Spotlight: A Conversation with 47Soul
MATT KINSELLA-WALSH // SEPTEMBER 27, 2019
Next Tuesday, October 1st, 47Soul will be bringing their unique blend of noise to the Oberlin ‘Sco. Formed in Jordan, and now living in London, this Palestinian quartet bumps an electronic form of dabke, a dance and accompanying music common across the Levant. They call this Shamstep in reference to Bilad Al-Sham, a historical categorization that includes modern day Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Israel and Lebanon. It’s a telling choice, given that the modern borders of the Middle East have indelibly shaped the band’s circumstances. Although all members of the group are Palestinian, none grew up in the Palestinian Authority. As members of the Palestinian Diaspora whose families were displaced during Israel’s founding in 1948, El Jehaz (guitar & vocals) and El Far3i (darouka & MC) came up and met in Amman’s underground music scene, where Z The People (synth and vocals) eventually joined them, after moving from Washington D.C to Palestine to learn the Arabic quarter-tone keyboard. The band’s fourth member, Walaa Sbeit (vocals & percussion) is from Haifa, in Israel and holds an Israeli passport. This odd combination of documents--two Jordanian passports, an Israeli, and an American-limits their travel across the Middle East and Europe, and resulted in a recent series of shows in the West Bank without Z the People, who was unable to cross Israel’s border. In anticipation of their Tuesday show, members of Students for A Free Palestine and Jewish Voice For Peace prepared a series of questions for the band, whose answers can be found below
A lot of our readers will have never heard of “Shamstep.” Can you explain a bit about the genre and what it entails?
We’ve given the name Shamstep at first to a way of playing a groove on the percussions or drums and we built most of our music on that. The bigger picture is creating a sub genre from dabke ( dance / groove) that allows us to have a dabke feel on other genres like hip hop, rap and dub. It’s electronic Arabic music with synth, percussions and vocals that we can dance to the way we dance at any celebration in Palestine.
In many ways, shamstep articulates a Pan-Arab vision, bypassing the modern political borders of the Middle East to instead reference Bilad Al-Sham. How does this theme of borders emerge in your work, and what is the role of music in finding the cracks in borders?
The beats that we use are typical to the area of Palestine , Jordan , Lebanon , Syria and Iraq but you’d hear some of these beats - in different - ways in Africa and South America and probably elsewhere. Everything was moving freely, but that is not the case now with all the borders and walls. The forced geographical division is a big part of our identity , it is almost like the music already carries that story without having to force it.
How do your personal circumstances as members of the Palestinian Diaspora inform your music, and where and how you can play?
We make music that has a sonic experience -- in the most part - that is new to some people and “typical” to Arabs and that gathers our people in the diaspora as well as others and creates a space for many conversations that you don’t find everyday. It is a dance party in the end and we are lucky - for lack of a much more descriptive word for doomed/lucky - to have other passports ..most of our people are at risk of losing their homes if they travel if not under siege.
Can you explain what dabke is and its importance in your performances?
Like I said earlier we created a certain instrumentation or production style that allows for different vocal styles to come in over dabke. Dabke is a dance known in every event in the levant ..Danke is as Palestinian/Syrian/Lebanese/Jordanian/Iraqi as dance can get!...that’s what happens in the fertile crescent when people celebrate. People would call the music [that’s performed] with it dabke as well and that has Mijwiz/Arghool, basically instruments that you find on a keyboard these days or you can redesign them with synth, and that ‘s what we do, we don’t sample, we play these type of melodies.
What’s the significance of performing dabke outside of Palestine? How does that affect its meaning and the way the crowd interacts?
We don’t perform dabke the way a dabke troupe would , because that is a dance show. On of our members, Walaa Sbait, is a Dabke dancer and we do bust into a dance here and there , but what we do is just dance music that we create over Arabic drums and we dabke and rap and sing over that.. At shows where there is a big Arab community there is always a dabke circle , cypher or moshpit happening ..
What can audience members expect from your October 1st show at the ’Sco and what’s one thing they should take away from the performance?
Expect dancing ...a lot of it .. so much of it … a lot of different vocal styles and bass