It’s been two years since Palestinian-Jordanian group 47Soul released their seminal album ‘Balfron Promise’, eight tracks of self-reflective sociopolitical commentary steeped in a glorious new genre, shamstep. The buoyant style mixes dubstep and electronic beats with traditional sounds from the Levant — known as Belad Al Sham — and particularly Dabke music.
Upon its release, ‘Balfron Promise’ reached regional and global audiences; it also earned the title of The Guardian’s World Music Album of the Month. But two years later — and just a couple of weeks since 47Soul last performed in Dubai — it remains relevant. On its latest anniversary, we break it down track by track.
Synth-Dabke beats meet macho colloquialisms in this anthem of return that ponders geographic identity and sets the tone for what’s to come. The tableh (and according to live performances, Ramadan drums) build a danceable beat, giving the song its traditional backbone, while the sound of electronic reed pipes cushion lyrics like, “It’s a readable map if you look for our names.”
2. Moved Around
An embellished, borderline cartoonish Arabised English accent ushers us in straight away: “My people, moved around. More people, moved around. My people, moved around, before we all get, moved around.” The track is vibrant on the surface, but delivers a more dire message underneath: “Oh, you who crosses the sea, tell me what’s the state of its waves? Will it work for me, or…?” Lyrically, it seems to be a reflection of the ongoing displacement of people and their need for refuge. The upbeat melody, perhaps, speaks to the resilience of a people faced with these daily realities.
3. Mo Light
At first Mo Light sounds like it could have come right out of an old-timey wedding, but soon the contemporary social media references come in. The song begins with a bird — reminiscent of Twitter’s winged mascot, maybe — and an Arabic croon of, “See the post and hit ‘share’, reassure my family that we’re okay and a small ‘like’ is enough for us,” followed by, “We’re good, we’re good, we alright, they’ve seen us alive. We just need more light.”
One of the more poignant tracks on the album, Gamar (meaning ‘moon’) tracks a disillusioned man who takes a space shuttle across the sky to a secondary Earth, only to be shocked by a settlement project. Exasperated, he sings, “We don’t want anything from Earth but our neighbourhood; take Saturn and the moon … let us go, for God’s sake.”
5. Locked Up Shop
Locked Up Shop is a sonic turning point in the album, taking on a funky R’n’B beat and delivered mostly in English. A customary wedding refrain repeats in the background: “Shave, oh, barber.” Traditionally, this is sung to grooms when the barber comes to clean up their hair and face for their big day, but here, it’s chillingly flipped on its head (Trim me up for war / Won’t die for a clean cut) as a riot is compared to a wedding. The track concludes with a country-wide ode – or ‘poem’ – to those alive or gone, injured or jailed, near or far.
Sabah (morning) is the ultimate anthem of resilience, called out from the mountaintops and ending with a sentiment that seems to envelop the whole album: “You’ll never make me doubt it, even if you bring me down / You’ll never get around it, even if you see me gone”.
7. Marked Safe
Marked Safe flitters between many possible topics — from displacement, the diaspora and the passive nature of ‘Marked Safe’, a Facebook feature that allows users to inform others they have not been injured or killed in an attack or natural disaster. Though up for interpretation, the track seems to be a love letter, promise and apology to the homeland, all at once.
8. Ghazal (Promised Outro)
The album-closer is another high-energy faux-party song housing a story of exile and loss of identity, as well as a letter of dedication to carrying forward the story of the homeland, centred around a ‘stray deer’: “They took me to an Island where I knew no one, gave me these papers and said, “go ahead, find her”; I went after her in Berlin and London; found you in Amman … I asked you, what’s wrong with you girl, why are you moving away from me, you said, oh, brother, why would you leave in the first place?”