In keeping with this month’s Halloween theme, there is a contingent here in the US that doesn’t want groups like exhilarating Palestinian hip-hop band 47soul here. But Lincoln Center is home to every New York community, as impresario Jordana Leigh reminded last night. A big crowd drawing heavily on Arabic-speaking young people from across the diaspora watched raptly, everybody with their phones out, a circle of dancers dipping and shimmying in front of the stage.
The quartet’s Arabic lyrics are excellent, drawing on centuries of allusive, symbolically loaded antiauthoritarian tradition. Graffiti artists vault border walls and random travelers get caught in police headlights, Fences, roadblocks and surveillance are everywhere. There was a line in one of their opening numbers, Mo Light, that translated as “If I could buy my home, I’d do that.” No wonder their music is so restless. Even the most lighthearted tunes, like Move Around, have double entendres: Palestinians are no strangers to relocation, voluntarily or via Naqba.
With electric guitar, electronic and organic percussion and swirling, keening mini-synth, their music can be as enveloping and atmospheric as it is propulsive They opened with a vampy two-chord quasi-reggae number, echoed a little later by a reggaeton-influenced detour into trip-hop. They didn’t even bother to change chords for the hypnotically majestic song in between, the thump of the standup tapan drum underneath looming minor-key string synth ambience.
They really hit their stride and got the guys in the crowd triwrling their keffiyehs with a thumping, syncopated dabke groove, the microtones of the synth shivering over the thump of the tapan and the syndrums, the guitar running through the kind of warpy tone-bending patch that Mary Halvorson uses a lot. Everybody knew the big dabke anthem after that, jumping around defiantly as the big choruc kicked in.
“Sold out by the left, right when you left, why, you’re not filming?” was the most telling line in the slow, ominously emphatic Machina, a searingly imagistic account of life under an occupation, from the band’s latest album Balfron Promise. After that, they went back to the slinky, pulsing minor-key dabke, dipping back and forth between a watery vortex of sound. Everybody in the group – synth player Z the People, guitarist El Jehaz, drummers Walaa Sbait and Tareq Abu Kwaik all contribute vocals, even when they’re playing pretty complicated stuff.
Ther was some turnover in the crowd before Afrotronix, all the way from Chad via Montreal, followed with a cantering electroacoustic performance. Interestingly, almost all of their beats were organic, the group’s guitarist nimbly building live loops and pulling samples from a laptop to energize the people on the floor while the group’s dancer got a shiveringly intense workout at the front of the stage.
The next nation represented in the ongoing mostly-weekly series of free concerts at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway north of 62nd St. is Cuba. Chanteuse Melvis Santa and her band are on the billlnext Thurs,, Oct 10 at 7:30 PM These shows are very popular, so get there early if you’re going.