Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Jan-Feb Contents feature
MIDDLE EASTERN SOUL MUSIC
47SOUL peddle a potent 21st century style of Middle Eastern music, popularly known as shamstep, that straddles the divide
between the traditional street music of Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian territories and Western electronica while simultaneously
calling for freedom of movement across dance floors and border checkpoints.
As such, the 4-piece band comprising members of Bilad Al-Sham heritage – a culture that spans divides from Amman to the
Galilee and the Golan Heights to Ramallah – is an increasingly powerful voice and presence in the Arab world and beyond. The
irony is, that while their increasing popularity has given them commensurate access to audiences in Europe, they are denied
that opportunity in their homelands or, at best, face considerable logistical challenges.
The keyboardist/vocalist known as Z the People does not attempt to conceal his and his colleagues’ exasperation at the
situation, although acknowledging that they are granted more visas than fellow Arab musicians. He expands: “The process of
acquiring visas, even when approved, is complex, selective and racist. Coming from an occupied region, playing locally has
been a bigger problem. Touring internationally is limited, but playing back home is – for certain areas – impossible for us.”
The band’s very existence is tantamount to a minor modern miracle. As separate acts, the members hooked up somewhat
fortuitously through the Arab independent music scene, via the web and word of mouth. “After we met, we continued to
perform individually and in collaboration, which paved the way for the crew to solidify in preparation for our first show in May
2013,” ‘Z’ imparts.
47SOUL’s music is an amalgamation of a few different styles. “We all grew up in the tech age, where one could easily soak in
different influences; local and international,” says Z. “There’s no fusion of genres in what we do; it’s just who we are.” Analogue
synthesisers that simulate the sound of mijwiz (bamboo reed pipes used throughout the Arab world), drum machines, guitar
lines and tripped-out English and Arabic verses provide the framework of the band’s intriguing sonic tapestry.
“We have many influences... hip hop, soul, reggae and rock, among them,” confirms Z, citing a wide array of collective
inspiration that includes names such as: D’Angelo, Outkast, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, Radiohead, Deftones, The Smashing
Pumpkins, Thievery Corporation, Gregory Isaacs, Deep Purple, Grateful Dead, Marvin Gaye, The Notorious B.I.G., Ali Farka Touré
Cheb Khaled, Cheb Mami, Rachid Taha, Souad Massi, Fela Kuti, Immortal Technique, The Killers, King Tubby, Peter Tosh, J Dilla,
Rich Gang, Kendrick Lamar, Daft Punk, MF Doom, Jimi Hendrix, Ennio Morricone, Tool, Cheb Mami, Missy Elliott, Erykah Badu,
Lauryn Hill and Jay Electronica.
47SOUL’S four members – Z the People (keys, vocals), El Far3i (percussion, vocals), Walaa Sbait (percussion, vocals), El Jehaz
(guitar, vocals) – are currently based in London, from where they made successful forays on the UK festival circuit last year. “The
show we did at WOMAD was completely packed,” says Z, adding, “It was a very emotional night because it felt like people
were waiting for us, even though they had not met us before!” The reception they got at Glastonbury, he reports, was equally
amazing. “ We played five shows there and they were all special in their own way.”
Not surprisingly, the politics of rights and injustice are embedded within the quartet’s songs and identity. “Our music is a simple
reflection of our own reality and the social, political element is part of that,” says Z with a measure of diplomacy, denying that
they’re international mouthpieces for Palestinian youth. “We’re just musicians, but we try our best to do what we do best.”
The latest so-called ‘peace’ process the band disses as a big sham. “It resulted in more ethnic cleansing and oppression for
the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, which left us with a negative feeling towards the word ‘peace’ in the way it’s used
in international politics,” says Z. “Justice is a prerequisite of peace,” he points out. “If the world continues to consciously and
unconsciously call the massacre, ethnic cleansing, ghetto-ising and mass incarceration of the indigenous of Palestine a ‘conflict’,
justice will never prevail. And at the end of day, it’s not just up to us, it’s up to the people of the whole world ... because
everyone is involved.”
47SOUL play WOMADelaide, March 11 – 14.
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