Next week, 47 Soul will bring their blend of electronic-infused dabke sounds—a genre they’ve dubbed as shamstep—to the Sinclair stage. (“Sham” refers to the Greater Syria or Levantine region of Bilad al-Sham.) The quartet began as loose-knit collective in Amman, Jordan but their most recent release, 2018’s Balfron Promise, was a product of the last two years, which they spent in London. We spoke with the group about how the UK music scene helped them develop as musicians, as well as the dancing crowds at their concerts, double meanings, and writing in both Arabic and English.

KB: Can you tell me more about the album art for Balfron Promise? Who was the illustrator, and how did the idea come about? Can you explain the different elements (the crowd, the black sheep, the dog, etc.)

We had the concept in our mind based on “the tower” and “people” and we told Michael Schinköthe—who is a German designer that we luckily know from Amman—our thoughts and he made it a live! The concept comes from the idea that occupation and gentrification force whole communities to be scattered.

KB: In an interview with The National, Tareq Abu Kwaik said “we just want the world to dance to our sound.” What are some of the names of the dances you include in your performances, or ones you teach the audience, if any? (Is it mostly certain variations of dabke?)

Walaa Sbait would be more of the person to tell you about the different styles of movement, however the different movements might sometimes refer to sub region of Bilad Al Sham more than the other, but in today’s world it’s all Dabke!

KB: Along those lines—in a Vice article about the band, the publication spoke with an ethnomusicology professor, David McDonald, who talked about dabke as a tool for Palestinian musicians and activists to assert their identity while living in exile or under Israeli occupation in territories like the West Bank. As part of the Armenian diaspora, I felt like I could relate to that—practicing my culture is a way to prove my existence and to keep alive something my ancestors risked everything for. Do you think McDonald captured how you feel about dabke? And, how does the concert space, feel, and dancing change when performing for non-Middle Eastern crowds?

As for the crowds it is always fresh to see people who do not know a dance doing their own things on it specially when they start picking it up and joining with Dabke dancers you see these transformations that have a bigger impact than just learning a new move. There is no doubt that using anything that refers to your identity can keep it alive… but there are more layers to why we do that, and while we can’t speak for everyone, we can at least divide the assumptions into: groups that already belong to Dabke crews and teams and happen to be doing electronic and new age music, and there are musicians who want to experiment more with roots music, and of course there is a cause related to the art form that is forced by the reality of the occupation. Another angle is that Dabke over some Mijwiz is just hot faya on the dance floor and end of story!

KB: Some have called your music “tripped-out acid house music,” while listeners have called it “futuristic Levant wedding music,” and you have described it as “shamstep.” Can you please describe your music without genre names, or the previously mentioned descriptions?

It’s electronic and live music that uses Arabic scales, Arabic and English lyrics, and comes from an Arabic mindset towards the world about thoughts that never leave the Arab minds inside the Arab world and in the diaspora.

KB: You talked about the fact that London helped you develop as musicians—can you talk to us more about how? What does the London music scene have to offer that others don’t?

Performance space… a lot of it! I can’t remember one time walking into a London bar or even café and seeing a live musician that wasn’t nice! It might be a historical placebo thing… but for real, the UK in general has a big band culture so if you are band you get to practice being one very often if you try to be active in a city like London, on top of that it’s the diverse nature of London that literally brings people together to the gig that otherwise would have been watching incorrect shit about each other on TV… or telly!

KB: Some musicians describe how being able to write music in two languages helped to develop the music in ways that writing in just one could not. Is that the case here? Tell me more about what it was like to write in two languages, and how the writing process may have changed because of that.

It’s weird honestly… it’s very uncomfortable sometimes but you get over it… it’s definitely a comfort zone destroyer! But we are more than one player with both languages as native tongues… many times it is the conversation between the diaspora that lost the language or been deprived it! And the land where most people didn’t get the chance to leave because they would never be allowed back and of course, that is an Arabic speaking majority… and in some other times it is simply a united universal message being shouted in two languages… it’s almost like every language is an “adlib” to the other… it might become a thing!

KB: If Balfron Promise was a room, what would it look like?

It would be like any room but with a whole side being a window and the ceiling wobbly like its made about of thick carpet and people are dancing dabke right above it!

KB: Who are your dream collaborators?

Ashraf Abu el Leil, being the modern day master of the sound we play… and any artist who would want to dive deep with us on sound experiments that are consciously relevant!

KB: I’ve read about how your music uses a lot of double meanings. Can you share a few you’re most proud of?

We’ll leave that for the people… sometimes they even find things we did not intend

Like “ Wassi3 lal forty sefen,” which some young sisters and brother were singing in Palestine instead of “What’s the soul in the 47?” from our song “Intro to Shamstep

We’ll let you find an Arab to tell you what it means “Wassi3 lal forty sefen”

KB: Can you identify the instruments and sounds we hear on the album? Are there any special reasons as to why certain sounds were included?

They are the same sounds we use all the time: electronic drums some 808’s, some pads, and a bassline for the playback and then we play guitar, synth, dohola (big darbouka), and Tabl Baladi (big kick drum looking one) That being said, we believe Shamstep music can be done in many ways… but you gotta have the Arabic beats and the Mijwiz sounds

Tickets to 47 Soul’s show at The Sinclair on January 8th are still available. Grab them here

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