MUSLIMGAUZE: Cultural Hybrid
For the twelve years or so that Bryn Jones, a retiring Mancunian, has steered Muslimgauze along a pro-Palestinian path, he hasn't been able to rid himself of the inevitable controversy that comes with associating himself with an active, often violent political organisation, the P.L.O.. Muslimgauze was formed in response to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. To quote the latest press notice: 'With each release being influenced by the politics and figureheads of Iran/India/Afghanistan/Libya and, of primary concern, the Palestinians and the P.L.O., there has been and continues to be a constant source of inspiration for Muslimgauze.' Jones explains Muslimgauze's position:
'Muslimgauze do not preach, there are no lyrics ramming an idea down your throat. There are pointers which the listener can follow up, or just listen to the music, it's up to them. Every piece is influenced by a political fact, but that's my end, the listener can extract what they like. It's up to the listener as to whether Muslimgauze are perceived as a politically motivated group or just taken as another CD to listen to.'
Jones advocates the direct action tactics of the P.L.O. and for this, and the imagery he employs to put his message across, he has faced much criticism. But if you look at it from the point of view of the suppressed, you might take a different line. What would you do if your home country was invaded and your countrymen slaughtered? You'd hit back of course. The so-called peace accord between Israel and the P.L.O. is not exactly peaceful.
"Palestinians are still being killed by Israel. As a Mancunian whose output is influenced by the Middle-East, all I can say is until Palestine is Zionist free, any Israeli is a legitimate target for Hamas or Islamic Jihad to strike at in their fight to free their occupied land from Zionist oppression."
"Martyrdom attacks via suicide bombers and revenge attacks will continue, it's all down to Israel. You cannot blame Palestinians for actions taken against an occupation force. You have to use force to free your land, full stop. Israel also occupy parts of Lebanon and Syria. It's obvious that Israel is still killing Palestinians You either abhor this, or support Israel. I find Israel to be a vile regime. A free Palestine would be of benefit to the world. The premise of an eye for an eye still holds."
Over the past few years Muslimgauze's recording activity has become almost legendary. 1994 alone saw 'Hamas Arc', 'Hebron Massacre', 'Betrayal', 'Emak Bakia', 'Blue Mosque', 'Zealot', 'Drugsherpa', 'Infidel' and 'Citadel' on labels Soleilmoon/Staalplaat, Extreme and Concrete. (I've probably missed a couple). Jones' prolificacy has led to further criticisms from some quarters. His concentration and obsession with the plight of Palestine could be said to influence his sound to the extent that each release has become too alike. That, and the fact that there's just so much of the stuff! Jones shows a freedom-fighter's unyielding conviction and commitment in his response.
"Prolific, well, I believe in what I'm doing. Maybe releasing 3 CDs in a 5 month period is bad for sales, so what. For anybody who has heard the CDs to say they are the same is talking without listening to them. If you play 'Blue Mosque', then 'Zul'm', play 'Iran', then 'Betrayal', play 'Hebron Massacre' and then 'Citadel'. Totally different sound content. Each Muslimgauze CD has it's own identity, sound. If you cannot see this it's not my fault. Muslimgauze have been criticised from day one. It's not changed the music, and never will."
The labels Soleilmoon and Staalplaat are seemingly quite content with Jones' fertile imagination. The steady flow shimmering percussive releases obviously reflects a successful working relationship. Muslimgauze are now signed exclusively to Soleilmoon/Staalplaat, but 1994 did see the 'Citadel' album and 'Infidel' remix EP on Extreme records.
"Staalplaat and Soleilmoon have integrity which matches Muslimgauze, so everything is excellent. The quality of Muslimgauze music is matched by the quality of their use of images and final compact discs. We seem to work very well together. There are words on paper, but I don't see any problems, I hope they don't. So far the releases have been of a very high standard in every respect, and 1995 will see things improve even more."
"Staalplaat/Soleilmoon leave Muslimgauze to create the music, and Muslimgauze leave them to attempt to sell the CDs. Hard work I should think, as Muslimgauze are totally uncommercial, thank god. The collision with Extreme also forced out some good compact discs."
It's often been mentioned that Muslimgauze's meandering rhythms would be ideal for a little remixing treatment. Today's remix culture could suit Jones' outpourings to a tee, as exemplified by Snog/Soma's David Thrussell subtle techno influences on three of the 'Infidel' mixes, whilst Concrete turned Muslimgauze onto the dance direction with 'Emak Bakia'. I suggest that aligning himself with the techno/remix fraternity might benefit the Muslimgauze project.
"I don't listen to other people's music, finding events to inspire a track and working on tracks takes up all the time. I may fall over some music on a radio etc...but I don't search out other musics. I hope Muslimgauze cannot be categorised or pigeonholed. It's out on its own. When people give their output a box in which to place it, it's a restriction. I suppose it targets an audience, so selling more, but that's secondary to me. The techno I've been subjected to does seem to have been clone better and slower in the past. It's just another form of music which Muslimgauze work outside of."
Inspired by the plight of the Palestinians and other Arab conflicts in the region, Mr. Jones uses his music to make a political statement. Unlike most politically motivated musicians who spread their message with words in the form of song lyrics, Bryn Jones gets his point across through images found on cover art work and songs or album titles. With images such as photographs taken in the aftermath of violence against innocent Arabs and titles like 'The Rape of Palestine' (1988), 'United States of Islam' (1991), 'Vote Hezbollah' (1993), and 'Occupied Territories' (1996) one can't help but wonder what the meaning is. Bryn Jones does not wish to preach to his audience, instead he hopes to inspire Muslimgauze listeners to educate themselves about the injustice he sees in the middle east.
Nevertheless, people have started taking notice of the unique Muslimgauze sound and stance. ID magazine has included an interview with Jones and reviewed his new release 'Salaam Alekum, Bastard', terming it "inflammatory ambience". So labelling it "'hip". DJ magazine namedropped
Muslimgauze, (along with Rapoon), as"'ones to watch in '9"'. People are finally cottoning on to the original perpetrators of"'left-field"' (to use the latest buzz-words), sounds, granting them the recognition they so rightfully deserve. Jones is understandably cagey about such prospects for Muslimgauze in 1995 and beyond.
"The words Muslimgauze and recognition don't sit well together. It won't happen. Muslimgauze music would not be altered if recognition came along. The contents of a CD are taken from improvisations, so the fact that a CD sells or not is irrelevant to the CDs final sound. The first idea for a piece is a political fact/event. The final outcome of a track as to whether or not it sells does not come into it. I've never seen ID or DJ magazines. The ID piece came from a conversation with a journalist, and being someone to watch in 1995, brings a smile, let's see."
By the time you read this, Bryn Jones will already have released his first two of the year: 'Salaam Alekum, Bastard' on Soleilmoon, and 'Maroon' on Staalplaat. And it won't end there; while there's still unrest, (my polite way of putting it), in Lebanon, Muslimgauze will continue to produce their rhythmic polemics. Somebody will get the message. Somebody's got to.
article by Matthew F. Riley
This article originally appeared in The Empty Quarter Issue 11 (March, 1995)