Monday, 21 May 2012

Shabazz Palaces, Glasgow, May 2012

I've never really made the effort to find out about hip hop, finding it all a bit homgeneous. However when Public Enemy were in Glasgow last year doing their "Fear of a Black Planet " tour I did go to see them as it is one of the few hip hop albums I've ever bought. They impressed me with their whole show - their political chat between songs, their live musicians and their choroegraphy.
I ended up at the Shabazz Palaces gig in the Art School in Glasgow on a Sunday night because basically I'd go to see anyone play live, but also because of Frankie Boyle and my brother in law. If you follow @FrankieBoyle on twitter you'll know that as well as being a comic-book geek, he likes his hip hop, and has instigated "hip hop Thursdays". When he was singing the praises of Shabazz Palaces, my brother in law, who does know his way around this music, recommended them to me as one of the best albums of last year. So I bought "Black Up" with its nice velour sleeve and have really enjoyed it. Really they are quite genre-defying and a lot of their sound is closer to jazz, with a lot of African beats in there too over a throbbing bass. And lo, a couple of weeks later these mysterious Seattle musicians are playing in Glasgow.

Before they were up Hector Bizerk were on, a Glaswegian MC (Louie) with Audrey on real drums. He's also picked up a guitarist along the way for playing some summer festivals, his mate tells me, and when he and Jen - the keyboard/ percussion/ small wooden frog player join them on stage they make quite an efficient band. Let It Go was a stand-out song. They've their own Scottish twist on hip hop lyrics, such as "it'll be like the Battle of Culloden" or rhyming Robert Mugabe with smell of scampi". I struggle with the West of Scotland white guys doing all the ghetto hand gestures and posturing though. See what you think.

So Shabazz Palaces walk on to a Sudanese track, and that Afro-centric background ran through the whole show (my new best pal, they're a chatty bunch these hip hop audiences, identified the track for me as his dad is Sudanese).
Shabazz Palaces at The Art School, Glasgow
They are a Seattle duo -  Ishmael Butler, who in previous incarnations has been Palaceer Lazaro, aka Butterfly of jazz-rap group Digable Planets and Tenai 'Baba' Maraire. They perform at times tightly and with choreographed dance moves reminiscent of Public Enemy, and at other times much more freely and feeling improvised, particularly in the long encore. Rhythms are not just from electronic beatboxes and a Roland Octapad, but from gourds, djembe drums and a kalimba thumb piano thing. There is a political edge to all this to. On the song "Swerve..." he chants "Black is you, black is me, black is us, black is free" whilst they both raise a black power salute which seemed timely with John Carlos, one of the athletes that did this in the 1968 Olympics, on a speaking tour in the UK just now.

They seemed to have managed to attract a few chin-stroking nosey people like me alongside some young kids with baseball caps on backwards, and played a 90 minute show. Though serious and concentrating throughout they seemed to enjoy themselves too and left after their extended encore with big, hearty smiles. Me too.

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