Mixing up Middle Eastern sounds with an urban flare, Kary Stewart reports on the UK and Jordan-based band. (This article originally appeared in Songlines #111).
Where in Brazil they have carnivals, we have street weddings which take up a whole week,” explains band member El Far3i as he describes the origins of the 47Soul sound. “It’s like a family rave.” He goes on to describe the urban celebrations of Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, where people gather around traditional instruments, huddling closely and dancing dabke, dipping and bobbing in unison to the half-time beat. It’s in this raw rhythmic clatter of traditional get-togethers that 47Soul find their roots, their music utilising the hubbub to fill the spaces in between yawning dubstep beats.
47Soul’s meeting reads like an online love story with each coming to the others’ music via YouTube videos that friends recommended to them. From there it was an instantaneous connection that they all agree was like finding a missing piece of a collective musical jigsaw. “When I first saw Tareq [aka El Far3i] singing his song on YouTube I fell in love with him as a brother and as an artist,” says Walaa Sbait. “It’s really cheesy but it was a two way thing,” adds El Far3i. “And when I saw Z the People I said to my friends, what I am trying to tell you about American music is this guy.”
Sbait is Palestinian and was a member of a reggae sound system and also a dancer from the age of three. El Far3i and El Jehaz are both from Jordan and each had their own successful rock based acts. Z the People is the only one brought up in the West and was influenced by R&B and the “stuff that American kids listen to.” They all rap, sing and produce to varying degrees.
“We as young men desire to live life as it is without being concerned about the politics, but the politics always comes back”
They finally met in person in 2013 in Jordan, tearing the house down with their first gig after only three rehearsals. From there they sidestepped most of the border limitations imposed by the baffling bureaucracy of documents they hold between them and ended up in the UK. Whether or not they label themselves as political, it is something that will always run in the lifeblood of their music as it runs in their own.
Playing Arabic scales on electronic keyboards the band combine electro-mijwez (single-reed pipe) and chobi and call it ‘shamstep’ in reference to the region in the Middle East that they all originate from known as Bilad al-Sham.
Their lyrics, mixing Arabic and English, call for freedom and equality. They sing about injustice and about disenfranchised peoples.
“We as young men desire to live life as it is without being concerned about the politics, but the politics always comes back,” admits Waala. As they continue to explain their story they exude the awed excitement of a load of friends who have landed in their dream and are not about to take a single moment for granted.
“To be able to sit with these guys here and freestyle any time, compose with them, that’s the nucleus of the dream and everything else comes from that,” says Z the People to emphatic nods from the rest of the others.
Already making waves around the UK, the band have recently released their debut EP Shamstep and this summer play at festivals including WOMAD and the Shubbak Festival in London.