They call it Shamstep. It’s 21st century hip-hop and electronic music, the sound of the modern city whirled with a reinvention of the past. It’s where Arabic music and dance traditions dabke, choubi and mijwiz meld into a future powered by electricity and drum machines. Shamstep is the Arabic sound of 47SOUL, and they’ll be bringing it to the U.S. from June 3-20, playing dates from across the Midwest and Northeast.
The four members of 47SOUL, originally from Palestine and physically divided by borders, discovered each other on YouTube. Shortly after 47SOUL made moves to London. where they could work together; the name is a powerful reference to the last year all the members would have hypothetically been allowed to meet before the existence of the current borders dividing Palestine. Since 2013, they’ve been filling the ears and the dance floors with their music. The band’s 2015 debut EP, Intro to Shamstep, scored 50,000 plays in its first two weeks on Soundcloud alongside the video amassing 500,000 views, while their latest video with Egyptian singer-songwriter amassed over 800,000 in its first 24 hours online.
The heady, banging rhythms, analog synths and trance-inducing guitar lines have been tearing up the festivals, too. They gave five performances at Glastonbury last year, then topped that with an appearance at the prestigious Womad festival which the Daily Telegraph described as “Pan-Arabic street music [that] was spine-tingling. Their take on protest music with a groove … pure Womad in a bottle.”
Freedom of movement, on the dance floor and across borders, that’s the message behind the music. Singing in both Arabic and English, 47SOUL celebrate the global struggle for equality, with rhythm as a worldwide language. There’s passion and power behind the beats, the sound of diversity and unity.
Touring across Europe and North Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Latin America, the band has built a massive following. Now, with support from the British Council as well as the UK arts collective OneTaste, they’re coming to the U.S. for the first time, spending 17 days playing shows, giving workshops, and hosting discussions on the folk traditions and message that lies behind their music.
47SOUL is part of a new generation of musicians who perceive boundaries as no more than lines etched on a map. They create a reality that transcends, built from drum machines, the trance of the dance and the thick squelch of the synthesizer. It’s urban music for the new world city, a place where everyone is welcome on the dance floor.
It’s life on the fly. But 47SOUL is used to that; the band only had three rehearsals before its first show. But even then, the crowd went wild.
“We planted a seed,” recalls band member Walaa Sbeit in the Palestine Chronicle. Soon after that, they headed for Europe, creating music without borders, and at their second show in London, Sbeit says, “We got to see people from around the world dancing dabke.”
It’s utterly modern music, electronic and wild, but it has deep roots, not only built on dabke itself, but also from mijwiz, the reed pipe that’s played throughout the Middle East. They form the fabric of Shamstep, the foundation of that sound. The modern world the band has created has built on the past, and it’s on the way to making a global phenomenon of Shamstep. As BBC World noted, “47SOUL have crossed over, a bridge from East to West.”
Cross that bridge. It’s time to welcome Shamstep and 47SOUL to the U.S..
47SOUL play The Middle East on June 16. Showtime is 8 PM. Tickets are $20 adv / $30 dos