MUSCAT: Once hailed as an “Arabic supergroup,” 47Soul have evolved greatly since four disgruntled underground musicians gathered in Amman, Jordan, with a shared vision — and shared Palestinian heritage.
The early buzz was fuelled by debut single “Intro to ShamStep,” a potentially hubristic audience primer for the group’s deliberately disjointed mix of traditional Shaabi street music and Dabke dance, with block-rocking beats and blazing rhymes. “Is Shamstep a Made-Up Genre For Hipsters?” Vice’s music subsidiary Noisey was compelled to ask after the group landed slots at the UK’s Glastonbury Festival and Womad.
Any suspicions of faddery were dispelled with the wider distribution afforded 2018’s international breakthrough “debut” album “Balfron Promise” (2015’s “Shamstep” having been excised from the band’s official biography) — while name-breaking sessions on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert and KEXP broke 47Soul stateside. Too much, too fast? After six years, guitarist/vocalist El Jehaz announced he was leaving earlier this year.
Perhaps naturally, the band’s new album, “Semitics,” feels both streamlined and simplified. With the three remaining members — vocalist and synth player Z the People. plus MCs and percussionists El Far3i and Walaa Sbeit — now spread between Palestine, London and the US, “Semitics” has the vibe of tracks shaped and shared over broadband, rather than jammed in a bedroom — full of militant beats aggressively targeted towards a post-global dancefloor, with Arabic scales and flourishes battling to be heard.
There are some stellar assists from collaborators too. “Border Ctrl” — a reggaeton-tinged repeated plea to dissolve “this Mexico-Bethlehem Wall” — is spiced by two ferocious female MCs, British-Palestinian Shadia Mansour trading rhymes with German-Chilean MC Fedzilla. Meanwhile, on “Hold Your Ground,” British-Iraqi grime artist Lowkey spits a pointed vignette — name-checking both “Trump” and “Boris” — astride desert drumming, spiralling synths and a grating auto-tuned chorus.
The use of English feels both more pointed and more potent on “Semitics,” issues of identity smouldering to the surface. “Hold on look what we created / Refugee overseas still I’m a native”, runs the swaggering, sun-kissed single “Dabke System”. “If you wanna play in my hometown / you better come play for the right crown,” threatens “Arab Arab” over menacing trap-ish beats.
The “shamstep” conceit may no longer be novel, but that inner tension between genres, traditions, ideas and languages remains as assured as it is effecting. “Semitics” captures a band that has evolved beyond early hype and regional exoticism to embrace a global audience and ethos. Was something lost along the way? Not more than was gained. 47Soul are making music as vital, urgent, angry and original as ever.