Grounded in activist power but always committed to its regional roots, Radio Alhara has been broadcasting intersectional solidarity since March 2020. In Arabic, the word "alhara" translates into "neighbourhood" in English, making "Radio Alhara" the "neighbourhood radio station." But, in doing so online, the platform operates as much as a public conversation and debate arena as it does as a premiere destination for music discovery. In this way, Radio Alhara can harness the power of the community irrespective of physical boundaries.
"We perceived it as a public space. What defines a public space is appropriation, how people encounter, use, and interact with it. So we tried to mirror this with the radio" - co-founder Elias Anastas explains the platform's philosophical origins.
In doing so, an arena for learning, support, empowerment, and discussion emerged—one where all backgrounds can come together in the name of inclusivity, solidarity, and culture. And, in broadcasting from Palestine, this ethos takes on added urgency, given the decades-long, violent marginalization of its people and culture.
A group of friends from Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Amman founded Radio Alhara, which also broadcasts between the cities. Through a multi-language presentation and a dropbox style curation procedure, it joins a global population through the connective spaces of digitized wavelengths.
Though becoming a leading voice for Palestinian liberation and its peripheral solidarity movements globally, Radio Alhara did not start as an overtly political project. In fact, during the veritable boom of streaming and online radio proliferation in those early pandemic days, the Radio Alhara origin story is humble.
"We had this incredible amount of music stored on hard drives, so we thought to experiment in broadcasting all this content online", Elias Anastas explains. "What's incredible is the radio is a community of 300+ residents spread across the world, so it's not the core team doing daily things. These contributions come as sound content, music, but also as visual and art", Anastas continues, immediately highlighting the communal approach of the platform. "The most refreshing aspect of the radio is collectiveness. In our contemporary times and conditions, solidarity is the only tool for a more prosperous future".
This idea of connected, communal spaces draws its influence from Yousef and Elias's background as architects. Their AAU Anastas practice's All-purpose installation is featured at the 2021 Venice Biennale. A perfect example of their architectural philosophy, All-purpose "focuses on differences and similarities, analogies that bring together cultures through architecture and by highlighting their non-hierarchical, yet intricate dependencies," challenging imperial knowledge transmissions in the process.
The featured quote comes from the project's official Biennale description but immediately illicit a similar impression of the radio and the power of music. "For us, architecture is very much linked to music at its core. It is about fluidity and how objects and spaces interpenetrate each other. This relates very powerfully with music". As a tangible illustration of this relationship, Anastas described a recent Radio Alhara production, debuting at the Netherlands le Guess Who? "We recorded the head of Bethlehem's Greek Orthodox Nativity Church during Sunday Mass. The recording was sent to two sound artists who took it and created their own track in the unfinished Oscar Niemeyer fair building in Tripoli. It was interesting to see how the sound taken from the acoustics of the Nativity Church and reworked in another receptacle of sound with the production of these two artists created a new outcome. We see how new encounters and results can be produced."
But Radio Alhara is more than theoretical foundations and one-off installations. Its core remains an ongoing stream where one can experience a vast diversity of genres and voices, no matter how mainstream or niche. This truth comes as part of the neighbourhood ethos, which understands that a true community can never be a profit-seeking industry. The neighbourhood was very relevant during the pandemic. We felt the entire planet became one. But with Radio Alhara, that neighbourhood became hundreds of areas since many people got involved in the early stages. They invited their friends, who then invited their friends. It became a conglomeration of organismic neighbourhoods.
"As public spaces become more and more controlled, it is also an opportunity to think about a different form of liberty in public, even if that space is virtual", says Anastas, explaining Radio Alhara's grassroots.
"We only have a folder where people would drop their files. So we played a secretary role, just trying to organize the programme with some kind of logic. This minimal control created a particular identity." One such example, which also laid the seeds of activities to come, came in the Summer of 2020 in response to mass annexation plans by former Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu and support from then-US President Donald Trump. Under the name Fil Mishmish, a 72-hour anti-colonial, anti-racist musical event broadcast.
