As Danish hip-hop trio Outlandish releases its fifth album Warrior//Worrier in the UAE, we hear from bandmates Isam Bachiri and Waqas Ali Qadri. Words: Florence Prosser.
In these days of sanitised pop and multi-genre inbreeding, originality is something often left lacking in music. But Danish hip-hop/pop trio Outlandish definitely has more claim than most to that criminally overused term, ‘unique’. The racially diverse group is a product of the multicultural western suburbs of Copenhagen, where Isam Bachiri (Danish born, Moroccan decent), Waqas Ali Qadri (Danish born, Pakistani decent), and Lenny Martinez (Honduran born, Cuban decent) came together to form Outlandish.
When the trio started making music in 1997, they were inspired by both hip-hop and Western influences such as Notorious B.I.G., and the idea of using music to express their own culture, religion and environment. Now 13 years after the release of the debut album, Outland’s Official, the band is keen to tell us its music is as relevant as when they started.
‘It’s not hard to stay relevant because we always have something new to say,’ explains 37-year-old Waqas. ‘Our music is a diary and we keep developing as human beings’.
Extremely popular not only in Denmark but all over Europe, Outlandish also has a strong fan base in Dubai. In 2011 the band performed a free concert to open the Dubai International Film Festival, where the Eastern influences in the music struck a chord with the Middle Eastern community.
‘We’ve always had support from the Arab community, especially in the Middle East and it’s not a surprise for us,’ says Waqas. ‘The influence of Arab music means a lot to us.’
Although Outlandish has a busy year planned, performing at Smukfest in Denmark alongside Kings of Leon and Prince, followed by a September tour, the band pledged to perform in Dubai again soon.
‘We’ll definitely try and come out this year,’ promises Isam, the youngest member of the group at 35. ‘With the Middle East, and the UAE, that’s always been a place we come and respect and respond to. It’s a local centre for that area. We always love to come down there and play our music, we go to the UAE, the UK, different countries in Europe, India, Australia – it’s all about getting it out there and being part of the scene there’.
The band’s fifth album Warrior//Worrier recently landed on shelves in Dubai. Like the previous works, it isn’t afraid to confront the place of religion in modern life. Both Isam and Waqas are Muslims and contemporary issues facing young Muslims in the west are often included in their music. Their 2009 hit Look Into My Eyes is based on a poem by a teenage Palestinian and expresses the plight of those suffering from America’s foreign policy.
Despite the potential clash between the genre of hip-hop and religion, Isam believes hip-hop is ‘very connected’ to Islam. ‘It’s a private matter. It’s how you express yourself, like writing in a diary. I don’t think [mixing religion and hip-hop is] not normal.’ Waqas, 37, argues the band’s take on religion is personal, not political. ‘Being musicians you express yourself as you talk about [your life],’ he says. ‘Simple stuff about coming off tour and doing our night prayers, but also the issues that matter in the world.’
While happy to sing about it, the band is quick to steer the conversation away from religion, not least because Lenny is Catholic and the band clearly don’t want to be stereotyped as a religious act. Instead they’re seeking more universal themes. Outlandish’s music is essentially about being different, which is something that many people identify with worldwide. The trio jump culture divides by rapping in more than five languages, with lyrics in English, Urdu/Punjabi, Danish, Spanish, and Arabic. Meanwhile the passion that they inject into their music contrasts with the catchy, somewhat poppy tunes that are a hybrid of hip-hop, electro and traditional Eastern music.
What makes Outlandish even more intriguing is that despite the distinctive style the band does not regard itself as at all, well, outlandish. ‘We’re pretty normal, man,’ laughs Isam, while Wasaq somewhat enigmatically disagrees; ‘All human beings are outlandish in their own way. We’ve definitely got something unique going on.’ There’s that word again.
Warrior//Worrier is available in Virgin Megastores now.