Palestinian performance poet Rafeef Ziadah not to be missed

March 20, 2016

Palestinian performance poet Rafeef Ziadah on stage with Phil Monsour, with whom she is touring Australia's in late March and April.

We Teach Life
CD & Australian tour
Rafeef Ziadah & Phil Monsour

Rafeef Ziadah is a Palestinian campaigner and spoken word performer of such immense power that she demands to be heard.

I first heard Ziadah perform in October 2010 and I was blown away, leaving an impression that remains fresh to this day.

The performance was at an evening event associated with the first Australian BDS Conference in Melbourne. “BDS” refers to the boycott divestment and sanctions campaign against apartheid Israel, a cause of which Ziadah is a passionate and articulate advocate.

Her contributions to the conference showed she is an informed and experienced campaigner with tactical nous, human warmth and genuine passion for justice. I would gladly listen to her speak any day of the week.

However, her performance poetry takes things to a new level. She is a poet in the best sense of the word: not dry, self indulgent or abstract, but creative, meaningful and rewarding. Her words are crafted to get messages across in a way that simple prose cannot.

Even more than a poet, she is a performer, presenting her work with passion and drama.

This is enhanced by a musical backing that also adds to the power of her performance. We Teach Life — Ziadah's second album — is backed by Brisbane musician Phil Monsour, whose original music helps carry her work.

The two will tour Australia's east coast at the end of March.

The title track — of both her album and tour — is an exemplar of her work. A London performance of “We Teach Life” from 2011 has more than 900,000 views on YouTube.

Video: Rafeef Ziadah - 'We teach life, sir', London 12/11/2011.  sternchenproductions.

It was written at the time of Operation Cast Lead — the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza that cost more than 1400 Palestinian lives, overwhelmingly civilians. As a spokesperson for the Palestinian solidarity campaign in Canada, a journalist asked her if the problem would be solved if Palestinians stopped teaching their children hate.

Ziadah's response is a sharp answer to the dishonesty of the establishment media's feigned objectivity, which refuses to call out injustice. She says: “Today, my body was a TV'd massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits…”

This theme of media bias is also taken up in “If my words”: “They ask me for balance, they still ask me for balance/He used to balance his son on his knees and sing/Now he's lost his legs and his son/How can I balance your silence against all the sound of artillery in Gaza?”

However, along the way, her work is peppered with humour and warmth, while never letting go of her powerful message.

Take for example “Passport”, which revolves around the line: “Yesterday I put my hand up in a crowded room and swore an oath to the Queen and all her heirs” (which she pronounces “hairs”).

If you are able to make it along to one of Ziadah's performances in her first tour of Australia, I would strongly recommend it.

Tour details:
Byron Bay: Tues 29 March, Kulchjam Byron Bay.
Brisbane: Wed 30 March, The Greek Club (
Melbourne: Thur 31 March, Kaleide Theatre (
Sydney: Fri 1 April, Riverside Theatre Parramatta (

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