Talib Kweli made his name as a conscious rapper. His whole mode — from those first bars on Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star — was to speak truth to power, regardless of the consequences. That doesn’t exactly make for an easy life as an artist. Kweli is an active part of political and social movements and publicly defends his stances on the daily.
The rapper/ host welcomes all of that. He’s a mainstay in the culture and not going anywhere. But there are still downsides. The latest of these is the recent canceling of a German tour, which was meant to kick off at this weekend’s Open Source Festival in Düsseldorf. Kweli’s removal from the festival bill came when he refused to disavow the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement. A few days after his invite was retracted by the festival, artists and activists from Boots Riley to Peter Gabriel signed an open letter published in the Guardian, which stated:
“We hold diverse views on BDS, but we concur with 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars who recently wrote that “the three main goals of BDS – ending the occupation, full equality to the Arab citizens of Israel and the right of return of Palestinian refugees – adhere to international law.”
In the days since, the decision by the festival (and the resulting fallout) have ignited important conversations about the nature of free speech, the aims of BDS, and the consequences of standing by your ideals. Uproxx spoke with Kweli — who hosts the Uproxx-presented show People’s Party — about all of this.
So talking about Palestine, you took a really hard stand this week and said, “Listen, I’m not going to disavow this movement to support Palestinian… essentially Israel divestment, until certain Palestinian requirements are met.” Why did you know right away that, that was the right stand for you to take? Or how did that thought process develop?
That’s not a decision that I arrived at willy-nilly. It was based on my experience as an artist and my experience with Israeli-Palestinian conversations. I have to state off the top that I’m not the BDS guy. I don’t talk about BDS at my show, I don’t hand out BDS pamphlets, I’m not a member of any organization that pushes BDS. I just became familiar with BDS a few years ago. I was booked to do a show in Israel and people who support BDS were very critical of me, very frustrated with me, and expressed their concerns. And I argued with them back and forth and… long story short — because it’s quite a long story… people who represented BDS convinced me to cancel my show in Israel.
The show I was doing in Israel was — I was being paid 10 times more than I usually get paid…which is, you know, I accepted the show immediately. I wasn’t aware that there was a cultural boycott of Israel that was akin to the cultural boycott of South Africa in the 1980s. My parents participated heavily in the boycott of South Africa, they were very active in the anti-apartheid movement. I think that you can make a case to say that what’s happening to Palestinians in Israel is an apartheid, but I stay — me, personally — I stay away from using that word, “apartheid.” Because that, for me personally, derails the conversation and we start arguing about whether or not it’s actually apartheid as opposed to stating the facts: what’s happening is wrong.
You can get caught talking semantics forever when you link something to apartheid, slavery, concentration camps, etcetera.
Right. So, I try to steer clear of that. But that being said, talking to a Palestinian hip-hop group that lives in Israel, DAM — they told me that they were fans of mine and they would love to see my show in Israel but they asked me to respect the boycott. How could I disrespect that? You know, how could I — in the face of Palestinians who live in Israel, as second-class citizens, telling me that they’re my fans, telling me they want to see me but asking me not to come — how can I say, “Well, I’m still going to come because my music is so powerful, it’s going to heal the world.”