As I write, two members of Checkpoint 303 collective are making their way through Croatia, dropping off in Mostar and then, come this weekend, headlining a mixed bill in Sarajevo’s Balkan Café on 3 April. The two other acts on the club’s roster – electro artists mining the interstices between dub and electronica – are local to Bosnia Herzegovina. The Palestinian-Tunisian duo Checkpoint 303 have come to the city – the site of such recent conflict, and the symbol of such division – via a very different route. ‘SARAJEVO!’ emails Checkpoint’s Tunisian-born Sound Cutter MoCha. ‘It’s very symbolic for us to perform there.’
The concepts of checkpoints, of the United Nations’ failure to help civilians, etc. [These] are concepts that are ubiquitous to the Middle East and to the past events in Bosnia...’ If SC MoCha’s communication gives you the impression that his crew are more politically engaged than many in the music world, you are right. The duo’s name is inspired by a physical checkpoint – number 300 – between Bethlehem and Jerusalem: MoCha and his co-founder, the Palestinian-born Sound Catcher Yosh, changed the number to 303 as a nod towards the ‘numerical symmetry present in electronic music’. In creating a virtual checkpoint, they have, says MoCha, made ‘an artistic act of resistance’.
But this artistic action doesn’t fictionalize the subject matter of Checkpoint 303’s music: the sound of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the casual brutality of life. Recording – ‘sound-catching’ – random sounds of daily life – bullets, snips of language, the sounds of checkpoints searches, traffic, TV – tracks such as Hawiya Dhay’a (‘Lost ID’) and Gaza Calling are the noises not simply of an existence under siege, but the quotidian things that make up a normal life. That Streets of Ramallah contains a loop of gunfire celebrating a Fatah victory shouldn’t be taken as a sign of political allegiance. ‘We are artists, not politicians,’ writes MoCha. ‘We have always said that the message we spread through our music is beyond political orientation and beyond religious beliefs, it is deeply ‘human’. In other words, it calls for the respect of fundamental human rights. Equality, freedom and justice need not have a political or a religious face.’
Yosh, MoCha and international collaborators such as Miss K Sushi, Cheikh Julio, Mehdi Douss, Visual Hacker Diddy and Melski add beats and instruments to their tracks (hell, they have to have some fun), but the method of their bricolage owes more to experimental music than any thing else. Checkpoint 303 refer to their work as ‘free tunes from the Occupied Territories’. And they are free: anyone can visit the Checkpoint’s site and thrill to some of the blistering political music to come out of anywhere. Just turn up at the band’s website and tune in.
Working together since 2004, these days Checkpoint 303 is a pretty mobile project – Paris, Lyon, Yemen, East Jerusalem – with fellow travellers in Europe and beyond. They tour, and have even played gigs in Ramallah and East Jerusalem. ‘We would be a little naïve to think our music is going to change the situation on the ground,’ MoCha says. ‘Of course it won’t. However, we hope that it will help promote international awareness and contribute to a more global movement that seeks to counterbalance the biased depiction of the situation in Palestine and in the Middle
East. We hope it will create connections on a human level. A 17-year-old in Stockholm or Rio de Janeiro enjoying our beats on his mp3 player might be making a connection with daily life in Palestine that he would never have done by watching the news. Many people have contacted us to use some of our music for a movie or for a play. That’s a beautiful way of spreading the voice of the voiceless to the world. Maybe some people will get curious about
Palestine by listening to our music. Curiosity is the first step towards understanding. If some of these people feel compelled to join an NGO and go to Palestine than our music would have been very useful…’