Maysa Daw: On Liberty, Growth & Truth

Dive into the musician’s perspective on womanhood, identity & art

Written & photographed by Sama Haddad

Maysa wearing George Nasser’s custom-made “Armor” garment. The piece is made of lycra strings, using different techniques such as macrame, crochet, weaving, and braiding. The garment was inspired by Maysa’s boho-chic style and the environment of Wadi El Nisnas. Nasser used three shades of red to attend to the depth of Maysa’s movement and photoshoot location, inspired by Sama’s red vision.


Maysa prepared coffee as I sat on her balcony with Whiskey and Bruno, her dogs, barking at every passing bird. I could hear her sing “Talking to the Moon” through the kitchen window. The wind was soft as the sky was turning pastel in the setting sun. She walked outside with a tray holding a kettle filled with Arabic coffee, two glasses, and a box of incense. She laid them out in a way that felt like home, lighting the incense and making a queue that seemed to cover hours on end. Maysa breathed the smoke in, allowing it to rush through and around her body. She let the coffee settle and poured us two glasses when the time was right. The balcony overlooked the lower part of the Carmel Mountain, where it meets the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Haifa. One level below the balcony is the Daw family’s vegetable yard. Maysa had introduced me to her tomatoes with great enthusiasm and pride before leading the way from the garden to the left-wing of her family home, where her studio and bedroom lay. In her studio, I saw a collection of her career milestones; a record of “Between Hanna and Manna” by DAM, the local hip-hop band Maysa is part of, her musical instruments and recording equipment, among the rest. Her bedroom held possessions that seemed to be a celebration of her life - jewelry from all over the world, and an owl’s wing used for guidance and clarity.

I photographed Maysa wearing a dress created by fashion designer George Nasser called “Armor” in Wadi El Nisnas

Umm Sabri’s Bakery in Wadi El Nisnas, Haifa

Maysa has this thing about her that makes you feel welcome. Her laughter is contagious and her modesty is admirable. Just before the interview, I photographed Maysa wearing a dress created by fashion designer George Nasser called “Armor” in Wadi El Nisnas. The market of Wadi El Nisnas is a central, historical, and cultural part of Haifa. Upon seeing Maysa, people were mesmerized by her charm and presence. And she, like a true local, ruled the market. Born and raised in Haifa city, Maysa knows its people inside and out. The elders of the market called her Saleem’s daughter, while the younger generation recited lines from her music. The Maysa we know today is the product of her experience thus far, claiming only the initial steps towards her self-realization.

Maysa first grew up in a religious school. She followed up on her prayers devoutly until her faith was shaken by a religious figure dying at her school. She explains how “They forced me and my classmates, as second graders, to pray over the corpse. The body was just laying there bare open in a casket. Back then, I removed religion from my life and stopped praying. Now I do pray, but it’s a mix of all sorts of beliefs in a higher power engaged in us all”. Maysa has been applying the higher power into her daily life with theta-healing and meditation, searching through a brain wave that we enter in hypnagogia - between being awake and in our dreams. She explains, “This wave gives you a straight connection to your subconsciousness. Through it, we can explore how our emotional energy affects our life”. Shifting from religion to her individual spirituality, Maysa embarked on the search for the manifestation of her true self, spanning to understand the meaning of her nationality and sexuality as well.

“Earth is the home of mankind”, says Nasser’s “Ard” garment. Ard means earth or land in Arabic. Nasser created his own take on the Palestinian Kuffeyah, keeping its authenticity and aesthetic. Nasser designed the print and made it with silk, creating the garment during his years in Wizo Academy’s fashion school.

As Palestinian women, such as Maysa & myself, we are a minority within a larger minority. I choose to see this as a strength rather than a weakness. Our distinction highlights our uncompromising novelty in fighting for our rights on two fronts and in snatching our freedom from our oppressors - whether it's from the occupation or the patriarchy. We have a responsibility in leaving this world behind better than we received it, by unarming social norms and being the ones dictating the progression of our lives. Haifa, and its inner bubbles, makes this easier due to the diverse and accepting incubator that is it. But as Palestinian citizens of Israel, Haifa is also a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it feels like we have sovereignty to lead lives outside the confines of social norms, scrutiny, and occupation, as Haifa provides a secure personal bubble to exist within. On the other hand, life in this city became a fib in the face of our liberation. We live in a mixed city under the occupation, Palestinians and Israelis (almost) alike. The so-called city of co-existence was a mere illusion reflected onto the world and imprinted in our minds. As we get older, we understand that it has nurtured our parallel existence with our oppressors rather than a combined one. All Haifa offers is economic co-existence, and not an authentic peaceful life between the occupier and occupied. See? That felt wrong as you read it, and as I wrote it.

I grew up without comprehending that I lived under occupation, and that’s how you know the settler-colonial regime has done its job

Between the trees of the Carmel Mountain, Haifa

Maysa testifies to this saying, “I grew up in a school that cared about religion more than nationality. They educated us about their form of deity instead of presenting all the factors of our identity to choose from. I learned for myself what it meant to be a Palestinian, outside of school. At a young age, I used to be ashamed of being from Haifa when we spoke of politics. I was ashamed of having an Israeli ID. I had the great privilege of growing up in a town where a bubble guarded me against the real world until I was 13. And in privilege there is guilt. I grew up without comprehending that I lived under occupation, and that’s how you know the settler-colonial regime has done its job”.

A couple of months ago, this bubble popped again. Haifa, like many other cities in occupied Palestine, became a war zone. When the sun was up everyone was at ease, but the moment the sun went down, danger filled the streets. Settlers would raid Haifa, backed by the Israeli military and police, to ruin Palestinian property and hurt innocent pedestrians. They slammed down doors and fired shots. In our streets, in our Haifa. We knew exactly what we had to do, as Maysa put it “What characterized our uprising was our unity. A coalition of sorts. We bonded a fluent connection between one another. The made-up division of Palestine did not prevail, meaning Palestinians who lived in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and in the diaspora united. Palestine is Palestine. We understood how much power we have together. It was the first time I understood that we are not only 20%, rather we are 50% when you blur the lines of our division. They convinced us that we are a small minority, but we are not! That is power in itself. We learned that we can overcome the problems we have between one another when we need each other. In one week, we commenced committees of doctors, lawyers, and activists all across the country. We put together demonstrations and pulled off one of the biggest strikes seen by Palestinians. All of this unity and no one had to say a word - each one of us knew what their place was and which role they had to take on, without the need of any formal leadership.”

What characterized our uprising was our unity...The made-up division of Palestine did not prevail, meaning Palestinians who lived in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and in the diaspora united.

We spent a day in Wadi El Nisnas, discovering new nooks and hidden gems, leaving behind strands of red string as we moved along