Instead of the spare, subby electronic soundscape of Björk’s original, SPIRITWO’s version of ‘Oceania’ rides in atop a whirling bed of polyrhythmic Darbuka drums, flutes, sampled electro kicks, the jangling steel strings of Ouds and reverberating washes of quarter-tonal backing vocals.
Since SPIRITWO have changed the rhythm of the song almost completely, the resulting sound is something akin to the early output of Björk-collaborators Dirty Projectors, who incorporated middle-eastern rhythms and singing styles into western art-rock to critical acclaim.
SPIRITWO’s thrilling version of ‘Oceania’ makes a strong case for the intuitiveness of this particular fusion; especially in the hands of musicians versed in middle-eastern tradition.
Whilst Dirty Projectors took a studious approach to their fusion project, starting with rock music and meticulously incorporating eastern textures, SPIRITWO seem to start with rhythm and energy, and channel them through a rock song to create a true hybrid.
Of course, the star of the show here is Yael Claire’s voice, every bit as muscular and elastic as Björk’s, but with a foreign ululation used to striking effect in several of the well-placed rhythm breaks. Claire’s vocal performance here is full of depth and character, and she interjects her perfectly controlled tonal fluctuations with whoops, croaks and even laughter.
In the modern, polished pop landscape it is actually quite startling to hear a voice so resolutely human, especially so directly, placed as it is here at the very forefront of the mix. Claire also sings the choir of backing vocals, which swoop in and out of the song, gliding over the whirlwind of instrumentation.
‘Oceania’ is, of course, the song that Björk sang at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, and SPIRITWO’s version of the song is timed to tie in with a sporting event taking place in our back gardens this summer.
Accompanying the song is a stop-motion video shot and edited by Claire with collaborators Jon Bagge and Tal Lotan, which tells the story of her journey to Hackney from Israel. Residents will recognise a lot of the locations along Regents Canal and Kingsland Estate, which are intercut with the beaches of Tel Aviv.
Claire describes Hackney as the place where she “finally connected with other musicians from the Middle East,” including IBO, who provides live Darbuka beats and percussion arrangements, Amir Shoat, who engineered and mastered the recording, and Charlie Cawood, guitarist of SPIRITWO and Turkish folk band Opaz Ensemble, who adds Oud and Saz stringed instruments.
With the video also featuring Nazir Tanboull’s mural ‘The King’s Land’ from the Kingsland Estate, SPIRITWO’s ‘Oceania’ is a true testament to the quality that can be achieved through collaboration between musicians using DIY processes, and is a good example of the kind of innovation that can occur when people are technologically empowered to pursue their projects.
The current proliferation of home recording equipment will hopefully continue to throw up gems such as this project; a well-executed, well-produced cover that takes the song from its original context and adds depth, meaning and warmth in its translation to a new musical tradition.
For more go to Spiritwo.