Mixed media: music

From Palestinian hip hop to the spoken word wizardry of South London, Malcolm Lewis and Louise Gray review sounds from around the globe

Image result for Ben Haana Wa Maana

Ben Haana Wa Maana

by DAM (Cooking Vinyl, CD + digital)



DAM’s third studio album is reportage in pursuit of social justice, all set to fearsome beats and some slick production. Hailing from the city of Lydd, close to Tel Aviv, DAM have form in doing this well. The Palestinian hip-hoppers sprang to international prominence in 2001 with ‘Min Irhabi’ (Who’s the Terrorist?). Since then they have used their musical firepower to aim important and persistent questions. With indie musician Maysa Daw joining the brothers Tamer and Suhell Nafar and Mahmoud Jreri in 2013, these questions include women’s rights in traditional society.

Ben Haana Wa Maana (‘Between Both Worlds’) is a complex expression of the reality of Palestinian half-life in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Its remit is broad: songs like ‘Dathiruni’ (‘Cover Me’) and ‘Prozac’, in their political heft, follow in the footsteps of such vintage rap warriors as Public Enemy. The domestic front features strongly, though: ‘Emta Njawzak Yamma’ (‘When Will You Get Married?’) speaks to economic realities – no job means no marriage, no house – as much as changing patterns of relationships. Its exuberant dabke rhythms are gleefully undermined by a video that features DAM dancing in a disused old car yard, with Daw making a less-than-impressed bride.

Elsewhere, themes of surveillance evoke a body brutalized by occupation, in which the gaze is one of control. Musically, DAM favour a mixed approach: great stabs of synth, drums, woodwind and electronics, while the rapping is all in Arabic. It works brilliantly. This is dissent that one can dance to. LG

Image result for The Book of Traps and Lessons

The Book of Traps and Lessons

by Kate Tempest (American Recordings/Republic Records CD, LP + digital)

Put simply, Kate Tempest is a force of nature, a force of language and rhythm. From south London, the young spoken-word poet/performer has blazed a trail across theatrical and musical platforms since she first sprang to wider fame with Brand New Ancients, her 2013 prize-winning collection of poetry. Her live performances – in which her punching poetry is set to effective orchestrations – have established Tempest as a writer through whom an electricity flows. Her first albums, Everybody Down and Let Them Eat Chaos reeled in larger audiences; this latest, The Book of Traps and Lessons, is certain to continue this momentum.

What makes Tempest so special? There is her raw delivery – a quieter one than that of Patti Smith, the rock poet with whom Tempest is often bracketed. There’s her formidable ability with language; her urgent vitality. Combine these with the clarity of what she notices: the intimacy of Traps and Lessons concerns her girlfriend (‘Firesmoke’), the mapping of emotional ebbs and swells; the performances of racism, in everyday things. Tempest identifies dangers: self-sabotage at the domestic level; more desperate consequences at a global level. I have seen the lions turn to cubs/ I have seen the hunters turn to prey. /Our lessons will come again tomorrow/ If they’re not learned today’, she warns on ‘Lessons’. Produced by Rick ‘Beastie Boy’ Rubin and Dan Carey, who employ an admirably light touch to the backing, this is a superlative album that brings an aching, humanizing love to all that it touches. LG ★★★★★