Album Review/Dominic Valvona
Photo Credit/Benjamin Astier

Bab L’ Bluz ‘Nayda!’
(Real World Records) Digital: 5th June 2020/Physical: 24th July 2020

Injecting a “nayda” of generational energy into an electric rustle, rattle and dreamy assortment of Moroccan and North West African traditions, the French “power” quartet rev-up ancestral sounds on their debut album for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. A reclamation in fact, the transmogrified blues act have a fresh take on the Islamic dance, music and poetry exaltations of their homeland’s famous “Gnawa”, the ululation trills and storytelling of the Mauritania “Griot” tradition, and the popular folk music of Chabbi as they blend Arabian-Africa with a contemporary view of political upheaval and drama.

The exclaimed album title takes its name and seed from the youth movement that rose up in part from the concatenate protests that followed the initial Arab Spring. Less violent, Moroccans peacefully demonstrated against the Islamic Kingdom’s stasis; asking for certain concessions and freedoms. Elections as a result of the mounting discontent only maintained the country’s regal authority, King Mohammed VI. True, certain reforms have been tabled, some of which met with anger by more conservative and fundamentalist parties. And the country’s political status is a hybrid of constitutional parliamentary and monarchy. Fast forward to last year, and an uneasy younger generation are immigrating at an alarming rate. Regime change that same year saw upheavals in neighboring Algeria and also Sudan.

Coming to grips with that turmoil, the country’s “nayda” generation has found freedom creatively, amping up that heritage and the roots of blues whilst emphasizing the contemporary political situation. It’s a fresh vision, especially when you factor in the band’s electrified “guembri” player and leading siren, Yousra Mansour. Traditionally the preserve of men, the three-stringed lute like guembri, an instrument that goes hand-in-hand with Gnawa music, is given a new lease of life by Yousra: a new angle and energy; a thoroughly modern vision of inclusivity in a thoroughly conservative culture.

For the most part using the common Arabic spoken dialect of “darija”, both protestations and romantic allusions are given an exotic lyricism and swirling poetic cadence. Opening this inaugural pitch, a battle cry and set-up for the band’s take on the ‘Gnawa Beat’. “Welcome to the truth that can be told” is the mantra on this opening account that features languid desert swoons and the clutter-clatter of the iron “karhab” castanets chattering away over a riding rhythm that leads us all the way to the Medina gateway.

It’s said that crashing waves from the fishing port of Essaouira – a town proficient in Gnawa – can be heard lapping as a percussive sample on the album’s next song, ‘Illa Mata’. Buoyant throughout, this dreamy dusky affair bobs and shimmers along in a mesmeric fashion. Bedouin song meets the blues in a drifting fusion.

In praise of the moon and “her restorative powers”, ‘El Gamra’ both rocks and lulls that “chabbi” atavistic folk sound. It reminds me in some ways of Bargou 08. Spindlier, echoing hints of the late gnawa doyen Maalem Mahmoud Gania, the next track, ‘Glibi’, is based on a love letter written in the style of Moorish women’s ‘Tebra’ poetry; traditionally sung in the Western Sahara and parts of Southern Morocco. Floating and once more dreamily romantic, the band plays this one loosely and joyfully. Two more paeans follow in that song’s swooned wake; the first, ‘Oudelali’, transcribes a true love ode to a silky-veiled desert song of warm backbeats and spiraled longing, the second, ‘Waydelel’, is a cover version of the revered Mauritanian siren Dimi Mint Abba and her husband Khalifa Ould Eide’s spiritual yearn to Mohammed. The latter features the first of he album’s guest spots, with Amazigh Berber folk enthusiast Aziz Ozouss sitting in on the “ribab”.

Angry but delivered with a fluty and electrified sass, ‘Africa Manayo’ pays tribute to the African continent and potential whilst also condemning the actions of the despots. A second tribute, ‘Yamma’, which goes hand-in-hand with the previous song, is paid to the “patience and fortitude” of mothers: a theme that seems to be a staple of most releases I’ve reviewed from the continent.

Vocalist and gnawa music star Mehdi Nassoul weighs in on the scrappy percussive, gauzy ‘El Watane’. His earthy soulful voice lingers in unison with the cradling harmonies on this dreamy swim. The band name titled and musical signature, ‘Bab L’ Bluz’, appears right at the very end of this both relaxed and electric fuzz panorama. “Bab” means “gate”; a literal reference to the group’s raison d’etre of opening up a musical, cultural gate(way), The guembri and electric guitar are wild and scuzzed on this dirtmusic blues offering that blends a vast geography of influences, depths and ideas together. Essentially it buzzes and rocks, and offers something refreshing, revitalized: as does the rest of this vigorous, mesmerizing and alluring Arabian sweep.

The changing face of Moroccan music, Bab L’ Bluz offer a voice to those previously left marginalized and left out. Initially guimbra adept Yousra was met with resistance for daring to pick the instrument up, an instrument so strongly bonded with the Islamic tradition; an instrument usually passed down the generation, from father to son. Well that’s certainly changing. Reclaiming the heritage but looking forward, the group injects the godly music and romance of Arabian-Africa with a new energy and dynamism. A 21st century blues excursion of dreamy and political vigor.

Related posts from the Archives:

Houssam Gania ‘Mosawi Swiri’  Review

Maalem Mahmoud Gani   ‘Colours Of The Night’  Review

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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