There is a minor irony, for UK listeners at least, in the release date of Dubioza Kolektiv’s new album. Landing in the week in which the UK officially leaves the European Union, #fakenews is released by a band from Bosnia, a country that has aspirations to join it, and it’s an album that’s hugely international in its outlook, its music and its collaborative spirit.
Musically, Dubioza Kolektiv blend ska, Balkan rhythms and electronic music in a high energy cocktail. Sitting somewhere between the gypsy punk of Gogol Bordello, the post-soviet ska of bands like Leningrad and Haydamaky and the Balkan beats of acts like Balkan Beat Box and Shantel, they have voraciously mixed languages and musical styles over eight previous albums. They have become known for their raucous live performances since their 2011 international breakthrough album Wild Wild East, the title of which is revisited for one of #fakenews’s standout tracks.
Perusing the tracklisting of #fakenews, one is immediately struck by the prevalence of the abbreviation ‘feat.’, evidence of Dubioza Kolektiv’s enthusiasm for collaboration. It’s through all these partnerships that much of the album’s genre-hopping is realised. #fakenews opens with its highest-profile collaborator: Manu Chao brings his distinctive upbeat style to immigrant hymn Cross the Line. “Bloody bloody border,” Chao sings at the start, while at one point the song incorporates the Mexican immigrant rights slogan, “We never crossed the border, the border crossed us”.
Mexican ska band Los de Abajo feature on Hoy Marijuana: it’s sung entirely in Spanish but it doesn’t take an in-depth knowledge of the language to surmise that this reggae track is celebrating rather than condemning use of the drug. There’s another reggae collaboration in Space Song, in which Earl Sixteen lends his lilting vocals to the album’s most infectious ska groove to sing about escaping the malady of fake news.
#fakenews is often explicitly political – in all of the aforementioned tracks along with the anti-firearms ragga anthem Dumb – but its activist spirit is tempered not only by relentlessly upbeat music but also by moments of outright silliness. Minimal, for instance, is a minimal techno pastiche that is unlikely to win any awards for subtlety. However it at least deserves credit for introducing this reviewer, via yet another collaboration, to the Leninist themed French electro-punk act Soviet Suprem.
Dubioza Kolektiv are masters of hybridity and #fakenews is at its most charming when it hybridises its politics and its silliness. Take My Job Away features a daft robot vocal courtesy of purported guest star Robby Megabyte, but the song is intended as a serious critique of claims that artificial intelligence will result in mass job loss. This critique takes on greater weight when one bears in mind that throughout their discography Dubioza Kolektiv have been outspoken about xenophobia, right-wing ideologies and the refugee crisis, and that traditionally it has been immigrants who have been accused of taking people’s jobs.
French Song, meanwhile, takes advantage of AI in the form of Google Translate. The track takes as its starting point the idea that Dubioza Kolektiv want to release a song to break through in France, but are faced with the barrier of not speaking any French. With the aid of Google they come up with the nonsensical chorus, “Bonjour, merci, merde, c’est la vie, santé, s’il voux plaît, parlez-vous français”. This is of course as comically ineffective as an attack on the French charts, but it’s a smart dig at inauthentic attempts to take on new markets. Like much of #fakenews, it’s also an avowal that you don’t need to speak in any one language, or play music in any one style, to create a very appealing product.