From Urban Sedated records, whose reggae releases commendably respect both the rights of the artist and the integrity of the music (see ‘news’ on this site, December 23, 2008), comes this new album from FC Apatride, seemingly the only stateless Marxist Muslim football club in the world.

Recorded in central Serbia, it reflects the interior atmosphere as well as the recent history of a troubled country: constrained, dark, but also hopeful. The storms of the mountains where it was recorded are reflected in the opening and closing instrumental tracks, featuring acoustic and slide guitar. The tracks in between are pure reggae: guitar, bass, vocals and drums. There are no studio embellishments. The arrangements are sparse and the mood is sombre, with the deep vocals from Abdelraheem Kheirawi prominent in the mix. The bass is powerful and the tempo is slow, sometimes very slow (as in Selling Illusion) where the rhythm almost stops and we can hear the silence in between.

The songs themselves are political, critical and religious, stories of oppression informed here by the spiritual lens of Islam rather than Rastafari. In between the tracks are snatches of spoken words from politicians on themes of liberation, slavery, imperialism and redemption. The songs variously reference racism in the Netherlands, monarchism, US foreign policy, Obama, and the Venezeulan revolution under Chavez. This can begin to sound fairly preachy in its references to decadence and morality (as in African Woman and European Youth) and this is almost certainly the first time that ‘commodity fetishism’ has featured in the lyrics of a reggae song or indeed any song. Dancehall it ain’t.

The songs and vocals are powerful, skanking guitar from Vladan Jonovic atop strong bass lines from Dragan Stanic. There is guest guitar from ‘Jimi Triple B’. Drums (Senad Isic) are minimalist, and all the more effective for that. When this comes together, along with vocal harmonies, as on Kings and Queens, it is classic reggae music. The single, Nah With ‘Em, illustrates the mood of the album.

This album is the antithesis of ‘don’t worry be happy’: if you want dance riddims and lightweight lyrics, this is not for you. If you want some serious reggae that is musically together, and also makes you think, this is worth hearing.

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