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Outlandish Interview by Shook-Yaa 19.06.03

Outlandish arrive at an interesting time. Despite the fact that they have been around in Denmark for a good few years, they have finally managed to break the UK's notoriously difficult pocket-money infested market with the radio airplay of chilled summery crossover hit "Guantanamo" with its Spanish vocals and its Cuban guitar straight off the streets of Havana. It is an interesting time because of the slow ebb and flow of international and ethnic music in the charts. Bhangra has made the crossover it has been threatening for years and everyone's dad bought Buena Vista Social Club. Somewhere in the middle is Outlandish. On their latest album, "Bread & Barrels of Water" styles vary back and forth between playful Bollywood samples and Arabic strings with Spanish guitars and Cuban percussion adding a summery, chilled and multi-layered album. The vocals, although at times the rhythms stay the same, are expansive in both their political and social content and the variety of languages on show. Despite the fact that Outlandish evolved in Denmark, they rap mainly in English with rapper Lenny adding Spanish and Isam and Waqas occasionally slipping into Arabic and Urdu. The result is an album that sometimes hits hard. The song "Fatima" is a passionate take on arranged marriage and family responsibilities, whilst "Peelo"'s playful child's vocal is both innocent and hardcore all at once. The album does slip into cheesiness in places, however the strong songs more than make up for it.

Isam took some time out of their hectic promotional tour in Germany to answer some of my questions and offer practical been-there, done-that advice to young budding musicians out there.

So, Isam, what is your background?

Isam: Outlandish: Isam Bachiri (25) vocalist / rapper - Waqas Ali Qadri (27) rapper - Lenny Martinez (27) rapper. Me & Waqas were born and raised in Denmark, Lenny came up here from Cuba in '88. We met in '91 - teenagers playin' soccer, hanging out & breakin' (I couldn't do it , man). From breakdancin' we got introduced to the rappin' & writin'. We used to listen to 3rd Base, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest in the beginning - and then came the gangster shit! Ice Cube, NWA, Dre Snoop etc. We used to rehearse a lot after school + we did a demo (for a 120 quid) & we got signed we a lil' record company. 6 months later BMG called us & we got signed with a big company The manager we had back then was hustler! He owned the lil' company & he made us sign management, publishing & merchandize with him. We were kids - wut can I say? [ a little advise to y'all out there who wants to make it big in this buiz: GET A SOLICITOR and make sure it's a good one!] Anyhow, we fired his manager ass & today he delivers mail somewhere up north…Before we went into the studio for the first album, I studied 1 year in Kuwait (I study economics and Arabic at the university of Odense), Waqas got married (arranged), so we both had a strong bonding going on with cultures in that period (98-99) - that was a good platform for the music.

How would you describe your sound and how did it evolve?

OutlandishIsam: The sound of "Dirty East"! I would sit in my room listening to some beats while my mother would be listening to some 'Arabic classical stuff' in the living room - One day I opened the door & heard it blend for a second - Everything was in harmony for just that second - The rhythm, the flow, the beat, the strings and the Arabic guitar & flute, etc. - Our sound was alive! This happened back in 94-95; then we started introducing this idea for other Danish producers, but they didn't get it, cuz they never heard it before (Timbaland didn't exist back then!) Either you did East or West "How real is that"? Anyhow, we hooked up with a producer called Jesta - open minded and ready to experiment and we just took off!!!

What themes do you explore on the album and how personal is the lyrical content? 

Isam: Lyrically, we keep it very social realistic. Issues like racism, love, family, God, faith, playahatin', politics and motherlands is what we are about. The third largest political party in Denmark claims that Copenhagen is not multicultural society and the media's focus on immigrants is so negative - u can't imagine…I feel responsibility to express myself on these issues and let people know (especially the kids) that the media and them politicians are full of bullshit! The fact that we exist is 'proof' that Denmark is a multicultural society and that people with ethnic backgrounds can contribute in a positive way to the society. Themes like: teachers having problems with sisters wearing head scarfs, parents who wants to raise their kids up here the same way their parents did it down there (motherland), finding balance between 2 cultures, being God fearing in the West where most people think God is dead, arranged marriages, etc., etc.

Do you feel that what you're doing is world hiphop? 

Isam: Hip Hop is universal, so I guess "World Hip Hop" is cool with me…Yes! Like my verse in "Peelo" goes: "Some say I don't sound like Hip Hop supposed to sound, ain't got no LA, NY, Dirty South type of sound…"

How does rapping in many different languages communicate to an audience? 

Isam: Music is all about vibes! I'm vibin' to some Bollywood Asian singer even though I don't understand the language.

You've been around for ages in Denmark, how important is it for you to break the UK scene? 

Isam: It's important to break the whole European scene, cuz it's about time that somebody with an ethnical background represents that part of the European society.

What do you think of the bhangra/Asian underground scene in the UK and crossover hits like Punjabi MC?

OutlandishIsam: Massive!!! It's getting bigger every day and it's definitely here to stay! The Asian underground scene has inspired us a lot and we gon' do some collabo's in the future - Lord willin'! We did the Busta tour in Europe 1 year ago and every time we would close our show with the Punjabi "Nightrider" track - people went mad ugly!!! Respect! 

As committed Muslims, how do you feel about the current climate of media islam-aphobia? 

Isam: The more we express ourselves through music, books, films, etc. - A more tolerant & open minded attitude will be given to us from our society.

Do you think that it's now time, especially after the war, for musicians to be more conscious and speak out politically? 

Isam: No doubt! There's too much bling bling, cash, hoes & cars. I don't understand how everybody in this business cannot take a stand to what's going on in the Middle East!? Palestinians are getting killed everyday - and for some reason the whole international community is keeping it's eyes shut! Whut's the deal? Wake up!

What is your message to Bush and Blair? What is your message to the children of Afghanistan and Iraq?

Isam: Don't think the world is a Hollywood movie, cuz it's not! You get what you give!To those who are not with us anymore: God bless their souls! And to those still fightin': Keep ya head up - put God first. I pray to Allah that He will take good care of them. Inshallah…

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