Thursday, 29 July 2010

Da Arabian MCs

If any place on earth has earned a politically motivated rap act it's Palestine. And in DAM, Palestine have one of the finest examples on the planet. They've been going since 1998, when Tamer Nafer and his younger brother Suhell used to rap around the slums of Lod - a mixed town of Arabs and Jews around 15 miles outside of Jerusalem. The heard that a fella called Mahmoud Jreri had been writing rhymes, so they banded together and DAM was born.

Their tunes are a genius blend of classic western hip hop and Arabic melodies and percussion. But as laid back as that can sometimes sound their words are an entirely different matter. Steeped in the daily difficulties of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for once this really is music from the frontline, and their songs reflect their daily experiences. But they don't just rap about issues surrounding Palestinian freedom, but many of the other knock-on effects, like terrorism, drugs and women's rights.

Their debut collection of songs, the apt and emotive Stop Selling Drugs, was an instant local hit in 1998, but they first came to wider attention when the title song of their next collection, Min Irhabi? (Who's The Terrorist?) was downloaded over a million times globally from their website. the song's lyric dealt with the after effects of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, and Israel's heavy-handed response in dealing with it.

This opened the international doors for them, and since then they have toured extensively in America and right across Europe, principally on the back of their stunning album Dedication, a laid-back, low-slung selection of songs with biting rhymes, dark, intelligent humour and a brutally positive outlook, despite the privations them and their people might be suffering. 

This month has seen them blow away the staid world music event WOMAD festival, and with any luck it's their breakthrough performance to garnering a wider audience in the UK. Dedication isn't an easy album to get a hold of, but it's certainly worth the effort of tracking it down. Here is a rap band who aren't bragging about girls and guns and ostentatious wealth, they're keeping it real in a way that most of the hip hop world could never even begin to understand. In their world the sinple act of speaking out or filming a video could get them into the kind of trouble that us in the regular West don't even have the capacity to understand. And for that alone they're one of the greatest bands on the planet.

What a stroke of luck that they sound fantastic too!

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Saturday, 24 July 2010

Deepest, darkest electro from Peru

I just got a MySpace friend request from some girl from Peru. She didn't send a note, but it looked like she was part of a band. So I clicked about her profile and discovered that she's the new singer of a fantastic electro-techno band from Lima called SonoRadio, and I was hooked in seconds. Their squelchy, bouncy take on the European electroclash beats that are currently littering the lower regions of the charts were complimented perfectly by Amanda Veneno's breathlessly reedy and naive voice. It sounded familiar, yet completely from another planet.

I had to know more. Turns out SonoRadio formed back in 2004 as a slightly more traditional four-piece alt-pop act. They had guitars and regular song shapes, but were also instilled with a healthy slice of utter bonkersness that made them look a good prospect even back then. They played their first show two years later at the Bear Bar in Lima's up-and-coming Miraflores neighbourhood, causing an instant stir. The following year they were voted breakthrough band of 2007 by the local newspaper El Commercio, and their debut EP sold out immediately, earning them slots on both local TV and South American MTV.

Around this time they started to take a more electro turn and ditched the guitars and a couple of members to embark on a much more beatsy outlook. Now manned by singer Joy and sound demon Danny eM, although the VJ Xomatok joined the fold this year to make some cracking dynamic visuals to back up the pulsating uber-pop sounds.But then just as it was all about to take off, Joy left to see the world on a cruise, and Amanda Veneno was drafted in to add a whole new sultry flavour to the SonoRadio sound.

Anyone who's been to Peru will know that there's a lot more to their music scene than the endless panpipe bands that get sent over here to busk in the shopping centres of Europe. They've got an enormous fluro-techno scene - indeed I've been to some fabulous lung-draining raves up in the oxygen-lite heights of the Andes - and their metal scene is dark, violent and intense. But this is the first bit of pure and pounding pop that I've heard from this mountainous and exciting country - and I'm sure I've only just scratched the surface with SonoRadio.

So you see, when you get those random MySpace add requests from folks you've never heard of, at least give them the benefit of a quick look, because you never know what joys that may uncover.

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Thursday, 15 July 2010

South-East European funk

Whenever I spend any time abroad I always make sure I try and find the local punk scene and catch a show. However Oslo, despite its eighties heritage as one of the world capitals of gnarl, proved a tricky nut to crack on the underground scene. Gigs were few and far between over the two weeks we were there, and those that were featured major international touring bands asking for a minimum of 20 quid to get in. Not very punk rock at all.

So thank heavens we got to hear about a show by the a fabulously politicised bunch of new wave funkers from Macedonia called Bernays Propaganda at the historic Blitz squat on Pilestredet. But this being Oslo, it wasn't simply a case of just turning up and watching the band.

Blitz has long been on the European squat circuit, and I've seen many evocative pictures from down the years of a reassuringly crumbling building covered in grafitti and surrounded by baracades. Well it would appear that since those days someone has decorated, at it was the cleanest, most well kept squat that I've ever seen. Not that there's anything wrong with cleanliness of course, it's just not what we were expecting. Then there was the timing issues. Now I'm used to shows running on punk time, but this bordered on the silly. After arriving at 9pm, we were told to come back in an hour, and then when we did there was clearly no one but us and the residents there, so got asked to try a bit later. A little after eleven we returned, concerned that we'd miss the last tram if things dragged on any longer, and bless if Bernays themselves didn't see our plight, get up and go in to play - despite there being little more than three dozen people in the building.


But despite the sparse attendance and the cavernous backroom we were led to, it was quite a show. I was aware of drummer Dzanno and guitarist Vasko's previous band, the speedy hardcore thrashers FxPxOx, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this new outfit was an entirely different beast.

Cranking out the disco drumming and a deeply funking groove from the fresh-faced bassist Nenad, this was more reminiscent of old time British post new wave bands like Gang of Four, The Slits and The Pop Group. But that wasn't the best of it. Singer Kristina was an unsettling beast, prowling the front of the stage like a cadged cat, part vulnerable, part confrontational, looking every bit like a hollowed out Uma Thurman with a grudge. You were wary of catching her eye, just in case she caught you with a steely gaze and you melted in some kind of frightened rapture.

But this is not just unabashed turn-your-brain-off dancing. This is a band infused with anarchist ideals and deep human politics. Named after Freud's nephew, andinventor of modern propaganda Edward L Bernays, every beat means something. The labrynthine rhythms driving vital messages under your skin with every funky lick. This lot means business, winning your heart and your brain by moving your feet first.

With each new tune the dance notches cranked up, and before we knew it, every last person was dipping and diving in a hotch potch of difficult dancing styles, our feet infected by the chunking groove. It didn't really matter that we were crowded into the corner of what looked like a massive gym - that corner was the funkiest corner in the city, we were there to dance whether we liked it or not.

And we liked.

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Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.