Up-and-coming trio FC Apatride Utd challenges what you know about the typical reggae act. They are Serbian; they are Marxist; they are Muslim. And they love soccer. But first and foremost, they are a damn good reggae band.
Their second release on Makasound's Makafresh offshoot is a bit longer than their EP-leaning debut "album", although it still contains only 9 songs (plus an intro and outro). However, I've always held that I'd prefer to hear an album with 8 great tracks than one with 8 great tracks and 6 fillers. That said, Them is killer from start to finish, so let your "fast-forwarding finger" relax for an hour or so. They favor a classic roots reggae sound with a melancholy tone not unlike Bambu Station, accessibly melodic tunes akin to Steel Pulse or Black Slate, and a slight Euro-rock bent a la Eddy Grant. Close your eyes and you may even think that lead singer Abdelraheem Keirawi, with his resonant, throaty vocals, is indeed Grant. As powerful as the music and singing are, though, it's FC Apatride's lyrics that set them apart from, well, every other reggae act around. Reggae has long been a vehicle for protest, and as in today's political climate, they arguably have as much to protest as anyone. Their songs are strewn with tales of war, political chicanery, and religious intolerance. "Serbia '99" condemns the NATO bombings in their homeland at the turn of the century with the hauntingly simple refrain, "Dem a bomb Serbia, dem a bomb Serbia, dem a bomb Serbia." Certainly, they won't win many fans amongst military types with "What an Occupation," which questions the motives of soldiers of the UN and the US:
What an occupation
To throw your bombs on an innocent nation.
What an occupation
To be a soldier of United Nations.
And supporters of Israel may not care much for "Tricks," which relates a pro-Palestine viewpoint rarely heard in the United States media:
I see how Israel burning down Palestine;
Sixty years, no one bothers to stop them.
If you raise your voice, you committing a crime;
Anti-Semitical label on your head.
But it's such uncompromising messages that have been at the heart of roots reggae since the early '70s. It has served as protest music not only in Jamaica but the world over, and FC Apatride presents a fresh and intriguing take on that tradition. That the group's tales of socio-political and religious tribulations are so somber makes their celebration of soccer all the more surreal a juxtaposition. They actually approach the topic of sports on "Sunday" with the same intensity as their political stances, making you wonder if there's some allegorical content in lyrics like:
Calling a devil here and far,
Say, if you think you're mighty,
Why don't you come out and fight me?
And if you think you're strong,
Why don't you prove me wrong?
And if you think you're rich,
Why don't you come out to the pitch now
Down by the river where we play
On any given Sunday?
Whether or not you agree with the lyrical content, Them is a potent package guaranteed to draw a reaction. The music, vocals, and production hit on all cylinders, making for one of the most powerful, involving albums you'll hear all year long.
A new band on the reggae scene, something I waited to happen for a long time. Why? 'Cause somehow the rest of the reggae bands are stuck in dark hole, frozen since '81, poorly equipped to deal with modern issues, lacking the educational moment and intellectual edge to recruit the "well read" and "willing to follow" European left. That's where FC Apatride Utd. comes in. The first tones you hear, no matter which song you choose, tell you that it's somehow different and special. Dry and heavy riffs give it a tone of seriousness and a lack of complicity gives you the chance to concentrate on lyrics that will blow you away at the first hearing. What stands behind is the unity of the band which makes it clear that they came to fight as a team, face to face with the enemies, which according to the lyrics are obviously many. The reality tells you different, but that youth spirit that still lives in each and every one of us wants to believe. And they can make you believe, at least for 37 minutes 'til the album ends. It starts with "Rockers," which clearly defines the band, its aims and goals. "No Dreadlocks" keeps you concentrated, enlarging the hunger. "Sad Song" is perhaps musically the weakest tune on the album speaks of everyday reality the youth have to go through all over the world. "Calling Africa" is the one that mesmerizes and puts the spell on the listener to play it over and over. "Soldiers of Hamas" keeps the fire burning. A dub tune, with quite daring lyrics with some excellent vocals. "Fallujah" gives you no rest and commits another poetic attack on your ears along with some heavy bass lines making your kidneys work again. In the end there's "A Nursery Home Roots" carefully chosen to close the album and leave the impression of a whole. I must add that every beat on the album was played; no samples were used which is quite rare today and may I say courageous. I would recommend the album to all the serious roots fans. We will keep a close watch on all the developments since the second album is in the process of recording and might bring a part 2 of the almost perfect story.
1. FC Apatride UTD - Rockers (1:44)
2. FC Apatride UTD - Them (0:46)
3. FC Apatride UTD - No dreadlocks (4:41)
4. FC Apatride UTD - Tricks (4:09)
5. FC Apatride UTD - Sad song (4:39)
6. FC Apatride UTD - What An Occupation (6:23)
7. F.C. Apatride Utd - calling africa (5:47)
8. FC Apatride UTD - Jah Is Dead (7:12)
9. FC Apatride UTD - Soldiers of hammas (5:54)
10. FC Apatride UTD - Serbia '99 (4:14)
11. FC Apatride UTD - Fallujah (6:42)
12. FC Apatride UTD - Rebel Soul (6:13)
13. FC Apatride UTD - Wife strong (4:03)
14. FC Apatride UTD - A nursery home roots (4:40)
15. FC Apatride UTD - Heaven (5:09)
16. FC Apatride UTD - Sunday (4:32)
17. FC Apatride UTD - H.R. (4:11)
18. FC Apatride UTD - Tell Them (1:13)
19. FC Apatride Utd - Rural (6:59)
20. FC Apatride Utd - Lovin (6:54)