There aren’t many bands which can pull off being named after a fruit. Mountain Rock Reggae band TootArd wear their strawberry moniker well, not physically of course. Their second album was released on November 10th, six years after 2011’s debut Nuri Andaburi. It’s a mash up of genres well worth the wait, border-hopping across West African and Saharan grooves, then leaping to the sun spattered coasts of the Caribbean.
TootArd come from Majdal Shams, an Israeli-occupied mountain-side village in the Syrian region of Golan Heights. This area has long-been contested over by Israeli and Syrian forces due to its strategic importance, the high elevation giving Israeli forces unimpeded views to monitor Syrian movements. Southern Syria and the capital, Damascus, are clearly visible from the top of the Heights.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The event of the internet reaching Madjal Shams caused a proliferation of creativity within the town, transforming it into a hot-bed of counter-culture. Brothers Hasan and Rami Nakhleh were affected by the artistic boom. Both were raised on Classical Arab music, with Hasan studying Oriental Violin. After listening to Bob Marley, and becoming briefly obsessed with Tupac, they discovered Miles Davis, completely transforming their musical direction. Banding together with guitarist Shady Awidat, saxophonist Amr Mdah, and Yezan Abrahim on bass, TootArd was formed.
Although they live in Israeli territory, TootArd’s laissez-passer’s, travel documents issued by national governments, state their identities as ‘undefined.’ Contrary to what their documentation may say, their music is far from indistinctive. On Laissez Passer, societal issues are tackled with upbeat passion, joy being the vehicle of their message, much like how Mbaqanga carried messages of conflict in South African township Soweto. The album’s marriage of genre represents TootArd’s belief that borders should be non-existent, and universality celebrated.
On the title track, Hassan Nakhleh sings ‘No nationality, no borders, if you ask me, I’m an oud player.’ Statements such as this run throughout Laissez Passer, accompanied with a Tuareg inspired groove, or dub guitar. It makes for an interesting listen, with many unexpected time signatures and break downs. If you don’t like reggae, there’s enough of a feel of the traditional to provide cover. This is a thought-provoking record which makes you want to bob your head and shake your hips. Can’t ask for more than that.