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Kallemi Manifests Intersectionality with Music Rooted in Palestine, Switzerland, and the Dominican Republic

July 18, 2019
Written by
Stephanie Mendez
Illustration by
Ludi Leiva

If the idea of a long-distance relationship seems difficult, try doing as Kallemi does—maintaining an international band with four members living in three different countries. 

Kallemi is a diverse group taking an innovative approach to their music by blending synths, groovy guitar riffs, soulful harmonies, and hip hop with lyrics in English, Arabic, and Spanish. The band is comprised of Swiss, Palestinian, and Dominican musicians split between Basel, Switzerland; Berlin, Germany; and Haifa, Palestine. The band started out with the intention to do a one-time performance at Kaserne Basel—one of the biggest musical showcases in Switzerland—but the compatibility between the women was so strong that they decided to continue despite the geographical distance. 

“It’s challenging, but I feel that the chemistry that we have, our relationship, and our musical relationship is so organic, it’s really almost effortless… It is a long distance relationship, but we are making sure to meet and play quite often,” says guitarist and vocalist Rasha Nahas.

Joining Nahas are Jasmin Albash, who produces beats, sings, and plays synth; Jennifer “La Nefera” Perez, who raps exclusively in Spanish; and Maysa Daw, who sings and plays both percussion and classic guitar. Albash, Nahas, and Daw come from Palestinian backgrounds, while Perez is from the Dominican Republic.

“Yo vine al grupo siendo la única que no tiene el origen Palestino, pero yo creo que como quiera es una cosa tan internacional y tiene una diversidad tan grande que encontré en mi espacio acá también,” says Perez. “Yo creo que también es importante que tengamos todas estas lenguas diferentes — el Español, el Ingles, y el Arabe — por que así tocamos a muchísima gente de todo el mundo y le llega el mensaje de muchas formas diferentes, y por eso es algo muy lindo.” (“I came to the group being the only one who didn’t come from a Palestinian background, but despite this, it’s so international with a diversity so big to find in my space here,” says Perez. “I also believe it’s important that we have so many different languages—Spanish, English, and Arabic—because we play to so many people from all over the world, and the message gets across in so many different forms, and it’s very beautiful.”)

Inevitably, language and communication are significant factors for the band, and these elements ultimately inspired the group’s name.

“Kallemi is Arabic and it means speak, or speak up, so it’s like saying speak up in the female singular,” says Nahas. “The choice of the name—the fact that we are all women—makes for me, personally, this encounter a lot easier, a lot safer, a lot more embracing, and it’s a very big part of the project.”

“It’s also beautiful to speak to the audience. The audience speaks to us to create this vibe, so that’s also the meaning for me,” Albash adds.

Their multifaceted experiences and identities have consequently inspired their music, which focuses on themes of travel, distance, and home. Their song “Viajeras” (which translates to the feminine plural for travelers) touches on the hurdles they’ve faced in their individual diasporas, and their intersectional positions.

“We’re all facing our identities, and exploring our relationship with where we come from, if it’s the language, or if it’s the political identity, or if it’s the geographical circumstances,” says Nahas. “I’m a Palestinian but I grew up inside of Israel. So where is home for me? Where do I belong? How is my relationship with my identity? Am I oppressed? 

“For me personally, I feel that these questions are very much amplified. They get louder in Kallemi because we are meeting as musicians with different backgrounds, and all of a sudden we realize that we have a lot in common, and we have a common ground which is first music, but also these questions and these reflections.”

The band collectively credits music for being the means in which they can explore these thematic concerns with one another.

“We come from different backgrounds and at the same time go through very similar yet different experiences,” writes Daw in an email to She Shreds. “We talked a lot about belonging as Palestinians, Dominicans, Swiss, [and] how we feel in this world as women, as musicians. So naturally, these topics came into our songs without even deciding on it.”

As different as the women are in their identities, their musical experiences vary greatly, too. Albash comes from a jazz background and sings/produces music in a solo project called The RK. Perez raps under the stage name La Nefera and mixes electronic influences with merengue. Daw is rooted in rock music, but she currently sings for Palestinian hip hop group DAM. Nahas does theatrical rock ‘n’ roll and will be releasing her first full-length album, The Name is Desert, next January.

Kallemi’s members are undoubtedly distinct as standalones, but together their talent combines to create a musical experience that is larger than life.

“It makes it unique that we have so many influences and we’re all solo artists,” says Albash.

“When this fusion happens, when each of us brings her world, something else happens,” adds Nahas. “It’s not about me anymore, it’s not about one person anymore, it’s about four people creating something else, something other, and it grows beyond us.”

As Kallemi moves forward, they have numerous shows lined-up in Switzerland this year, most recently playing the B-Sides Festival in Sonnenberg. They’re also currently writing songs and gearing up to record in the studio for their debut EP.

“We are really still in the process to figure out how the songs will develop, but I think [fans] can expect something powerful,” says Albash.

“Es una mezcla muy única, algo nuevo,” adds Perez. “Y también por tener la posibilidades músicas tan limitadas con los instrumentos que tenemos, es algo super inovativo y por eso vale la pena de oírlo y mirarlo,” Perez adds. (“It’s a very unique mix, something new,” adds Perez. “And for it having such limited musical possibilities with the [few] instruments we have, it’s something super innovative, and for that reason it’s worth listening to it and seeing it.”)

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