2016 seems like the year the idea of multiculturalism has been questioned like never before. From the outpouring of nationalism in the wake of the refugee crisis, to the rise of Trump as a force in US politics and the Brexit result in the UK, dreams of cosmopolitan unity and progression seem more fragile than they’ve been for most of our lifetimes.
The crumbs of comfort come in the response of those willing to stand up for cultural integration and exchange. From Britons wearing safety pins in solidarity with immigrants to passionate protesters declaring their support for Black Lives Matter – 2016 may have shown the darkest side to national psyches across the globe, but it has also shown the fire with which these dark urges will be fought against.
“Arabxo Ishara” by Abu Ama isn’t a political work of art. It’s simply an album of electronic music – samples, beats and rumbling bass. Through it’s collage style production however, it somehow captures all that’s good about living in a culturally diverse community, locally and globally. Creator Abu Ama’s day job is as an English teacher for refugees, and this sense of interaction, of different walks of life crossing over in an unfamiliar environment, permeates through all the tracks.
"The nine tracks of Arabxo Ishara are lo-fi, loose and filled with a sense of playfulness in their dubby experimentation."
It fits in smoothly alongside the likes of Jay Glass Dubs, Seekersinternational and Voodoo Tapes in Bokeh Version’s catalogue, confirming beyond doubt the label’s place as one of the most consistently vital for leftfield oddities and outsider dub.
The press release for the album declares it’s “dedicated to all the refugees worldwide”, tying it into a global issue beyond our present troubles and offering it a unique universality. The first sound on ‘Efendi Remix‘, the first track, is a woman’s voice imploring “…stop teaching so much hate to your children.” From there it lurches into sweeping strings, reverb drenched beats and a weary groove.
Obvious comparisons for Abu Ama’s production would be Muslimgauze or, more recently, El. Mahdy Jr. However, although the materials used are similar: exotic vocal samples, Middle Eastern instrumentation on top of gritty dub production, the attitude and approach are markedly different.
"The album captures the euphoric discord of a shop radio playing Middle Eastern Music, a teenager blasting grime on his phone and some buskers jamming Turkish folk songs converging in a cacophony in your ear."
Muslimgauze and El Mahdy Jr. sound embittered, a person looking on with cold detachment while industrial and noise flourishes transmit frustration and rage. Even on a track with a name as confrontational as ‘Bin Laden Funeral Fiesta‘ however, Abu Ama’s music retains something light hearted, playful, friendly.
It’s the sound of a city. Different cultures from different lives crossing over. Indonesian field recordings alongside snatches of traditional Turkish song. The album captures the euphoric discord of a shop radio playing Middle Eastern Music, a teenager blasting grime on his phone and some buskers jamming Turkish folk songs converging in a cacophony in your ear. Most people will have heard a similar inadvertent mash-up sometime in their lives. Abu Ama has captured the experience and made it work.
The rough edges of ‘Tired in Istanbul‘ and ‘Back in England‘ further the effect. The tracks shuffle, stutter and shamble along, forsaking the pristine for the human. The latter has blasts of what sound like raspy English pub chatter, adding to the sense of a weird cultural collision. Even when the album launches into ‘Aramazd‘, the most rhythmic, uptempo track, the feeling is more akin to overhearing a group of friends jamming outside a window than a loner in a darkened bedroom painstakingly EQing and beat matching.
The nine tracks of Arabxo Ishara are lo-fi, loose and filled with a sense of playfulness in their dubby experimentation. By closer ‘Sleep Well in Jakarta‘, car horns have become percussion in a track made up of little else than urban field recordings and a looping rhythm track. It reinforces the album as one of shared experience and crossover – the sound and reality of different cultures living alongside one another.
Arabxo Ishara is out now, order a cassette or digital copy from Bandcamp.
1. Efendi Remix
3. B!n Ladens Funeral Fiesta
4. Tired in Istambul
5. Back in England
7. Kufi Wood Art
8. Sleep Well in Jakarta (short version)
Discover more about Bokeh Versions on Inverted Audio.