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ROOTED: THE BALANCE OF LINA MAKOUL

ROOTED: THE BALANCE OF LINA MAKOUL

The pop star and fashion icon continues to strike a chord.

Words & Photos by Sama Haddad

 

In Palestinian heritage, olive trees symbolize resilience and strength rooted in centuries of life. When Lina Makoul suggested we meet in her family’s olive grove, it felt as if she wanted to introduce me to her personal history and roots. We took a drive around Jadeidi, where her family is originally from, and made our way to the trees. While Lina showed me around, I couldn’t help but notice the town’s neglect. The infrastructure and streets seemed to be unable to support their citizens. We took a right and entered the olive field, encountering a massive landfill spanning for miles on end, portraying a reality of Palestinian towns in utter disarray. The waste created a distance between us and the trees. It was as if the foreign object was purposely there, underlining a brutal metaphor. But once we reached our destination and Lina eased into her element, I felt comfortable. It was as if I had been there before. The oasis was spotless, treated like a shrine to the Makoul ancestry, regardless of the outside circumstances.

 

Lina Makoul, the pop star and fashion icon taking the world by storm, is famously known as the Arabic voice of Waze and the Palestinian girl who won The Voice Israel in 2013. At 19 years old, Makoul swept us away with her angelic yet powerful voice, striking a chord with every note she had to offer.

 

Makoul started her musical career at the Strauss Municipal Conservatory in Acre, where she received a strict Russian education of the art. Until today, a golden rule she abides by is to respect the stage and the place one is given in the spotlight. It is a matter of delivering the finest and recognizing the great privilege the crowd extends. Turning to a bigger stage, her journey on The Voice Israel emphasized those values. However, her participation was merely a scheme to ignite her music career and a way to flee the academic path dictated to her. The deal was that if she reached the live shows, she could leave her biology studies at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. Little did her parents know, their daughter would not only sing live on national television, she would make TV history.

 

Since 2013, Makoul has taken matters into her own hands and has laid the foundation for her independent career. While working on an EP that is expected to be released in June 2022, she also works among various production teams, getting her hands dirty with styling and designing.

 

“I strive to be an artist, not only a singer. I believe that the combination of all my creative sides is what brings about the greatest outcome. That’s one of the reasons I decided to embark on an independent career - to shake off the confinements of the industry and challenge the boundaries of my imagination. I don’t want to be held back by labeling myself as only one thing,” Makoul explains.

 

Her decision to leave the record label stemmed from the realization that it was the only way to gain back her freedom. “I was losing myself, slowly but surely. It was not an easy step. On the outside, it seemed like I was living every artist’s dream. I was performing on international stages alongside legends and my personal role models. But, the truth is, I felt like I was plucked out of my roots. The journey did not fit the purpose. The dream became distorted.”

Makoul’s responsibility towards her truth and authenticity overcame the music industry’s tight grip. That responsibility has been a shapeshifting force Makoul has been struggling to settle ever since her rise to fame, until last May. Makoul explains, “I was burdened by having to represent my people under the occupation while participating in The Voice Israel. I barely understood it back then. Now, nine years later, I fully comprehend that we play a critical role not just as artists but as human beings. I am currently searching for the balance between my responsibility towards my society, and my responsibility towards my art and myself. I will not give up on any of these factors. I now know that we resist best in the areas we shine in. During the last uprising, we learned where our strengths lie and that everyone has a part in the equation. Today, I cannot make music without talking about social and political circumstance. Through my music, I document my life, and a massive part of that is my culture, heritage, and the struggle of my people.”

 

During the uprising in May, it was evident that true change and unity are a product of communal action. Our sense of organization and our reaction was art. Community work and social change don’t mean anything unless they derive from a shared mindset and objective. Makoul explains: “We learned that even simple things in our daily lives, like cellphones, are enough to organize people and respond.” Social media has played a vital role in our lives for the past decade, but its purpose took a turn over the past couple of years to become a source of primary global connectivity. During the pandemic, we became tied to our screens as if they were extra limbs, attempting to comprehend how our lives were at stake.

 

The concept of hyper-connectivity is not foreign to Makoul. Her last ten-track album was founded on a broad collaboration of the masses while bored in quarantine. YOM (“day” in Arabic) is an online challenge Makoul set for herself. She asked her followers and fans to send in texts they wrote, encouraging creativity during dark times. Everyday, she chose a piece she identified with, composed it, and posted it as a song on her social media profiles.

 

“I urged my audience to take part in my art. I told their stories and we managed to connect during a time of limited hope. People between the ages of 14-60 shared their material with me to share with the world. The initial idea of the YOM project was born out of the realization that my audience did not know the real musician in me yet. I had just started my independent career and recently returned to writing in Arabic rather than in English. All of a sudden, I didn’t have an outside language to hide behind. Instead, I spoke to the world in the language I dreamt, thought, and meditated in.”

 

After releasing the album, Makoul created customized videos for each song. “The videos taught me how to see the beauty in everything. Because of the restrictions of the pandemic, I had to find the light in my modest day-to-day circle. Wherever I’d go, I’d make myself find value, no matter how hard. That experience opened me up artistically and optimistically.” As YOM was set out to be a way to pass the time in a period where time stood still, it turned out to be a timeless conception of an entire generation.

 

Makoul’s work blurs the lines of the classic definition of a musician. As she shared her story with me, I couldn’t help but notice that Lina herself, similar to the olive tree, is resilient and vigorous. You can tell that she has faced countless barriers. But she wears her scars with grace - like thousand-year-old bark. The small details make you treasure the broader picture. I believe we admire the one time-reality star for her courage to chase her dreams in a way most of us are afraid to. Still sweeping us away with her charm and modesty, she sets the rules to her own game. The question remains, who’s going to play next?

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