Shamstep Comes to Berlin

Music is pretty much synonymous with Berlin. It’s where musicians come to make their mark and where party-goers flock to revel in the diversity of the selection that Berlin has to offer. Some might find it a little difficult to find exactly what they’re looking for, Berlin might be diverse but at times the diversity seems to apply to the genres of House or Techno music that can be found in abundance around the city. It’s especially difficult if you’re into Arab music, other than the generic posters for Arabic Pop stars found on Sonnenallee store fronts, you’ll be hard pressed to find Arab artists in Berlin.

Eh Eh Eh Music wants to change that. The project, which launched in summer 2015, is run by a Berlin-based collective and managed by Louna Sbou. Their aim is to connect local communities and audiences with the very best of Arab art, culture and independent music. The collective has collaborated with MARSM (a UK events company) to bring 47 Soul to Berlin for the very first time.

After their soft launch in the summer, the team began booking a diverse range of artists from the Middle East including Youssra El Hawary from Egypt, 47 Soul from Jordan/Palestine and have already hosted Habibi Band from Syria and Kabreet from Yemen and Germany.

Louna wants to bring the unique music that these artists have to offer to a wider audience. “Unfortunately, many talents in the Arab world don’t get the attention they deserve and we want to change that.”
“We look for artists with a strong passion for their work, who are revolutionizing what is often perceived as ‘Arab’ music while still embracing their cultural heritage.”

That perfectly describes 47 Soul. Formed in Amman, Jordan in 2013 and based in London, UK, the band combines analog synthesizers with traditional Arabic beats undercut with an electric underground sound calling it Shamstep. It’s something unheard of in the Middle East where traditional music is still king and contemporary pop the queen.

A collaboration of four Palestinian artists, Walaa Sbeit (percussion), Tareq Abu Kweik (percussion), Ramzy Suleiman (keys and electronics) and Hamza Arnaout (electronics and guitar). All the members contribute to vocals on the tracks.

The name 47 Soul refers to the year where freedom of movement between Bilad Al Sham (land of the Levant) was still commonplace.  “You would get in the car and go between Amman, Jerusalem, Damascus and Beirut. That’s the symbol we uphold,” says Walaa.

“47 Soul is an extraordinary band delivering an important message,” says Louna. “We saw their first show in Amman in 2013 and it was unforgettable. We’ve followed their development ever since, they’ve toured the world and played in sold-out venues and we feel that now is the right time to host them for their first ever show in Berlin.”

They’ve notoriously spoken about the bureaucratic struggles that make touring for their group difficult. When asked about their future plans that band mentioned the obstacles they face, “we just want to tour more, spread our music and solve the visa problems that people like us have to face. We want to be able to be around and more available for all the people who want to see us, rather than having to deal with the struggle of bureaucracy.”

“We just want to make honest music, be who we are and stay true to our roots. To be an honest artist with the opportunity to share messages with the world comes with responsibilities. But, that's not the main function. We want the people to dance, feel our music and we want it to remain honest. We are not politicians, we are musicians.”

The mix of English and Arabic lyrics alongside the upbeat dance music has branched out their popularity among western audiences too, “the impact of the mix makes a difference because it’s good to have a variety of people being able to understand what we are saying. We use English and Arabic, it’s not about the literal language, it’s about expressing ourselves honestly,” explains Ramzy.

It is relevant that the band’s first show in Berlin comes during a time where there’s a spotlight on immigration. The show has been opened to refugees for free as a sign of solidarity with the struggles they’re going through and a scroll through their Facebook page is evidence of how much the music resonates with those that understand the band’s message.

So what’s next for 47 Soul after Berlin? Their passion for music, though hindered by visa restrictions, is what drives them and what makes them so popular with both Arab and Western fans alike. University tours in Palestine are planned after the Berlin show and new tracks are being written for release soon. It looks like Shamstep is here to stay, not a bad thing if you like to get your dance on.

The band is playing at Yaam on 22 September at 8pm and limited tickets will be available at the door.

By Shoshi Khaddour
Damascus born, London raised, Berlin based. Shoshi is a journalist with a focus on a range of social and political issues. A former broadcast journalist, her interests include food fairs, films, current affairs and space. She showcases day-to-day Berlin life on her Instagram and Blog.
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