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Mixed media: Music

Ya Balad – Bachar Mar-Khalifé’s dramatic exploration of homeland

Ya Balad by Bachar Mar-Khalifé (InFiné/Warp CD, LP + download, IF1033)

Ya Balad translates from the Arabic as ‘Oh Homeland’. But, as its creator, the Paris-based Lebanese musician Bachar Mar-Khalifé realizes, the very concept of homeland is not so simple.

Is homeland a place, a memory, a scent? The idea of home is a potent one in art and politics and the absence of a safe place is a powerful instigation to creativity. It’s possible that this is one reason why the album’s title song has few lyrics, other than an urgent phrase that eventually dies in a murmur.

Ya Balad is a dramatic album, employing a passionate voice that soars above keyboards and percussion. It is dominated by piano and voice, from the pointillist reduction of ‘Ya Balad’ to the frenetic excursions on the album’s opener, a Kyrie Eleison unlike any one you have ever heard and one which calls for interfaith peace.

This album maintains a conversation between its creator’s Western classical education and his formative Arabic musical experiences and the results are generally enriching.

With its cod-reggae rhythm, ‘Balcoon’ is a gentle lampoon of an international pop culture full of sound and no meaning, but Khalifé is at his best when he moves into genuine expressive territory. With highpoints found in the sweet ‘Yalla Tnam Nada’ (sung by Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani) and the thrilling lurch es of ‘Laya Yabnaya’, Mar-Khalifé has come up with something really interesting.

★★★★ LG infine-music.com

The Spook School – rocks queer-core fringe.

Try To Be Hopeful by The Spook School (Fortuna POP!, CD, LP + download,FPOP191CD / FPOP191LP)

The four Spook School students are way too young to have heard bands such as Buzzcocks or Altered Images the first time round, but that hasn’t stopped this Edinburgh outfit from hitting gold with their perky release.

Treble-heavy and guitar-driven in a way that is reminiscent of Buzzocks’ ‘Winfield wall of sound’ (a reference to the earlier band’s cheap guitars from Woolworth’s), Try To Be Hopeful bounces along at a fair lick. It’s an assertive album, bashful in all the right places, and Nye and Adam Todd (guitars), Anna Cory (bass) and Niall McCamley (drums) – they all do vocals – deliver the goods with a good-humoured, no-frills approach.

So far, so good. But what marks out the Spook School and this, its second album, is the lyrics.

Emotionally literate and politically conscious, the journey that transman Nye Todd has made in his personal life comes through in them. Songs like ‘Burn Masculinity’ and ‘Binary’ take unerring aim at gender norms and if this sounds all a bit Judith Butler, that’s nothing to worry about: there are plenty of other pieces that capture all the frissons and fizzles of adolescent excitement in glorious detail.

For all its historical glam, rock music is often a conservative medium and the bands that run counter to the trend (The Gossip, for example) stick out a mile. The Spooks currently inhabit rock’s queercore fringes, but let’s hope that the band can find bigger stages in the future: we all deserve it.

★★★★★ LG thespookschool.com

New Internationalist issue 486 magazine cover This article is from the October 2015 issue of New Internationalist.
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