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‘Music can change the world’. Bono and Beethoven said it. Bob Dylan sang about it. Today, four musicians with roots in Bilad Al-Sham, collectively known as 47SOUL, are putting that theory to the test.

“I would like to think that we’re making music that gives more hope to the Arab youth,” says percussionist Tareq Abu Kwaik, who also goes by his emcee name El Far 3i. “Being from a place where there’s been constant occupation, we need to encourage our youth to reach out to the rest of the world.”

47SOUL represent freedom and unity. Their sound is rooted in Arabic Debke, the celebration dance music from the Bilad Al-Sham area, but with a modern underground edge. “We think of it as electronic dance music from the Sham area. The Sham refers to the area of land that is Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. It’s the northern part of the Arabic peninsula.”

Using analogue synthesizers, drum machines, guitar lines, and singing both in English and Arabic, 47SOUL are an amalgamation of the past and the future, and they refer to their sound as ‘Shamstep’.

“We are always asked to describe our sound, and when someone suggested Shamstep we all thought it just made sense,” Kwaik says.

“Maybe because we all knew the word ‘Sham’, and the word ‘step’ is often attached to a dance or to a genre if it’s electronic – and we use beats from Sham culture with modern electronic music.”

Their unique sound has won them thousands of fans in the Middle East and Europe, despite travel restrictions and political instability stopping them from coming together to perform and rehearse in their home region – so for the past two and a half years 47SOUL has based itself between Jordan and the UK.

“We were already established musicians on a small scale in our own right, before we formed a collective,” Kwaik says. “We all knew each other from the alternative Arabic music scene. Z the People is a Palestinian American; myself and El Jehaz are both Palestinian and Jordanian; and Walaa Sbait is Palestinian, living in Palestine.

“We never thought that we’d gain popularity so fast,” he continues. “After our first show together we knew that we should go from being a collective of musicians to forming a band.”

In 1947 the Sham borders were open and their countries were not divided. “We represent Palestinians who are separated by borders but united in music and dance – and a soul is borderless. That’s why we’re called 47SOUL,” Kwaik explains. “If it wasn’t for visa limitations we’d be travelling even more – it’s not easy to get approved.”

Recently they had their visas approved to come to Australia for the first time, and they’ll be appearing at WOMADelaide 2016. “All of us are really excited to be going to Australia for the first time. The good thing is that we’ll have a couple of days off, but there’s a lot to see. It might be overwhelming but we’re going to do our best to understand and see your country.

“We just got back from playing WOMAD in Chile. It was so good – it was amazing. There is some sort of magic that happens to the people when we play, you know? I don’t know if that’s too stuck-up to say!” Kwaik laughs.

Written by Natalie Rogers

When & Where: WOMADelaide festival, Adelaide – March 11-14