Thievery Corporation : Culture of Fear

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Sometimes music is made for money and fame, and other times a band takes the time to make music for a message. For over the last 15 years, Thievery Corporation has done the latter.

The core of the Washington D.C.-based group is the DJ duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, while the rest of their albums and live shows consist of supporting and guest artists. Culture of Fear is their sixth studio album, and the follow-up to 2008’s Radio Retaliation. This is a band that can be listened from Africa to Germany, from the New York to Australia. Their music style mixes elements of dub, acid jazz, reggae, Indian classical, Middle Eastern, and Brazilian with a lounge aesthetic. The group’s lyrics have been expressed throughout their career in a multitude of languages, including English, Spanish, French, Persian, Portuguese, Romanian and Hindi. D.C.-based, but with an international world-view, the band seeks to make people think about their own reality and to escape it through grooves, beats and lyrics. In 2008 they were nominated for a Grammy for Best Recording Package, an honor that describes the band succinctly: they are well-developed artists with a vision of their music, not to make money, but packaging beats, lyrics and grooves to send a message of political change through music.

Their band name provides the initial imagery of their music. A thieving corporation takes advantage of oppressed people unable to protect themselves from the power of a culture built on capitalism. Their progressive politics come alive in their albums, no less so in their latest endeavor.

Two songs clearly stand out on the album. The first is the title track of the album, with guest rapper Mr. Lif joining the funk infused with rock, with hip hop lyrical twists. Mr. Lif raps with the listener, using words like “we” and “us” to tell the listener he is not alone in this Culture of Fear. “Maybe we want to be afraid,” he first expresses. “Maybe its part of us, part of our culture?” But he doesn’t believe it, as shown through his sarcastic tone in the line “terrorists are about to strike, maybe tonight, right.” He then goes on a “critical analysis of those that control me” – not the person next to him or us but the thing we can’t see: the bankers that repossess our home, the media, or the fine print in a contract. But in the end, his message is clear: “Don’t succumb to this culture of fear.”

The last song also intentionally engages the listener as an active participant in the music.  In “Free,” Shana Halligan from Bitter:Sweet asks us to free our mind from the culture of which we are bound, and embrace the knowledge we have but often ignore. With a haunting melodic voice and background music that could put someone in a trance, she tells us, “Welcome to new/I’ll recruit you if you want you to come with me/Scream out on top of your lungs/‘I will be free.’” Thievery Corporation are not bound by the culture of the music industry, not bound by what an artist looks like or what can be produced in a studio; they are free to send the message of politic justice and equality through their music.

The rest of the songs are slightly angelic, ever so gentle, and at times, well, boring. But this band has never been about getting people out of their seats and starting a revolution by throwing bricks into windows; their music has been about the revolution that starts in the mind.

With the background of D.C., its no wonder this is a band that seeks to speak out against that Culture of Fear they live in every day. Despite the more melancholy songs that leave the listener a bit sad, the notes, voices and beats float off the album. They take the listener out of the chains of debt and oppression and into a world of simplicity and love, even if only in their minds.

Culture of Fear is out now on ESL Records.

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