Contrasting songs call attention to the horrors unfolding in Gaza

Guitarist Kevin Bilapka-Arbelaez of didi recently released a pair of instrumental tracks aimed at drawing attention to the deepening tragedy overseas and to raise money for Palestinians under siege.
"Algo Para Gaza" cover art
"Algo Para Gaza" cover art

In the anxious months before the birth of his first child last year, didi guitarist Kevin Bilapka-Arbelaez composed an instrumental lullaby meant in part to soothe his own nerves. While calming, the resulting track, since dubbed “Aqui (Nico’s Lullaby),” reflects the tension Bilapka-Arbelaez felt in those hours he recorded – an unnerving weight he said has long had a place within his music.

“I think a lot of things I write tend to be on the moodier side anyway, where there’s this edge, or it’s a little bit sad,” said Bilapka-Arbelaez, who composed the lullaby on a Casio keyboard he described as “a child’s toy.” “And I think you can hear in [‘Aqui’] that I’m excited to be a parent, but then also this sense of what is this actually going to be like? And I think that energy has definitely carried through [the last year]. … It’s the best experience I’ve ever had, and I love raising this kid. But then you have this constant, illogical feeling that at any moment your child could be in grave danger. And that sense of fear can be pretty overwhelming.”

Bilapka-Arbelaez’s fears are ones with which every new parent can likely identify, a majority of which are rooted in the desire to know your child is healthy and safe. I can still recall the months after our first daughter was born when I would step to the crib at night and place my hand gently on her chest to make sure she was breathing. While initially composed as a way to help ease his own worries, Bilapka-Arbelaez said the song now has a similar calming influence on his son, helping the youngster fall asleep almost immediately nearly eight out of 10 nights he listens to it – a remarkable average by any standard.

In recent months, however, as violence in Gaza has continued to intensify amid the relentless Israeli bombardment, Bilapka-Arbelaez said his fears started to feel insignificant in comparison. This idea weighed on the musician as he considered the plight of parents in Gaza, a majority of whom are raising children amid the constant specter of death, which can arrive via military violence or increasingly via famine as Israel restricts the flow of humanitarian aid into the region.

In an effort to draw attention to the unfolding genocide, in early March Bilapka-Arbelaez released “Aqui (Nico’s Lullaby) alongside Allá (sa​-​5n),” a more discordant noise instrumental that sonically echoes the violence and desperation that has taken hold overseas. Listened to back-to-back, the contrast becomes deeply unsettling, the harmonic, childlike beauty of “Aqui” giving way to the buzzing dystopia of “Allá.” For Bilapka-Arbelaez, the disconnect was so jarring he said it brought him to tears when he streamed the tracks together last week. (The two songs are paired on Algo Para Gaza: Infancias, now available for download on Bandcamp, with all of the proceeds raised going to purchase eSIM cards for the people of Gaza.)

“I feel like with algorithms and everything, we listen to the same kind of music over and over and over again, and Spotify will suggest the next thing, which will probably be pretty similar to what you just listened to. So, I thought there was power in juxtaposing two songs that couldn’t be more different from each other,” Bilapka-Arbelaez said. “With [‘Aqui’], this childlike piano sound creates the melody throughout. … Then [on ‘Allá’], you get all this noise, all this debris, to where it’s almost intolerable. … And then halfway through, this swelling starts to happen, and this really subtle melody pops out low in the mix. And, for me, there’s a symbolism in that, where these people are trying to survive, trying to overcome.”

Bilapka-Arbelaez was initially hesitant to release the songs, believing it essential to center Palestinian voices in this moment. But the musician said he was spurred to act at least in part out of frustration, the move coming at a time when U.S. politicians from the federal to the city level are largely ignoring the growing public calls for a ceasefire – a move favored by two-thirds of U.S. voters, according to recent polling by Data for Progress. Additionally, a poll conducted in late January found that half of U.S. voters now believe Israel’s military has gone too far in its offensive, launched in response to the Hamas attack of Oct. 7.

In Columbus, City Council declined to take up a ceasefire resolution earlier this month, though two councilmembers, Christopher Wyche and Melissa Green, later posted to social media that they were in favor of seeing one pass.

“My friend was pointing out that City Council came out and said something to the effect that they couldn’t come to a consensus, and they didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable,” said Bilapka-Arbelaez, who would like to see other musicians with larger platforms add their voices to the growing chorus calling for a permanent ceasefire. “But I can’t hear any more arguments until there are no more bombs falling, you know what I mean? The number of innocent people that have been murdered at this point, with the U.S. being complicit, is horrifying. So, until that stops, I just can’t worry about, ‘Oh, we’re making this person uncomfortable.’ There’s a difference between a person who is uncomfortable and a dead child, and one of those is far more urgent.”

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