Music Against War

Raz Mesinai’s Sonically Dismantling Western Imperialism

Raz Mesinai responds to the Gaza war with his latest album, Sonically Dismantling Western Imperialism.

No one will forget this. Solidarity march, London.

This record is the culmination of a remarkable burst of creativity for Mesinai, who has been releasing and re-releasing material at a furious pace over the last few years.

Since 7 October, the Brooklyn-based artist has released Passion of the Christ in Palestine, RePercussions, The Ramadan Sessions, and now Sonically Dismantling.

Although published under the name Badawi, which Mesinai has used for his work centred on sounds from the Middle East, the new album also repurposes his Ghost Producer identity in its invocation of the dub aesthetic.

Many of the tracks on Sonically Dismantling Western Imperialism foreground the no-holds-barred polyrhythmic percussion characteristic of Mesinai’s work under the Badawi name.

Under better circumstances, this aesthetic could serve as a gateway to a trance-like state where we temporarily leave our troubles behind.

But as titles like “Dancefloor Intifada”, “Shot Gun Colonialism”, and the title track indicate, Mesinai wants listeners to remain conscious of the Palestinian groove’s precarity and persistence.

This music reminds us of the cultural knowledge threatened when people are uprooted and go into exile.

When every secular institution in Gaza has been destroyed or displaced, and basic necessities are becoming impossible to find, music might not seem like a high priority.

Yet, music can preserve the spirit of a people who refuse to give up their ancestral homeland.

Sonically Dismantling Western Imperialism is worlds away from the chilled-out spaciness of the illbient subgenre Mesinai helped pioneer in the 1990s with his project Sub Dub.

Even during the comparatively mellow intro “Sumud/Perseverance”, the compelling vocals of Brooklyn’s DoNormaal remind us of the dire situation in Gaza: “I don’t have no fear/Coz I’m righteous/Every single spear/That could get near/I will fight it”.

Mesinai explains in the liner notes for RePercussions that he worked feverishly during the brief pause in the fighting last November to produce as much music as possible.

Bringing something new into the world is almost impossible when daily news reports testify to our powerlessness to impede the conflict. Thousands of miles away isn’t far enough.

Although previous records featuring Mesinai’s Badawi and Ghost Producer identities were sonically distinct, the line between those avatars here blurs almost to the point of disappearing entirely.

Yes, some of the Ghost Producer tracks on Sonically Dismantling Western Imperialism still have more of a dub flavour. But the bed remains in Palestine throughout.

Perhaps my favourite track is “Sketches of Pain”, where the use of shepherd flute and violin recalls the psychedelic jazz that emerged at the end of the 1960s.

An irregular pulsing beat and accents with avant-garde atonality provide an astringent counterpoint to those traditional instruments’ trippy sound.

“Dancefloor Intifada” weeds that vibe to layers of jagged polyrhythms that sound like the more out-there worldbeat songs by Dutch punk band The Ex.

On tracks like this one, Mesinai communicates the plight of Gazans wordlessly, through form alone.

This is intensely claustrophobic music, closing in listeners like the walls of the Death Star’s trash compactor do on Luke, Han, and Leia.

But who needs analogies when the truth is just as extreme?

Barely larger than a medium-sized American city to begin with, Gaza has been reduced to gruesomely overcrowded camps and pockets of shelter amid vast heaps of rubble.

The music can’t relax because the suffering people who inspired its creation can’t relax either.

Throughout these remarkable songs, the years Mesinai devoted to crafting soundscapes for films such as Yaron Zilberman’s Incitement, about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, make themselves felt.

While it’s possible to enjoy the music in austere headphone mode, trying to keep our minds clear of reporting from the war in Gaza is very difficult.

Tracks frequently sound like accompaniment to a rapid-fire montage, luring us into their logic through sheer force of will.

Above all else, Sonically Dismantling Western Imperialism communicates the anguish Mesinai feels witnessing the destruction of a land and culture that have meant a great deal to him.

Already focused on the conflict between Israel and Palestine long before the current war, its horrors are clearly inducing an incendiary ecstasy in his work.

That’s why Sonically Dismantling Western Imperialism will continue to impress long after the conflict is over.

The effect is similar to the one conjured by the British collective Sault during the pandemic summer of racial justice marches.

Just as their remarkable music from that time transcended the specific circumstances that inspired it, Mesinai’s new album is a towering achievement.

Photograph courtesy of Alisdare Hickson. Published under a Creative Commons license.