Shabazz Palaces at The Sugar Club, Dublin, 3rd November 2017
Shabazz Palaces are made up of Ishmael Butler (formerly of ’90s cult rap icons, Digable Planets) as well as Zimbabwean-American multi-instrumentalist, Tendai Maraire. They make experimental hip-hop and are on the roster of Seattle indie imprint, Sub Pop, sharing company with the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Fleet Foxes.
They returned to Dublin on Friday – they previously supported fellow multi-genre cosmic explorer, Flying Lotus on his ‘You’re Dead!’ tour-off the back of this year’s tremendous double-act; ‘Quazarz vs The Jealous Machines’ and ‘Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star’.
Taking warm-up duties for the night meanwhile were English duo, Children of Zeus. Theirs was a fun and eclectic yet still unequivocally Mancunian set; full of criss-crossing rap and soul vocals, it was ferocious and elegant in equal measure. It was a successful outing for the pair which will surely lead to more in the future.
Whereas Digable Planets created much more transparent and easily-digestible jazz rap, Shabazz Palaces could be considered slightly more difficult to decipher. The band allows Butler to explore his own personal ruminations about the world as well as coalesce a celestial Afrocentric sound. Teaming up with Maraire, spawned a marriage of two wondrous skillsets
Donning a stylish open-chested shirt and sunglasses, Butler stood confidently over a sequencer and a laptop with his bandmate, Maraire perched behind a drum set and various handheld traditional instruments which he would deploy throughout the night. If Butler was engulfed by any stiffness upon taking the stage, it wasn’t visible. He manoeuvred his body in a way that was both affirmative and alluring while enunciating and pacing each bar making it clear and harmonious for the crowd below.
Kicking off proceedings was Forerunner Foray, enchanting the audience immediately and transcending into a strut that would last for the duration of the night.Other highlights included the magnificent Recollections of the Wraith from debut, ‘Black Up’ with its cooing chorus and emphatic refrain; “Clear some space out so we can space out”.
And Gorgeous Sleeper Cell from ‘…Jealous Machines’ which brings a more late-night element to the set with its interplanetary – like production and mischievous-sounding vocals. In fact, therein lies one of their most impressive feats; an ability to meander between several mood changes while still sustaining a sense of unity and journey. Something akin to the skills of a DJ so often lost within the chop/change of rap concerts.
The best music is often produced by duos; Run the Jewels, Mount Kimbie, The White Stripes, Bicep. Butler and Maraire have found the perfect balance between the traditional, the futuristic and the accessible, all while supplying a perfect sense of rhythm and danceworthiness.
For the less keen fan, the set could have dragged on. Nearly two hours is a long time. But with an extensive back catalogue and tunes as exciting as the ones on offer, for most, it was a delight. For everyone else, if you can dig two veterans of music fusing the celestial with the tribal while describing being dumbfounded by our society’s submersion into smartphones, check this band out right away.
Though crowd interaction was minimal, they spoke in verse, in rhythm, and a meticulous application of instrumentation. They came, they conquered. They left an indelible mark on the Sugar Club. And one can only hope to see them again soon. Shabazz Palaces produced a soulful, patient and perfectly-controlled masterclass.
Also, check out Maraire’s other project, with Congolese-American rapper, Hussain Kalonji entitled, Chimurenga Renaissance.