The 24-year-old singer told a news conference that as the first Arab goodwill ambassador for youth for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, he feels “the load of responsibility” for speaking on behalf of young Palestinians.
“I want to do something… for the cause of my country, for the cause of my people,” he said. “I want to make them feel there is hope, no matter how hard the conditions of life and the obstacles.”
Assaf came to New York to participate in events related to the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and appeared in a UN concert on Monday night with Palestinian vocalist and flautist Nai Barghouti. When he sang his signature anthem to Palestinian nationalism, ‘Raise the Kaffiyeh’, many in the audience got to their feet and started dancing.
The silky-voiced singer, who grew up in Gaza’s Khan Younis refugee camp, almost didn’t get to compete in ‘Arab Idol’. He had to plead with Hamas to let him leave Gaza, he explained, then bribe Egyptian border guards to let him enter the country.
A fellow Palestinian who had heard him sing at school and weddings gave up his slot
during the audition phase because he believed Assaf had a better voice and a better chance in the competition.
Winning ‘Arab Idol’ gave Assaf a record deal, and while in the US he has been
promoting his first album.
“I would like to focus on my talent as an artist and leave my mark – leave my fingerprint in the field of entertainment and art,” Assaf said.