Filastine's international approach to protest music makes us want to travel the world, but does it make us want to change it?
Thirteen songs into Filastine's album Burn It, we find ourselves at a demonstration, standing in the middle of a drum corps making noise out of protest. It's a sound familiar from recent years, the sound of anti-globalization rallies. Or rather, it's more like a studio recreation of the sounds of a protest (of the drum parts you hear in Christopher DeLaurenti's vivid field recording N30: Live at the WTO November 30 1999), that was then taken by a DJ and mixed a bit, looped into a weird jazzy state of limbo. What still comes across to the listener determination, born out of anger at the state of the world. In a way this track is an explicit statement of the spirit running through the whole album, similar in purpose to the Dubya-quoting interlude "This Is a Fight". It's a news clip you can dance to, a "report from the frontlines" given a beat.
Filastine himself has played in one of those drum corps; he founded a protest-touring drum ensemble called the Infernal Noise Brigade. He's also traveled the world to see the effects of globalization firsthand. That traveling is an integral part of Burn It, biographically and musically. The album was recorded in Brazil, Cuba, and Marrakesh. It includes the voices of singers and rappers from across the globe; its words come in several languages. This is global music, constructed to tap into the universal human voice while incorporating aspects of many world cultures. Filastine himself serves as a guide and curator -- he's moving from place to place, laptop in hand, and using those experiences to create a distinctly inclusive style of music.
"Get on That Bullhorn & Leave the Fucking Country", one brief interlude track is titled. Filastine himself has certainly done just that. In the music on Burn It you can hear the time he's spent in India, Brazil, in northern Africa... and who knows where all else. There's a distinctly Middle Eastern sound to parts of the album, there's definitely rhythms from South America and Africa, and it's all held together within the basic style of that universal global language: hip-hop.
Filastine takes styles, voices, and instruments from around the world and supports them with a laidback yet vigorous array of laptop beats and live percussion. Burn It is filled with the atmosphere of places around the world, and manages to stay free from generic "world music" tropes. This isn't the sound of musicians from different countries meeting in some antiseptic studio to "learn from each other." It's the sound of a vagabond, self-proclaimed "audio terrorist" traveling the world, meeting people where they live, and blending their backgrounds, their feelings, their personalities, their home environments in with his own. The result is occasionally intoxicating conversations between cultures, with beats, jittery and grounded, meeting a violin or a rhaita (a North African oboe-like instrument), and sitting right next to vocalists from Cuba and New Orleans and elsewhere.
Burn It is a humanist sort of protest album, one based in the sounds and experiences people live with. It also is a rather mellow one, too much so for an album that should get you riled up, make you want to tour the world and try to change it for the better. An overall sense of anger at the capitalist domination of the world is introduced explicitly through the lyrics, and conveyed musically through Filastine's audio world-tour approach, which argues, sometimes convincingly, for the significance of the uniqueness of all cultures. But all too often his production style overwhelms the proceedings by turning this into too laidback an affair. The tempo of most songs is slow, and the mood is spacey. Every time the tempo picks up, it soon falls back in line. It's hard to feel engaged with the world and its problems when chill-out music is taking a hold of your body, leading you down the road toward zoning out completely and dropping off into your own head. Shouldn't the music of an "audio terrorist," battling hegemony with his laptop, sound a bit more driven than this? More lively, more awake, more engaged?
Burn It is most rewarding when the level of distance which monotony creates is broken down, usually by an especially spellbinding convergence of cultures. Filastine is a convincing travel agent, but a less convincing rebel. Burn It is marked less by fire than by the gliding, floating feeling you get during a train ride nap, when you know you're moving but you're not sure where to, or why.