Well, here I am, once again reviewing another band from Europe, a wellspring of so much great music. The latest is Sherpa, a unique indie hip-hop/rock band from Bergen, Norway. As with many international bands, Sherpa’s sound is a fusion of music influences from multiple cultures and genres: hip hop, indie rock, 70’s Persian, funk and jazz. As the band states, their infectious, high-energy music style is “a conglomeration of music from the seven mountains, hovering in a place between Gorillaz and The Roots.”
I spoke by e-mail with band frontman Babak Ziai, who was born in Tehran, Iran after the 1979 revolution. He stated that his parents were very liberal and didn’t want to live under the theocratic government, so they emigrated to Norway. Being an aspiring musician and lover of hip hop, he joined forces with Norwegian guitarist Johannes Vaage to form Sherpa in 2012. They subsequently added two musicians from the Bergen indie rock and jazz music scene – bassist Nils Henrik Sagvåg and drummer Tore Ljøkelsøy – to complete the band lineup.
Ziai explained that they wanted to create music that wasn’t bound by one specific genre, but rather fusing different genres to create an original eclectic sound that is raw and beautiful, using live musical instruments, and anchored in hip hop, indie and jazz. When I asked Ziai how they chose the name “Sherpa” he explained that “Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains [it’s known as the city of seven mountains] and sherpas go places where the average man does not go. Sherpa literally means ‘man from the East’ and has a mystical esoteric aspect to it.”
Though Sherpa has released only a handful of songs, they’re all awesome. One of their first hits was “Rabbit,” an incredibly catchy tune with funky bass and jazzy hip hop beats, plus a bit of reggae vibe thrown in. Would not have expected such a funky song to come from a Norwegian/Persian band but I love it! Wishing it was longer, I kept hitting replay. It’s the kind of song they could jam with for 15 minutes at a concert.
Their new single “The Mind,” released in May 2016, is a hyperkinetic gem of danceable hip hop that examines the chaos of the mind. “It’s an interaction, a fracture in alignment between cultures like the Pharoahs and the Mayans. A place in our thoughts like Zion. Pure like the crystals in your tears when your cryin’. Gravity is holding you down, but you’re flyin’ and definin’. Chains will bring you back like a lion. Time is changing like the state of your mind.”
The song opens with a brief funky bass guitar riff, then explodes into crushing hip hop beats, heavy bass and jazzy brass. Ziai raps at a rapid-fire pace and, halfway through, Persian music influences are introduced, creating a rich, complex sound that is quite exhilarating. The video, filmed in London’s busy Camden Market, has Ziai singing the song while walking through the crowded market, further emphasizing the song’s frenetic intensity.
Another fine new track “Mantra” features exuberant synth-pop interspersed with segments of rapid-fire rapping in the style of the virtual band Gorillaz.
Sherpa is working on new music and plans to release their debut studio album in Spring 2017, and I can’t wait! Support these guys by following on Facebook and Twitter, and listening to their music on Soundcloud.