Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Ifriqiyya Electrique ‘Laylet el Booree’
(Glitterbeat Records) 5th April 2019



Once more into the furnace of voluminous excitations and ritual, the collaborative Ifriqiyya Electrique project that merges Sufi like trance and spirit possession performance from the atavistic mystical depths of Southern Tunisia with grinding deconstructive industrial post-punk from the West, builds on the foundations of the electrifying 2017 debut, Rûwâhîne.

With a slight change in personal, but still led by the musical union’s chief instigators Gianna Greco and François R. Cambuzat, the Electrique broaden the perimeters on their latest intense chthonian frantic exploration of the religious ritual ‘Banga’, Laylet el Booree. Joining the constant scrapped and rattling tin chorus of ‘tchektchekas’ hand percussion and shared exaltation chanting vocals new recruit Fatma Chabbi throws herself into the tumult storm that at times resembles an excitable communion between NIN, Einstürzende Neubauten, Tago Mago era Can and the Tunisian spirit world.

Redefining what it means to totally immerse oneself in exotic, often arcane mystical cultures, Mediterranean punk and avant rock scene stalwarts turn field-recording filmmakers Greco and Cambuzat – when not combining forces with the enigmatic Lydia Lunch under the Putan Club moniker – confront head-on the psychogeography and music of often volatile regions and cultures – previous excursions include the hotly-contested Kurdish regions of Southern Turkey, and the Uyghur region of China; the predominantly Muslim worshiping ethnic group have made the world news in recent months, a million or so of their community interned in the Chinese authority’s detention camps as the Communist regime seeks to ‘re-educate’ and remove any outside influence, culture or religious adherence from the population –, including the legacy of the original Hausa slave people who elevated the celebrated 13th century Sufi mystic Sidi Marzug to the status of venerated saint.





To this day the black communities of Tozeus, Metlaoui and Nefta honour their ancestor, who it is said had at his disposal a retinue, or, “diwan” (“assembly”) of “rûwâhîne” (“spirits”) as allies and servants to call upon through the ritual of Banga. Not so much an “exorcism” as an “adorcism” we’re told, this lively ceremony is meant to placate and calm the spirit who posses the participating initiate. Mesmerized by the hypnotic chanting, drumming dancing performances that accompany it, Greco and Cambuzat moved from bystander documenters to participates; joining the spiritual hubbub by adding a searing, abrasive fuzz, buzz and edgy sawing taste of guitars and effects to the already esoteric experience.

Worried how this hybrid and intrusion would look to the community of the Djerid desert in which it was instigated, the duo and their Electrique company of Hausa collaborators, Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen and Youssef Ghazala performed their debut in the sacred town of Nefta, the sanctuary that holds the body of the “black saint” himself, Sidi Marzug. Though obviously nervous, the locals recognized a “shared music” when they heard it, giving their seal of approval; this baptism of fire inspiring the desired effect as the locals sang, danced, and even went into a trance. Free of hierarchy and structure the Electrique sits well within the untethered traditions of North Africa, yet this meeting of the brutal industrial sound palette and religious spectacle, though unique, also seems to have wowed and had the desired effect on Western audiences.

The second album, Laylet el Booree, which translates as the “night of the madness”, is just as electrifying, exotic and barracking. Mirroring the stamping, emotive and sometimes confusing hallowed intensity of the adorcist ritual from the Banga followers of Tozeur that this album’s title references, the troupe work themselves up into a fervor: this is after all the night when the spirits “actually” take possession of their initiate’s bodies.

Call-and-response chants and communion echo around in a vortex of rustic percussion, strange computer-generated sounds, static, sparks and two-speed rhythms throughout this equally powerful and heavily atmospheric album. Tracks such as the creepy piano prodded, galley-slave rowed Gothic ‘he eh lalla’ sound like Trent Reznor leading The Bad Seeds across an ominous sandy terrain, whilst the next evocation, ‘beesmellah beedeet’, goes ‘baggy’, and ‘moola nefta’ merges dub with snake-charmer Arabian saz mysticism.

