Playing with fire

[47 Soul @ Full Moon & Attic Bar, Bristol, 25/07/14]

Some of the punters at the Full Moon are probably a little too wasted to appreciate the resonance of what they are hearing, when the four young Palestinian/Jordanian men who make up 47 Soul begin singing ‘every land is a holy land’. It is a bold and ironic statement indeed, as Israeli air strikes continue to rain down on the embattled population of Gaza.

As the band sets up, the disgruntled sound technician has to remove two young women, also a little wasted, who clamber onto the stage and start twirling around. A few minutes into the set, two men in the crowd fall into a crumpled heap in the middle of the floor, apparently trying to give each other a hug. They leave a huge puddle of spilled beer around them, before slowly clambering back on to their feet.

The band take all this in their stride, beginning their set almost by stealth, clattering darbouka rhythms slowly filtering out of the speakers and drawing the audience back into the present. Their setup is minimal: a guitarist, keyboard/synth player, and two percussionists. To these essential elements are added four sets of vocals, often singing in call and response, bringing a greater textural density to the sound. It feels as though twice as many musicians are on stage.

The set is loose and improvised, speeding up and slowing down in places, several tracks extending beyond 10 minutes, the band bending and adapting their hypnotic compositions in sync with the audience’s moods and movements. Rapper and percussionist El Far3i, underpins it all with subtle syncopated rhythms while the set takes in elements from hip hop and Arabic music; the guitarist moving between offbeat reggae riffs and elaborate pentatonic improvisations that call to mind the bluesmen of the Sahara.

Lyrically, the politics of homeland and of displacement frequently reappear and resurface. During one of the final tracks in the set, Palestinian-American keyboardist Z The People begins recalling the plight of Palestinian prisoners detained without trial in Israeli jails. Yet despite the bloodshed and injustices which inform the political landscape the band inhabits, these messages never feel laboured, melding harmoniously instead with the mesmeric, almost trance-like qualities of the undulating keyboard lines, which in turn mirror the warbling vocal melodies. The prevailing emotional state the music provokes is, ultimately, celebratory and feels as though it would sit equally well at a political demonstration or at a wedding out somewhere in the Sinai.

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