‘Live the life you have’: The rise, fall and rebirth of part-Muslim hip-hop group Outlandish
LONDON: Five years after their decision to disband so they could focus on finding the ‘right sound’, multi-platinum and gold hip-hop group Outlandish are back with a new single and album slated for release in autumn .
Having had a big impact on the international charts over the past two decades, the Denmark-based band “love to take a stand on social and political issues that exist and affect us as human beings”, and try to reflect that in their songs, Lenny Martinez told Arab News during an exclusive interview with him and bandmate Waqas Qadri.
A good example is “Paperchase”, which was released on June 24 and is the first single from the upcoming album “The Cornershop Carnival”. Martinez explained that it’s a materialistic mentality – going to work to get paid to buy the things we want – that controls many people in an “unhealthy way”, including the way they think, act and treat others, as opposed to doing something because they like it and are content with what they have.
“’Paperchase’ is about changing that mentality…and not making material things the main thing in your life, and not waking up just to make money; wake up to live life,” said Martinez, who left Cuba for Denmark when he was 14.
The video for the single, which was written and produced by the band and filmed in Pakistan, depicts the struggles of a young boy waking up to go to work to support his family. He is seen dancing while listening to music on headphones as he tries to turn the negatives of his daily life into positives.
Outlandish was formed in Denmark in 1997 by Honduran-born Martinez, Danish-born Pakistani-born Qadri and Danish-born Moroccan-born Isam Bachiri. They disbanded in 2017 and when they reformed two years later, Bachiri chose not to return and instead focus on his solo career.
They have sold over a million singles and over 300,000 albums worldwide. Their best-known hits include an English version of “Aicha”, “Guantanamo”, “Callin’ U” and “Walou” by Algerian singer Cheb Khaled.
“Our music is about our daily lifestyle and all that goes with it; our roots, our friends, where we grew up, which was a very cultural place where we have friends from all over,” said Martinez, 45, who has a 6-month-old daughter.
He added that the band, which is on a five-month summer tour that includes concerts in Denmark, Romania, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, draws musical inspiration from many sources, including the Middle East.
Particularly highlighting the single “Look Into My Eyes,” which explores the Palestinian conflict, Martinez said the band often incorporates Arabic music and sounds, and even “the social issues unfolding in the Middle East, which affect also Europe, by far.”
Outlandish is known for the multi-faith nature of its members; Martinez is Catholic while the other two founding members are Muslim. Martinez said religion connects them and their different faiths are their strength.
“In the beginning, the media was always focused on (the fact) that we were Muslims and Christians, and we didn’t really think about it – we were joking and making music,” he said.
“But of course, growing up, you know those things are important, because I think when you meet, the magic happens when you’re different. If everyone was the same, there would be no magic.
The three founding members lived in the same neighborhood when they were teenagers. They used to meet at a local youth club after school, where they started playing with music and dancing. Bachiri’s decision not to return when the band reformed three years ago has forced the others to readjust.
“If you remove one limb and there are two left, the body has to adapt,” Qadri said. “We spent a lot of time trying to get the heart of how the dynamic between me and Lenny will work and always be extravagant.”
He said the couple had reached a good place where they were “thriving” but managed to retain their “essence” and it was “a beautiful feeling” to be able to continue their legacy by creating songs and performing again. together.
“We were childhood friends, so you can never replace one person with another… but first of all, no one can take Isam’s place for what he did, and second, this n It’s not weird if we have a (new) third member,” added Qadri, a 46-year-old father of two whose kids appear in some of the group’s music videos.
Turning his attention to the upcoming new album, he said it reflected where he and Martinez were now in their lives, as adults, fathers and citizens of a changing world, while remaining deeply rooted in the “extravagant DNA” their fans know well. .
“It’s very colorful, it’s very warm, it takes elements from a lot of different cultures and blends them beautifully with the music,” Qadri said.
The band members said that when they started in the music business they were 17 years old and their main priorities were to “make their first album” and “conquer the world”. However, as they get older they say they have changed and evolved and now see things a little differently.
“We’re happy that people can still identify with our songs, and young people can, but we also know that we’re not 16 or 17 anymore,” Qadri said. “We just play our age and talk about things that are dear to us.”
The music industry has changed dramatically over the past two decades, he added, and the process of creating an album is now more “open and dynamic”, with no set format. Even after an album is released, additional tracks can easily be added, which was not the case with CDs or vinyl of yesteryear.
“‘The Cornershop Carnival’ is slated for a fall release and we’ll probably keep adding tracks to it because we have such a good stream of songs right now,” Qadri said. “And that’s a really cool thing, that you can keep adding tracks to an album for as long as you want, basically.”
He added that the group intends to be very productive and active in terms of releasing new music over the next two years.
“I think we were (originally) just a product of our times and we will be too, because we don’t follow the music, the music follows us,” Qadri said.
“We are citizens of this world and we see what is happening and how it changes, so the music just adapts to that.”