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47Soul’s beats defy borders

Formed in Jordan in 2013, 47Soul is now based in London. Its members share Palestinian heritage but grew up across the globe as a result of the 1948 Nakba

July 18, 2017 at 11:11 am

Interview by Hassina Mechaï, article by Jehan Alfarra

Drawing on influences from traditional Arabic music like Dabkeh, Chobi and Mijwiz, 47Soul has been hyping up stages across the world. The Electro Arabic Dabkeh band was formed in Jordan in 2013 and has amassed fans rapidly across the MENA region and in Europe with its new style of Arabic dance music that they have dubbed “ShamStep”, a combination of traditional music like Dabkeh and electronic beats.

The name of the band, currently based in London, refers to the soul of 1947, the year before the mass Palestinian exodus known as the Nakba and the establishment of the state of Israel. “One year before Palestine was occupied,” explained the band’s Walaa Sbeit, “and became divided, and new borders were created that are alien and strange to the area of what we call Bilad Al Sham, the Levant, which is today’s Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.”

Sbeit is one of the four musicians who make up the band. “Four people who belong to the same story, more or less, coming from one nation, from one people, and each one has their story of displacement,” he added.

“Four guys born in different cities because of that displacement.”


The line-up

The four artists all share roots in Palestine. Their music reflects a rejection of borders and displacement.

Walaa Sbeit, 47Soul [courtesy of 47Soul]

Walaa Sbeit, 47Soul [courtesy of 47Soul]

Walaa Sbeit is a singer, dancer and songwriter. Born and raised in Haifa, Walaa describes himself as the “son of the indigenous Palestinian community” and an “internal refugee” in today’s Israel.

“My grandparents are originally refugees from a village called Ikrit, and one of the reasons why I’m on stage is maybe because I want to tell the story of those grandparents of mine and because I grew up in a family that supported art.”

Z the People, 47 Soul [courtesy of 47Soul]

Z the People, 47 Soul [courtesy of 47Soul]

Ramzy Suleiman (aka Z the People) is a Palestinian-American singer, producer and keyboard player. After growing up inside the Soul and RnB music scene around Washington DC, Z has carved himself a reputation for his mix of Electro-Soul and Arabic music. His style draws heavily on the street music popular in the Levant (Dabkeh), and his songwriting reflects the struggle arising from a collision of two worlds.

El Jehaz. 47Soul [courtesy of 47Soul]

El Jehaz. 47Soul [courtesy of 47Soul]

Hamza Arnaout (aka El Jehaz) is a Palestinian-Jordanian guitarist, songwriter and producer. Apart from being a cofounder of 47Soul, he is best known as the guitarist of the Jordanian band Autostrad (2007-2013).

El Far3i, 47Soul [courtesy of 47Soul]

El Far3i, 47Soul [courtesy of 47Soul]

Tareq Abu Kwaik (aka El Far3i) is a Palestinian-Jordanian songwriter and vocalist, and a founder of Arabic Folk and Acoustic Rap solo act El Far3i and Hip-Hop Mc Far3 El Madakhil. El Far3i means coming from a branch which is a symbol of growth and reaching outwards to the world by feeding from the roots. Before 47Soul, he was a vocalist/songwriter and percussionist of Arabic Indie band El Morabba3, and the drummer for Oriental fusion band Sign Of Thyme.

Coming together

“It first started on the internet then took off on the ground,” El Far3i told MEMO. While El Far3i and El Jehaz knew each other through work in Amman — having shared a practice room and produced an album together — they did not meet the rest of the band members in person until much later. They were first introduced to Ramzy and Walaa online through mutual contacts.

From the moment that the band released their first song introducing the Soul of 47, their unique fusion of eastern and western music won them fans across their home region and in the diaspora. Their style is fast becoming part of the soundtrack for Arab youth, with adaptations of their ShamStep beats being produced across the Arab world. Last year, a group of youth in Gaza released a video clip for one of their songs with the old and the young dancing and cheering to the tunes in the besieged territory’s seaport.

“As we’re spreading in popularity, the responsibility becomes greater to tell the truth,” Ramzy explained. “The truth about what you see as a priority needs to be exposed to the world, whether that’s external or internal about yourself or your crew or as a group or as a culture or a society or a community, or if it’s something that is happening to you that needs to be exposed.”

“Realness and sincerity catches fire, and it spreads fast,” added Walaa.

A homeland occupied

Being Palestinian refugees has influenced the musicians’ songs, which often reflect their experiences and culture. “What is happening in Palestine is not a conflict,” El Jehaz was quick to assert. “There is an imperial project, there is no conflict. Conflict happens between two neighbours; conflict happens between a sister and a brother.”

Drawing parallels with America’s history, he continued: “You can’t call that a conflict between Europeans and the natives. There was a project for them to go there and occupy the land and call it their own. Similarly, what’s happening in Palestine is a project.”

According to El Far3i, “all of the people in the whole world know what’s happening in Palestine.” The occupation, he insisted, was imposed on the Palestinians. “This is not a choice we took. It’s a choice that some other people took, and now we have to sit down and talk as equals.” He is confident that this will not happen. “Whether that is good or bad, that’s a different argument.”

He believes that colonialism has used the Abrahamic religions in the area, even though, historically the people in the area coexisted. “Now the whole world wants to come and teach us about how to live equally, when our problem was that we were living equally, all of us with different religions and different colours and different races. That’s what we’re made of. Palestinians are a combination of all the people of the world.”

Filmed by Esther Thwadi-Yimbu