With a mix of reggae, dancehall, rap, and traditional Arabic music, the Palestinian band 47Soul turned the Sinclair into a venue for hope, revolution, and dance.

1/8/19 – The Sinclair

You’ve heard of dabbing, but have you heard of dabke? For those who have never attended a Middle Eastern wedding, dabke is a traditional Arab folk dance usually performed at weddings and other moments of celebration. It looks really cool; it’s like that moment at the reception where everyone gathers in a circle and takes turns embarrassing themselves in the middle—except everyone has a basic understanding of rhythm and knows what to do with their limbs. 47Soul’s show at The Sinclair drew an audience of strangers so coordinated in movement that the end result could not only be attributed to a shared culture among the concertgoers: it was a testament to the band’s energy, pride, and support for their country, and ability to make even the shyest stamp their feet.

The forthcoming commotion was unexpected given the band’s inconspicuous entrance. All the band members—synth player and keyboardist Ramzy Suleiman, percussionist Tareq Abu Kwaik, and guitarist Hamza Arnaout—with the exception of singer Walaa Sbeit, wore modest tracksuits and hoodies. Sbeit on the other hand, donned a shirt patterned in the tradition of the Keffiyeh, a black and white checkered scarf which has come to represent Palestinian nationalism, stemming from the Arab Revolt of the 1930s.

When the band began to play “Mo Light,” the first song of their set, their music didn’t appear to stray from traditional Arabic sound. After all, the band members were carrying unfamiliar instruments, such as a doumbek and a davul. Furthermore, “Mo Light” began with the sound of a mizmar, perhaps the instrument most closely associated with Arabic music. For the most part, sonically, “Mo Light” seemed to affirm the average listener’s impression of traditional Arabic music—jarring Arabic scales, deep tribal-sounding bass percussion, and unvaried vocal melodies. However, the song’s English lyrics seemed hopeful: “We’re good, we’re good, we alright, they’ve seen us alive/ We’re good we’re good, we just need more light.” Someone who had never listened to the band’s music before wouldn’t have realized the song’s references to Palestinian oppression at the hands of Israel. Overall, the song was pleasant, but unspectacular; their emphasis on huge, thumping bass drums evoked Imagine Dragons.

Then the band began to play “Don’t Care Where You From”, and the venue’s atmosphere experienced a shift in dopamine levels. The percussion became undeniably groovy as Arnaout played a riff that complemented the drums without overwhelming them, and Suleiman played around with the synths. Suddenly, the crowd was moving their hips, and the Arabic scales no longer hindered a sense of excitement to the music; rather, they added a distinctive flare to a song that was already more rhythmically intoxicating than anything being played on the radio or mainstream platforms. The music was singularly unique and fun, and its exceptionality was addictive. “Don’t Care Where You From” sounded like a mix of dancehall and reggae with Arabic scales and occasional rap vocals. It got people turnt. From that point on, the concert felt like a huge dance party.

The rap and dancehall influence was even more pronounced on “Moved Around,” with the chords hitting right in between the snares as they would in a Gyptian song. Suleiman added a rap verse in Arabic to a song that cleverly addressed the theme of forced diaspora: “My people move around / Now people move around / All people move around / So … Yalla Yalla Yalla … move around!” While the song appears as a raucous call for people to dance without apprehension (“Yalla” means “come on”), it also refers to the displacement of Palestinians from their native land since the beginning of the Arab-Israeli war.

Suggestive to the double entendre on “Moved Around,” dance was not merely an added flourish to the band’s performance, it was essential to the band’s musical identity and their relationship with the audience. “This is anti-fascist music, anti-walls music, and anti-apartheid music,” Sbeit declared before playing “Everyland”—in which he sings, “every land is a holy land/ every people is a promised people.” Encouraging the cathartic rebellion of giving meaning to movement, Sbeit and Abu Kwaik danced dabke during the song; shortly thereafter, more than twenty people in the audience were holding hands and performing a dance deeply entrenched in Arabic history. It was a moment of celebration for unity, belonging, and revolution.

Although at first impression 47Soul seems like a traditional Arabic band, that notion couldn’t be further than the truth; their live act showcased them as one of the most progressive bands on the global stage – in several ways. The band was not only reviving old ways of making music through ancient instruments and scales – they were blending unfamiliar sounds with modern genres both popular (rap) and international (dancehall) and making it incredibly accessible. They encouraged a new way of participating in concerts by dancing together – not individually or in pairs – but with the entire audience. Finally, they were bringing long-running conflicts to the forefront, but confronting them with a spirit of inclusivity, joy, and respect for other cultures. They showed that although people get moved around, the more important matter is whether they’re moving together.

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