Friday, 24 July 2015

Review: 47SOUL

Category: [In the eyes of the beer-holder]

(47SOUL @ PRODIGAL JUMP! 93 Feet East. If you look closely you can see me being a massive nerd. Photo credit @natalievhall)

I saw 47SOUL at the beginning and the end of their marathon five show run at Glastonbury festival; possibly earning them the title of hardest working band of the weekend and definitely adding credence to the ‘Kanye is an overrated slacker’ camp. Impressively, the only difference between their Small Worlds performance on Thursday and their Left Field performance on Sunday was a slight dip in the level of personal grooming. Any band that can inspire a tent full of hungover festival goers who wandered in primarily to avoid bright lights and loud noises on Sunday at Glastonbury are truly a force to be reckoned with.

The band have had a busy two years since forming in Amman in 2013. They crowdfunded 30k to produce their first album, amassed a large international following, attracted some serious media attention and along the way, founded a new genre of music. ‘Shamstep’ is drawn from the musical, cultural and political diaspora of the Bilad al-Sham region, the area now referred to as the Middle East. The four musicians are Palestinian, but difficulties arising from ongoing travel restrictions in occupied Palestine have necessitated that they live and work in London. 47SOUL refers to the time before the 1948 partition that legitimised the ongoing occupation by Israel of Palestinan land. 

The influence of the personal and political struggles they have faced is inextricably woven into the sound; each member of the band brings a unique set of musical influences, deftly united by the rhythms and melodies of Arabic street music. The proto-genre spans an impressive set of beguiling dualities, successfully pairing tradition with modernity, politics with celebration, cultural identity with accessible appeal. It is this bridging of divergent themes and the symbolic transcendence of philosophical and physical boundaries that give this band its singular appeal.

Messages of peace, unity and community are present at every level, from the delicate blend of musical influences to the bilingual lyrics covering everything from the plight of political prisoners to the ever-enduring and cross-cultural appeal of beautiful women. The music is structurally rooted in traditional dabke music, allowing for a flexible sound that is playfully inclusive of elements of dub, hip hop and soul, electronica and dancehall.

Being a massive nerd, I’ve now seen them three times and on each occasion to crowds that fall towards the tougher end of the spectrum. Newly arrived festival punters who have yet to exchange their sense of cool detachment for a coating of sweat, grime and glitter, catastrophically hungover shade-seekers and that special variety of Brick Lane crowd where the ratio of fancy-ass cameras to audience is around 1:5 and dancing is strictly ironic. Before the end of the first song, inhibitions and the stubborn British instinct to resist fun at all costs had melted away. 

Deeper reasons aside, the main reason 47SOUL are such an exciting band is very simple; they are fucking delightful. In an environment dominated by cool, where cultural influences are often worn as self-conscious tokens of integrity their raw enthusiasm and sincerity are refreshing. Their performances are framed in the form of an invitation; we’re having fun, come and join us. Their debut album ‘Shamstep’ is as much about love, sex and dancing as it is about serious politics and this ambiguity leaves space for their audience to find their own place within that spectrum.*

The band have mastered the holy grail of conscious music, the ability to raise awareness without preaching and to promote empathy via participation. They play music of the people, by the people, for the people.

To quote the show: ‘Are you ready to hear some shepherd music?!’


*NB: I do not speak Arabic, so this is an interpretation based on my experience as an English-speaking listener. 

Band Website:
Twitter: @47soulofficial

47SOUL are playing the finale of Shubbak Festival at RichMix on the 25th. Link:

(Photo credit @natalievhall. I found a nerd-friend.)

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