Why I Wrote the Song “Checkpoint” and Exposed the Apartheid I Witnessed in Palestine
I honestly had no intention on writing a song based on the trip I took to Palestine and Israel recently as part of a delegation of African-American activists and artists, sponsored by the Carter Center. I’m still having a difficult time processing what I witnessed. I spent much of the trip trying to get my head around how one group of human beings could be so inhumane to another group of human beings. I still can’t understand. By day 4 of our 7 day trip I wanted to come home. The mental intensity of what I saw that the brutality of the stories I heard had taken a toll on me to the point where I had enough.
In one of the few light moments of the trip writer and filmmaker Dream Hampton joked that I would have a song and video out a few days after we landed in the United States, because I’m known for doing topical videos in a short period of time. I remember laughing and telling her my only plan when I got home was to rest, but Dream got the last laugh. Her suggestion actually caused me to think, if I did a song what would it sound like and how would the video look? And, although I had taken hundreds of pictures, the only places I recorded video were the checkpoints.
We as a group decided to walk through the infamous Qalandia checkpoint because our guide, who was Palestinian, could not ride through the checkpoint with us. Even though she had a permit and a passport, because she was Palestinian, she had to walk through the checkpoint on foot. I decided to record this journey, not because I had the idea to shoot a video, but because of the ridiculous amount of Israeli soldiers with machine guns surrounding the checkpoint. Being a victim of Stop and Frisk in places like New York City, I have gotten in the habit of videotaping any encounter with those in “authority” when I think there could be danger . In this particular situation, I thought it was best for the safety of our guide and our delegation.
When we were stopped at a checkpoint in Hebron, I began recording again, and I also was recording when armed Israeli soldiers boarded our van to check everyones passport and visa. Realizing the checkpoint footage was the only video I had, I started to conceptualize the song “Checkpoint”. I felt like checkpoint really summed up the apartheid conditions I witnessed in Palestine. That’s why the first line of the song I wrote was, “If Martin Luther King had a dream of the checkpoint, he’d wake with loud screams from the scenes at the checkpoint”. I truly believe if Dr. King was alive and saw the discrimination and oppression we saw, he would breakdown and cry.
At that point all that was left for me to do was find a beat that captured the emotional intensity of walking through a prison like checkpoint guarded by heavily armed soldiers. Thankfully, I had a beat from Agent of Change, who is producing the album I’m currently working on called P.O.W.E.R. (People Oppressed Will Eventually Rise).
Looking back on the trip, I’m thankful I was able to go and see the occupation of Palestine firsthand. I thought I knew what was going on, but I had no idea. I believe everyone who is able to should go and see for themselves the colonialism our tax dollars are funding. I remain inspired by the resistance of the Israeli, Palestinian, and African organizers we met. I hope my song and video helps contribute to the growing movement of Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel. When asked about my trip on Twitter I responded, the people are beautiful, but their reality is heartbreaking. The truth must be told.
This was an interview I did with Israel Social TV in South Tel Aviv after witnessing the plight of the African refugees.