16 Jan 2018 | Ali Abunimah | The Electronic Intifada
Did Apple just censor Vic Mensa’s views on Palestine? It sure looks like it.
In December, the hip hop artist released a powerful video on YouTube for his track “We Could Be Free,” highlighting connections between Palestinian, Black and Native American struggles for liberation and self-determination.
Mensa had filmed much of the video in Palestine, telling the website AllHipHop: “I took scenes from the military occupation of a village I visited in Palestine and juxtaposed them with racial violence in America to show how similar our struggles are and imagine a world without division.”
The Grammy-nominated Chicago artist went much further in a powerful essay in Time last week detailing Israel’s depredations and his sense of outrage after witnessing them last summer.
“I write to inform all those who will hear me of the treacherous denial of human rights to the Palestinian people living under occupation,” Mensa says. “These scenes of oppression and abuse will be forever etched into my memory, burned into my mind’s eye.”
Mensa is unsparing in his interpretation of the brutal violence and inequality he saw Palestinians suffering at Israel’s hands:
For once in my life I didn’t feel like the nigger. As I sat comfortably at a coffee shop, gawking at a group of Israeli soldiers harassing a Palestinian teenager, it was clear who was the nigger. My American passport, ironically, had awarded me a higher position in the social hierarchy of Jerusalem than it did in my hometown of Chicago. As insensitive as it sounds, it was almost a feeling of relief to be out of oppression’s crosshairs for a moment, albeit a very short one.
There’s no question that Mensa stands on the side of justice. And, in a culture where celebrities are still punished for treating Palestinians as human, he is showing tremendous courage and conviction at a relatively early stage in his career when he is arguably more vulnerable to commercial pressure.
New video leaves out Palestine
So it was disappointing to see that when Apple Music published a completely new “exclusive” video for “We Could Be Free” this week, Palestine appears to have been airbrushed out.
The new video now contains comforting interfaith scenes of a Muslim, Christian and Jew praying and a multicultural message of tolerance.
It ends with a scene of Mensa standing in front of a large crowd of people from all over the world, a sort of reprise of the famous Coca-Cola ad.
Mensa tweeted a short version of the new video, with the full version only available through Apple’s proprietary music service.
There are still scenes of protests from Ferguson, representations of Native Americans and a hard-hitting dramatization of a young Black man being shot dead by a Chicago police officer. But gone is any trace of Palestine.
“You have all these different scenes distorted around me, of turmoil in the world,” Mensa tells Lowe. “You got like Charlottesville, you have scenes in Palestine, Standing Rock. You also have these moments in the video where we juxtapose people of different religions next to each other.”
But I could not make out any scenes in the Apple video recognizable as Palestine. Mensa may have been referring to grainy images projected behind him, but as he says in the interview these were “distorted”: you can’t – at least I couldn’t – make out what they were.
Words cut out
Had Mensa not mentioned Palestine in the interview, there would be no trace of it.
Even worse, a clip of the interview tweeted by Apple’s Beats1 streaming music channel cuts out the word Palestine – an act of blatant censorship:
This is reminiscent of the BBC’s decision to censor the words “Free Palestine” from a freestyle rap by Mic Righteous several years ago.
I am emphatically not criticizing the artist here: Mensa has clearly pushed hard not to separate his politics from his art. However, it appears some of the executives at Apple might not be too comfortable with that.
Mensa’s music is wonderful and deserves to be heard, and access to mass audiences is still controlled by unaccountable corporations.
But the mood is changing precisely because of artists like Mensa and Lorde, whose recent decision to cancel her Tel Aviv show generated an outpouring of support, and of course all those before them who took a stand when it was even less safe to do so.
Watch Mensa’s original “We Could Be Free” video, partly filmed in Palestine, here: