in a very supportive way. Seeing the progress of so many artists is what keeps us motivated. Since 2017 (and with a pandemic) we’ve successfully seen Palestinian artists sign seven record deals, 15 bands booked for international tours and festivals, four mentorship programs, 30 panels and workshops, over 150 international delegates have come to the West Bank and over 14,000 people have come to PMX. Bear in mind, it’s a relatively small scene and an apartheid state!

During the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent attacks on Gaza, PMX has also been involved in organising children’s events/concerts to help bring some normality after the attacks. For us it’s important that children create some positive memories that cannot be “bombed” or erased from their day to day. Throughout our three events, we had a total of 9,000 children and their families attend, 40 Palestinian artist showcases and 180 team members involved.

PMX has played a key role in supporting Palestinian music culture. We have put Palestinian music on the global stage. We even played a fundamental role in helping the city of Ramallah to become designated as one of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Networks. It’s never easy and reality shifts day-to-day which is why we can only try to focus on the successes and take one step at a time.

PMX has been suspended since 2019. Besides the event itself, do you currently have other ongoing activities to support the music community in Palestine?

PMX - Panel

Our most recent PMX event took place more than three years ago, back in April 2019. The restrictions imposed universally by Covid-19 only boosted our eagerness and commitment to once again produce our international music event – which brings together Palestinian musicians and delegates from the world-wide music industry to engage, learn, connect, produce and be creative, together. We were heartbroken that once again, we weren’t able to provide both artists and music lovers with the opportunity to experience Palestinian musical talent and, to enjoy a sense of normality and acceptance and to have a taste of a somewhat normal Palestine in 2022. The instability brought upon us by the occupation in recent months, coupled with numerous cultural and music event cancellations following attacks or threats to artists and venues in the West Bank, put us in a very difficult situation, just one month before our anticipated Expo in 2022.

The list of challenges faced in the Palestinian music landscape and by Palestinian artists particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, is only expanding. This list contains not only a lack of resources, insufficient investments, isolation, marginalisation, absence of outreach and many more. In addition to that, recently we’ve been witnessing official authorities’ lack of ability to provide a safe environment for artists and their supporters. This is a new and worrying social phenomena in Palestine and it is not acceptable since freedom of expression is a fundamental right rooted in our history and in our social values.

Free expression is also a fundamental of music – and music is fundamental to PMX. We will not allow anyone – whether it is the occupation or other parties – to silence our freedom of expression.

With all that in mind, we are looking to expand our efforts into different activities to support the music community in Palestine. Some of these include events in main international cities such as London, Paris, Berlin, LA, Amman, Totnes and more. We’re also exploring different workshops which will focus on digital opportunities to scale their opportunities remotely. And finally, we’re organising a songwriting workshop in March 2023.

Please tell us more about the current settings of artists, shows and concerts and the setup of the music sector in Palestine.

PMX - Konzert Foto 2 - 2018

There are many artists from all genres in Palestine and many more collectives and collaborations happening which is really exciting. Since 2017, the local festivals have multiplied and a few more venues have opened or refurbished.

We’re working with live agents to create an easier routing for artists interested in performing in the occupied territories as well as one in Europe for Palestinian artists who can perform outside the occupied territories.

We don’t really have a list of shows I can refer you to – added to the to do list!

Here is an older playlist – a good place to start:

Sama’ Abdulhadi Boiler room session in Palestine:

(Note by the editor: An amazing set, definitely an eye and ear opener for pop music in Palestine)

Pop music is a global phenomenon, and pop culture can embody cultural and political meaning for people and societies – it even has the power to inspire change in mindsets. However, from Banksy to protest songs, pop culture prospers best in democratic societies. Should today's power players of this genre become more active, when it comes to the support and solidarity with democratic movements?

This is an extremely current subject and I’m not sure that humanity/society is ready for that yet. I would even criticise our current democratic state and its lack of freedom of expression. I say this as cancel culture threats grow by the day, proving it harder for influencers to talk about any taboo or complicated subjects that need to be debated in an open-minded manner. I don’t believe that there should be so much duality, life is made of nuances and someone’s reality might be very different to someone else’s reality but still valid.

I think most people would agree that power players in this genre should take advantage of their position to support democratic movements but I can also understand why we need the Dolly Parton’s of this world to unite everyone beyond their differences. Nevertheless, I do believe that the upcoming generation is more aware of their social fingerprint and we can see lots of artists looking to speak about solidarity and democratic movements in different and clever ways.

Dua Lipa for instance has a weekly newsletter “Service 95” which exposes all sorts of cultural and social matters. Nicolas Jaar and co. have gathered over 900 signatures from artists around the world from FKA Twigs to Denzel Curry to support Palestine. Sault is another interesting collective of UK artists who remain anonymous and focus on both the joy and pain that comes with the Black experience through music only.

Upcoming generations, more than ever, need to identify with more than just a band they like. It’s becoming a much more holistic approach to identifying with someone/something. I guess we’ll see if Twitter does become that “common town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence” as Elon Musk underlines the danger that social media will splinter to the extremist sides generating divide in our society.

I think it must be a collective effort from the audience and the influencers to discuss difficult topics in a respectful way and be okay with all the nuances. People are so fast in having an opinion without assessing and taking into account the full context and the multiple realities that coexist.

I appreciate you bringing this topic up and inviting everyone to think about this. How do we all become more accountable and less radical with our opinions? It is as important for influencers to speak up as it is for the audience to create a supportive space to debate topics in a respectful way.

(Note by the editor: Celia Palau Lodge answered this question on a personal level and not on behalf of PMX)

What is on the agenda of PMX 23 and when this event may will be able to return to the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

So far this is a rough agenda of things we can look forward concerning PMX in 2023:

January – London Event

March – Songwriting session

April/May – Multi-city events

June/July – Workshops

September – PMX

We’re working hard to host PMX23 in September next year!

Additionally, we’ve been working on PMO (Palestine Music Office) which will become an umbrella for all Palestinian music things. PMX would be an activity organised by PMO. Other activities will include workshops across the year, education, mentorships, grants and more.

For more information please check:

Text: Manfred Tari