That event, which yielded the platform's highest listenership numbers to date, saw the debut of Nicolas Jaar's latest album, Telas, as well as sets from Mykki Blanco, Ben UFO, Deena Abdelwahed, Kampire, Habibi Funk, and other renowned international and MENA region artists. On this event, Anastas describes, "one of the most incredible things about this event is that many artists who contributed spent time talking about the annexation and these forms of oppression, whether in Palestine or other places. So many people who tuned in for an artist were exposed to content they may not have had the opportunity to reach otherwise".
Aside from the musical identity, Radio Alhara's entire branding remains philosophically consistent, resulting from pandemic proliferation- this time coming from the saturation of visual content. "All the museums opened their collections via online archives, and it was an overwhelming moment", Anastas says. "As a radio is a sonic broadcasting structure, it allows people to integrate their imagination into visually interpreting these sounds", he continues.
Beginning with the evolution of its minimal logo, Radio Alhara has integrated adaptability and transformation as core aspects of its visual identity. On the origins of its logo, Anastas says, "Mothanna Hussein (co-founder of Radio Alhara) designed a logo in the shape of an ellipse with the R and A inside of it. Then, it was restructured and lost its symbols into a generic ellipse that adapts to different countries. This defragmentation of the visual identity was needed from the beginning, incorporating the collection of submitted artworks from across contributors," Anastas continues pointing to the Radio Alhara Instagram as a perfect example of this idea.
With all this context, there is no wonder that where Radio Alhara has indeed made its presence felt is in solidarity curation. Any reader or listener remotely in tune with current and past events will be aware of the Palestinian struggle. Just as this interview was scheduled, it was disrupted due to Israeli army raids of the Northern city, Nablus - one that resulted in the death of the 15-year-old displaced teenager Mahdi Hashash. But, of course, this was only the most recent example of such aggression.
Back in May of 2021, the radio went silent for 24 hours in solidarity with that moments forced evictions of the occupied district of Sheikh Jarrah. During this blackout (with inspiration already laid by Film Mishmish) and inundated with messages of solidarity from around the world, the Sonic Liberation Front was born. "The asymmetric relationship between those who give orders and those who must obey is always demonstrated by who controls access to the soundscape. No one is free until we are all free," reads a descriptive statement on the radio's website.
"In May of last year, one of our residents, Dirar Kalash, created a daily programme to broadcast at 8 pm called Sonic Liberation Front. As a sound artist, his programme was to go out on the streets and record the sounds protesting this illegal and violent oppression", Anastas explains. "This created a moment of solidarity as we expected our listenership to drop due to the heavy, non-accessible sounds presented. But it created the inverse where more and more people joined in solidarity." From there, this increase in numbers transformed into raw, rogue sounds of protest into curated lineups from different individuals and institutions across the globe. "What was interesting were the locations looking to show solidarity to us, but also highlight their struggles with injustice all their own." An example of this came from Colombia with a fantastic lineup curated by Edna Martinez, which kicked off this dualist approach to drawing awareness". More recently, the Sonic Liberation Front broadcast two 12-hour shows in solidarity with the current protests in Iran following the death of 22-year Mahsa Amini at the hands of the country's morality police - a lineup made entirely of women and non-binary artists.
So, what does the future hold for Radio Alhara? With a new, European-based conflict raging and the Palestinian struggle increasingly subdued by Western media, it's not going anywhere. "We were really shocked how so many architectural firms withdrew from projects in Russia in solidarity with Ukraine. But these same companies have massive projects to be implemented in occupied neighbourhoods of Jerusalem," Anatsas ponders. Tangibly, though, Radio Alhara will have a physical station at the Wonder Cabinet opening in March 2023. A Bethlehem-based not-for-profit organization and cultural centre that Anastas describes as "a space based on the idea of transmission of knowledge across disciplines, realms, and people who may not have the opportunity to come together and collaborate.
In conclusion, however, Anastas is very clear with the message and intention of Radio Alhara, both now and in the future, "coming from the creative industries where everything is becoming more institutionalized and bureaucratic, we always try and strive to take this away. And, going back to the idea of collectiveness and community, after three years, we've built this massive collaborative project, so we look to transpose it into other realms outside the music or the waves of the internet. So how can it be reflected on other forms of structures that are part of our cities, countries, or borders?"