Sonic boom: Kefaya’s Radio International

Neil Rogall finds Kefaya’s debut album ‘Radio International a fantastic listen

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When fusion albums work they can be astonishing. The intersections, the borderlands, the clashes, the moments of meeting between cultures, genres, city and country can produce the most sublime music. But so often they fail. When the artists are just tinkering with other sounds, merely to decorate, titillate  or show off they can be excruciatingly painful and embarrassing if not racist.

Thankfully Kefaya’s debut album ‘Radio International’ hits your ears like a sonic bomb. The politics start with their name, Kefaya, the Arabic word meaning ‘enough’, a key slogan and movement on the road to the Egyptian revolution. And this London based collective led by Al MacSween and Giulano Modarelli drive home their message of anti-racism, pro-migrant and pro-refugee politics with both joy and raging anger in the ‘Interference’ spoken interludes between the driving music.

Of course none of this would matter if the music didn’t deliver. But every track is a stunner – and each one amazingly different.  Recorded with musicians from India, Italy, Palestine and Spain the album overflows with joy and resistance. They manage to combine flamenco, Raag, superb oud from the West Bank , reggae, Ethiopian horns, and southern Italian salento-dub without misfiring at any point. And their version of ‘Bella Ciao’, makes you listen anew, open mouthed to this staple of anti-fascist struggle. I really can’t separate the different elements here in the sound mix in this track – am I listening to Balkan brass, to Klezmer or to ‘hot jazz’.  Or is this just my imagining?

‘Intifada’, based on samples of an Egyptian girl leading chants in Tahrir Square combined with Palestinian oud player Ahmed Eriqat surely has the power to re-ignite the Arab Spring with its sheer drive.

Of course I heard echoes of other bands and musicians, not least Speed Caravan on Intifada. But so what? The sheer energy, political rage, and brilliant musicianship here makes this a stand out album of 2016, 2017 and many years to come.

Note to myself – go and see them live!

There is one comment

  1. Neil Rogall

    Last night I went with friends to see Kefaya as part of the Songlines Magazine Encounters Festival. Songlines had awarded the band the ‘best newcomer’ prize in their 2017 awards on the back of the Radio International album. I was nervous – how would they reproduce the album live? Would they just be another political fusion band, nothing more nor less? None of us need have worried. They were astonishingly good. The level of musicianship was superb from all the collective. I was sat in the front row watching Giulliano Modarelli play guitar -truly mesmerising and hypnotising. But he wasn’t alone in virtuosity – all the musicians were terrific. The 3 singers – Deepa Nair Rasiya, Elaha Soroor, Nikki Wells, were each perfect but each very different. And the news that the 2nd Kefaya album in the autumn will feature Hazara Afghan singer Elaha Soroor is incredibly exciting.

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