Still locked-in to the trance-like venerations of spirit channeling, the Electrique integrate different rhythmic changes and timings; seeming to experiment even more this time around; pushing the envelope further without losing that original tumultuous barrage of bombarding drums/percussion and edgy growling grinding industrial guitar sounds. If anything they’ve unleashed the spirits to roam the amorphous sphere of exploration to draw on even more diverse musical inspirations, creating a highly unique invigorating sensory experience in the process. Industrial post-punk ritual leaves the furnace once more to cause an explosive cacophony.


Images: Renaud de Foville


Review: Dominic Valvona




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ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona




Ifriqiyya Electrique  ‘Rûwâhîne’
Glitterbeat Records,  26th May 2017

I’m going to stick to my initial reaction, I first exclaimed on hearing the first two tracks from this extraordinary sound clash, Rûwâhîne, and once more reiterate that it sounds like the Funboy Three meets Einstürzende Neubauten in the southern desert regions of Tunisia. But for the purposes of a more insightful review I will expand on that one liner.

Capturing something quite unique, the collaborative industrial post-punk and avant-garde rock scenes of Europe clash head-on with the descendants of the Hausa slaves atavistic rituals styled group, Ifriqiyya Electrique, create an often unworldly chthonian conjuncture of Sufi trance, spirit possession performance and technology.

A film project and now immersive sonic experience, inspired by the important Banga music traditions and the accommodating, rather than exorcising, of spirits ceremonial wild dances and call and response chanted exaltations of the black communities – originally transported to the region from sub-Saharan Africa – in the oasis towns of southern Tunisia, this astounding meeting of cultures and history is anything but scenic. And don’t for one-minute use that, rightly maligned (insulting you could say), catchall term “world music”. This is far beyond ideal, misjudged categorization. After all, to paraphrase the words of Grammy-award winning music producer Ian Brennan, “all music is world music”.





Formed in the Djerid Desert, the idea forged by field-recordist and veteran guitarist of the politically-charged Mediterranean punk and “avant-rock” scenes, François Cambuzat, and bassist Gianna Greco – both of which occasionally join forces with that livewire icon of the N.Y. underground, Lydia Lunch, to form the Putan Club -, the Ifriqiyya Electrique spans both continents and time. The band name itself is a reference to the Medieval “entity” that contained present-day Tunisia and parts of Algeria and Libya; much along the African province boundaries inherited from the Roman Empire. On their part, Cambuzat and Greco provide the grind, industrial soundscape texturing, sonorous drones and flayed guitars, but mostly, the “electrique”. Offering a dialogue with the spirits and the tradition, Banga musician Ali Chouchen – joined in the live theatre by an expanded cast of fellow voices, krabebs and Tunisian tabla players from the community, which includes Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen and Youssef Ghazala – provides peripheral sounding evocative echoed and esoteric vocals and equally haunting nagharat.

From the very start of this album we’re immersed in the strange cavernous atmosphere of the Banga’s Sidi Marzûq ritual, with summoned forth voices and drums emerging from oscillating winds on laa la ila allah; followed up with the first of many triple cycle entitled tracks qaadrii-salaam alaik-massarh, which travails a dusky, dusty landscape of industrial-strength clanging and anvil hammering and wild guitar lines that fluctuate between reggae, noise, dance music and Faust – incidentally, Cologne rivals, Can are mentioned in the press release as an influence, and you can hear echoes of their E.F.S. experiments on the track mawwel.

We find ourselves taking on the role of voyeur, interloper even, on the less intense and more stripped field recordings that dot this album. Personal, intimate conversations and channeling sound like they were caught on the wind or by passing by the humble abodes of those in communion. When the intensity returns, these voices get lost in the rhythmic cycles and turmoil and sound even more ancient, even ghostly and otherworldly: the “electrique” throwing the trance like union between the old and present into a spiraling chaos.

Spiritual conversations transformed and realigned with the machine age turmoil of industrial noise, Arthur Baker style rock and hip-hop production, post-punk and even Teutonic techno, Rûwâhîne is a rambunctious unique force.

Alongside the recent Bargou 08 release from the same label, Glitterbeat Records, both albums shed light on the often overlooked, if not unknown, music of Tunisia; focusing on an understanding and dynamic showcase for a country that often attracts attention for all the wrong reasons.





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