The UK-based Palestinian quartet discuss their debut album ahead of the Edinburgh launch
Generic assumptions are often made when it comes to music from the Palestinian diaspora; occasionally unfairly so. In recent years, however, an increasing number of artists have attempted to break away from preconceived notions, utilising their resistance to the current political climate as a way to experiment with style, expression and musicality. Arab electronic hip-hop supergroup 47Soul, whose members descend from both Palestine and Jordan, have gained a following beyond the Arab world for their colourful fusion of traditional dabke and electronic hip hop, which they label shamstep. This unique style, coupled with their triumphant live performances and poignant lyrical content have resulted in various tours, taking them to venues across the UK and Europe.
For the past two years, the band have lived in London, temporarily taking up residence in East London's Balfron Tower. But when the longstanding tenants of the building were evicted for the benefit of luxury property developers who intended to sell the flats on the private market, the band witnessed something they recognised from home. 'The experience of watching our neighbours being removed from somewhere they thought of as home by bigger, more powerful, wealthier forces was only too familiar to us as Palestinian artists,' explains Tareq Abu Kwaik (vocalist / MC El Far3i). 'The album was written during this time.'
The album in question, their debut Balfron Promise, refers to the Tower but is also in part a nod to the Balfour Declaration, a public statement issued by the British government just over a century ago announcing support for the establishment of a 'national home for the Jewish people' in Palestine.
'The songs expose the similarities between parts of the world we think of as distant, war-torn lands, and the culture and class wars happening on our own doorstep,' Ramzy Suleiman (aka Z The People) continues. 'It explores the idea that perhaps gentrification and occupation are not as different as we think.'
Balfron Promise is a lively, melodically rich record, overflowing with driving beats, microtonal synth lines and a mix of Arabic and English vocals and raps. On one end, there's the bouncy and satirical 'Locked Up Shop' and then there are more decidedly political numbers like the wonderfully charged lead single 'Mo Light'.
Closing track 'Ghazal (Promised Outro)' perhaps best highlights the band's creative mix of Arab musical tradition and their affinity for experimentation, with the track demonstrating exactly why there is such an appeal for their intense and otherworldly live shows. But despite presenting something both innovative and highly socially conscious throughout the album, Soul47 are keen to underline that it is up to the listeners to break down barriers. As Kwaik notes, 'Borders, separation and distance are mainly responsible for misconceptions. We try to break those down to bring people closer together through the music. But we haven't particularly tried to break away from anything – we leave that to the fans to do so on the dance floor while we play!'
With the band having released their album in February, they're headed up to Edinburgh in early March to throw a celebratory launch party at the Mash House which will also include an after party courtesy of Samedia Shebeen. So with such a formidable reputation for rousing live sets, what should Edinburgh audiences expect at their upcoming gig? 'Expect a lot of dabkeh dancing at our show. The audience have been known to blow us away every single time!'
47Soul album launch, The Mash House, Edinburgh, Fri 9 Mar, 7pm.