Iska Dhaaf: Seattle’s Afro-Surf Saviors

Last night, in a dark Central District basement, Iska Dhaaf whipped up such a fury that some kid catapulted himself into the band’s drumset. His convulsing body, possessed by the spirit of true shred guitar, jettisoned out of the dancing crowd and right into drummer/keyboardist Benjamin Verdoes.

Without missing a beat, Verdoes scooped up the tom drum, hi hat, and mic stand that had fallen in a percussive heap in his lap and drummed right on ahead. The kid didn’t even seem to notice, he just got back up and started thrashing.

Created from the unlikely combination of Verdoes (of Mt. St. helens Vietnam Band) and Nathan Quiroga of Mad Rad, Iska Dhaaf has quietly been spending the past eight or so months forging one of the most unique sounds coming out of Seattle right now. Tonally, the group borrow vintage African rock tones and scales, especially the lo-fi warbly guitar sounds that resurfaced with the recent re-release of Dur-Dur Band’s Somali funk-rock. It makes sense—Verdoes has spent a long while now learning the Somali language, and the cultural fascination seems to be leaking into Quiroga’s excellent guitar work. The name Iska Dhaaf itself is a Somali phrase “translated roughly to ‘let it go’” according to the band’s web site.

What’s interesting about the band is how subtly the African influence is blended with surf and punk. The guitar divebombs and oozes with reverb like Dick Dale. Verdoes lends to the sixties beach vibe as well by providing warm Farfisa keyboard bass lines with one hand. In true Def Leppard style, Verdoes uses his other single available arm for some incredible druming, skittering through punk drum rhythms. When he drops the keys for two handed drumming, the African influence seeps in again. The drumlines become almost become punk polyrhythms, played with an intensity and speed that sounds like what might happen if Zach Hill and Babtunde Olatunji morphed into one person.

The effect is a sort of rapturous Afro-surf, for lack of a better name. Dark, driving, and really really fun. Whatever you call it, last night it had everyone moshing about in a giggly frenzy. The general sentiment once the band finished with a crazy no-wave guitar crescendo was that “this is very good.” People lined up to shake the band’s hands.

Verdoes mentioned that the group is planning on releasing more material soon, and is working on a music video series themed around drone warfare, told from four different perspectives.

Color me excited.

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