REZ'ARTS Prod (label)
06 November 2020 (released)
29 March 2021
Race is a focal point in daily life. That's why powerful albums that grapple with the issue are always revered as magically timely. They seem to drop right as there's another racially motivated killing or hate crime or injustice. The fact is that the incidents are happening every day and these records find their way to fit the new crime of the moment. Hopefully, at some point in the future, we will be able to consider their works as markers of a bygone era but unfortunately, there seems to be little evidence of change on the horizon. In the meantime, the important work of artists is to take these travesties and express them forcefully in their art, particularly when the inspiration comes from personal experience.
Although revolutionary artist Farees is based in Italy, he got his start in Africa, making his name in the Saharan scene. His sound began by fusing Northern African sounds with classic Mississippi blues. From there his music open doors to the western world but would also lead to terrible ordeals in encountering the pervasive bigotry in North America and Europe. Farees is of mixed ethnicity with his mother being of Tuareg (Black and Berber) ancestry, and his father being of Italian and German heritage. His race led to him being arrested and detained on his first North American tour due to racial profiling. He later was denied entry to the US and they subsequently interrogated him about his religious beliefs, his racial identity, and treated him like a potential terrorist. A similar detention in Italy lasted three days. Farees has also been met with racist vitriol online. All this compels a man to fight back, as Farees has done through his music.
Border Patrol is starkly honest. It's the perspective of a man denouncing his senseless dehumanization in the face of state authorities and putting a mirror to the prejudice that infects the lifeblood of society. Farees is a man of many talents. His vocals are a pastiche of singing and beat poetry spoken word, shifting modes whenever the piece demands. He handles all of the instrumental duties save for some percussion and ngoni lute (Sidiki Camera) and a guest spot by Calexico backing him up on 'Y'all Don't Know What's Goin' On'. His playing truly invokes Hendrix, harnessing a mighty fuzz like a firehose, yet it is mixed into the background as texture to let the message take precedence over all else. Border Patrol has the ethos of a Saul Williams record with Hendrix guitars, African folk rhythms, Deep South blues, and the revolutionary spirit of Gil Scott-Heron. A powerful double album from an artist pushed to the edge.
Farees pulls no punches, opening the record with 'Sand Ni##er!'. “Every once in a while someone's getting shot in the back for no reason, for no reason” he proclaims over delta blues guitar. In Robert Johnson fashion, he matches his bleak lyrics to the slinky slide of his guitar lick. His delivery is deadpan and matter-of-fact. A whirlwind of nimble acoustic picking rings like a sword fight. 'I'm Privileged' sardonically barbs at the transgressions of authorities with Farees dropping down to a poetic, spoken-word delivery. His tale of detentions and being ostracized because of his race is backed by a manic flailing of wah-guitar, echoing the stunted frustrations of this encumbrance and torture that waits to strike at any time.
'Y'all Don't Know What's Going On' finds common ground with collaborators Calexico who are also acutely familiar with racial injustices and profiling. They hail from Tuscon where the border issue has long been a quagmire and a source of great tension and has only become more inflamed during the Trump era. Farees takes on a syncopated chilled-out African vibe which is flanked by Calexico's signature border-straddling trumpets and revival percussion. The artist empathizes with innocent people just trying to flee a dangerous situation with an escape to the States as their only hope. Huddled mantra chanting is accented by Spanish exaltations. Farees winds down into solo spoken word to finish things out in a tone reminiscent of Radiohead's 'Fitter Happier' roboticism.
Despite the confrontational subject matter, there's a great peace to this record. Farees sings about these subjects with a cool acceptance knowing that you can't beat them at their own game of hate and anger, you have to flip the script on them. 'The Changing of the Guard' is a tranquil piece that hangs on a lone shekere and beautiful lute work thanks to Sidiki Camera. The sparsity is hypnotic. Farees sees the big picture of the coming and going of dynasties like a soldier out of time. A gorgeous meditation.
The title track is a slow-burn builder. The twanging folk acoustic is juxtaposed with frenetic Burning of the Midnight Lamp electric chaos. The second LP continues to delve into more transcendental space. 'I'm a Demon's exploration of dreams is scored by a plucky banjo and has a campfire at the end of the world vibe. 'Empire Man (Slight Return)' revisits the atrocities of colonialism. A storm brews overhead as he fingerpicks an intricate guitar line. Farees questions: “Who's the terrorist now?" is it a man who happens to have different coloured skin or the regimes that have slaughtered millions to claim their territory? The double album ends with a gorgeously serene guitar piece 'Pegu', boundless and free form with his bends hitting a sitar-like nirvana.
Border Patrol is a striking, affecting, and expertly crafted record. The stark, ugly nature of the themes is contrasted by the beauty and skill of his playing. All wrapped together by Farees' cool, collected nature.