don't you suck my big fat Semitic cock? Why don't you at least
pretend to care about the situation in the Middle East?" challenges
Sam Shalabi of the Shalabi Effect on their third album, Osama
(Alien 8 Recordings).
offshoot of the Godspeed-You-Black-Emperor-Montreal-experimental-rock
community (which includes A Silver Mt Zion and Set Fire To Flames),
the band was noted for its psychedelic, avant-garde treatment
of Middle-eastern and Indian rhythms on their first two albums
the eponymously-titled The Shalabi Effect and The Trial
Of St. Orange.
is a marked departure. As oud player and electronics manipulator
Sam Shalabi notes: "This album was started, in earnest, as 'Protest
music' about arabophobia in a 'Post 9-11 World'. I wanted it to
be autobiographical (my given name is Osama) and somewhat clear
in its intended dissent."
clear" is the operative description here. Osama is simply a melange
of influences never heard before in the band's music. And it takes
some getting used to. The 17-minute opening track, The Wherewithall,
is a cut-and-paste operation of hard progressive rock which segues
into a Velvet-Underground-styled-spoken-word-dream dialogue about
an Arab who can play better guitar than a rich Jew. You can take
it as an obscure rant about rock 'n' roll and the meeting of cultures.
Mid-East Tour Diary (2002) where the "semitic cock" quote comes
from, Shalabi does a straight-faced account of being terrified
during a tour in that region where suicide bombs seem to follow
the band's itinerary. The hysteria increases and the tour collapses.
"So what did I learn?" Shalabi asks himself, "I learned
surprise, surprise that we have to learn to love
the Arab and the Jew
We should destroy power with our power,
with a song, with a poem, with a koan
" The monologue
takes place against a repetitive violin-led, free jazz riff and
then segues into a crunching scream of anguish that lasts another
is contrasted against Shitmobile, U.S.A. which has an absurd conversation
taking place. Here's a sample dialogue:
your problem anyway?"
the saffron. Growl lower."
to read some Shakespeare."
some home truths. Count me in
All you can do is hang on."
conversation disintegrates into an S&M session, with sounds
of whipping and moaning and crying laughter. The background music
has an Egyptian oud and electric guitar duelling with a
trumpet blowing over it.
between, there's Der El-Bahri From The Air, which has a spaced-out
Syd Barrett-styled vocal filled with sensual guitar solos while
the centrepiece is the 17-minute blow-out on Guantanamo Bay.
begins with a surprise, surprise pop song!! The
refrain is "well, I'll see you on the other side," an ironic
refrain as the title refers to the controversial US camp for suspected
terrorists, where human rights abuses have been charged. Then
it flows into a free jazz jam, gentle, melodic and discordant
all at the same time, with a soundtrack of marines marching in
what did I learn from all this, I ask myself. That the album was
released in March but I spent months in record stores all over
the world from Spain to Austria, which knew about it but didn't
stock it. That ultimately, Osama provides absurdist enjoyment,
because what's happening today is pretty absurd by any standard
HERE: To order Sam Shalabi's Osama.