Album Review: Dominic Valvona



Houssam Gania ‘Mosawi Swiri’
(Hive Mind Records) 22nd February 2019


Already established as both an accomplished student and innovator of the traditional Islamic dance, music and poetry exaltation ‘Gnawa’ and the three-stringed lute-like instrument that goes hand-in-hand with it, the ‘Guimbri’, the twenty-three year old Houssam Gania has fused his Moroccan roots with artists as diverse as James Holden, and on this latest album, a troupe of lively young musicians from the country’s fishing port town of Essaouira.

A chip-off-the-old-block, Houssam follows in the footsteps of his legendary father Maalem Mahmoud Gania. A stalwart master of Gnawa, famous the world over, a repackaged special reissue of Maalem’s sublime venerable Colours Of The Night performances kick-started the Hive Mind label in 2017 – a label I might add, with a considered taste in some of the more understated, lesser known recordings of world-class artisans. This youngest scion of the virtuoso Maalem has obviously inherited all the right attributes, performing as he does, a remarkable adroit soulful ritual of off-kilter spring trances both earthy and transcendental on this new collection.

Aping the North African street market store trade of cassette tapes – artwork wise too; influenced by the packaging of Maalam’s legendary Tichkaphone tape – Houssam’s inaugural recording for the Brighton-based imprint will be limited to only a 100 copies on cassette, though there will, as usual, be a digital version. Though only on its, official, fourth release Hive Mind makes a concession for Houssam’s Mosawi Swiri LP; the label’s original intention being to release everything on vinyl, which on previous releases they have.

Made up of six tracks, Mosawi Swiri takes its inspiration from the ceremonial Musawiyin Suite, the blue-section (we’re informed) of the trance ritual during which the participating musicians invoke Sidi Musa, the master of the sea and sky spirits. As I’ve already mentioned, connecting to the ‘sea’ part of that evocation, Houssam works with a number of aspiring – and as it proves rhythmically locked-in and elliptically elastic – musicians from the coastal Essaouira town and region of Morocco. Fusing together two different disciplines the opening ‘Moulay Lhacham’ track combines an overlapping groove of desert blues, effortless cool polyrhythmic Mali struts, offbeat drum splashes, melodic heavenly synth and deft ‘guimbri’. Cross patterns seem to connect to produce interesting nodes and riffs in a shuffling jam of masterful pan-African musicianship. It stands out as the album’s most electric and eclectic number, the rest of the ‘suite’ settling in for a trance-y meditation and prayer.

Accompanied by his brother Hamza Gania, Mohammed Benzaid, Khalid Charbadou and Amine Bassi the rest of the album springs and canters through a rattling stringy-rhythm of constantly itching lute and a scuttling, scraping tin-like percussion. Following a similar pattern throughout it is the timings and lead and chorus of excitable, soaring and in reverence vocals that offer variation to the untrained ear.

The second album of Moroccan holy music I’ve reviewed this month (look at for the electric-Sufi Moroccan treatment, Jedba, by Abdesselam Damoussi and Nour Eddine, in my upcoming roundup this month), it seems the spotlight is honing in more and more on North East African region – the emphasis in recent years thrust upon the funkier, psychedelic desert rock and Afrobeat of the Central and West African belts. Subtler in impact, the Islamic divine trance of artists such as Houssam Gania is no less dynamic and encapsulating. Mosawi Swiri is another sagacious ‘choice’ release from Hive Mind; an introduction to new voices and sounds, usually lost in the noise of the Internet hubbub.





Words: Dominic Valvona

REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA

Maalem Mahmoud Gani   ‘Colours Of The Night’
Hive Mind Records,  September 8th 2017

Adding its name to an already crowded but all the same welcome market of world music reissues and contemporary undiscovered obscurities, Brighton based label Hive Mind Records announces its intentions and presence with an album of Gnawa trance recordings from the late great Maalem Mahmoud Gania.

The near-exulted star of the Moroccan honed Gnawa – a style of traditional Islamic dance, music and poetry with roots spread across the sub-Saharan crescent of Africa; considered by many to be one of the origins of the “blues” rhythm – and artisan of the genre’s key instrument, the camel-skin covered three-string lute like “guimbri”, released an extensive catalogue of recordings for labels such as Tichkaphone, La Voix El Maaraf and Sonya Disques.

Colours Of The Night however, the final studio recording by Gania, will be the first solo release by the artist outside his native homeland to be released on vinyl: six performances spread over four sides of vinyl to be exact.

For the uninitiated, Gnawa is a highly hypnotic experience based around the repetition of a musical phrase, a few succinct lines of poetic devotion or a communion with the spiritual for a duration that can last hours. Performances tend to bleed into each other, and so what can seem like one uninterrupted piece of music are, often, three or four different songs strung together. Building up an entrancing rhythm of spindly plucked vibrating guimbri and metallic scratchy percussion (courtesy of the iron castanets, the “krakebs”), call and response vocals in paean and lament break the instrumental monotony. Though there’s room for nuanced fleches and riffs to add variety, intonation and intensity. These are all the key components then; of a style that evokes both the sound of Arabia and desert blues traditions.

Equally influencing others whilst, it seems, also embracing and exploring sounds from further afield himself, during his illustrious career Gania worked with artists as diverse as Pharaoh Sanders, Bill Laswell and Carlos Santana. Enriching his own recordings perhaps, the suffused mirage-like synthesizer that hovers over the horizon on this album’s Sidi Sma Ya Boulandi track shows a late penchant for electronic keyboards and ambient waves of atmospheric soundscaping: though this is the only time the instrument is used on these specific recordings.

Stringy, wiry, occasionally a tone or two lower and played like a quasi-bass guitar, Gania’s playing style is raw, deep and always infectious: from blistering solos to slower and lighter ruminating descriptive articulations; this is equally matched by his atavistic soulful voice and the chorus of swooning, venerated female and male voices and harmonies that join him on each track.

As an introduction, Colours Of The Night would be better experienced in sections – a side at a time perhaps. After a while it can all sound a little tiring. Gania advocates will however find this a worthy addition to the legacy.

Hive Mind start as they mean to go on, with the full sanctioning of the Gania family and artists who appear on this album, releasing a most brilliant set of recordings that could so easily have disappeared off the radar. As inaugural releases go, this one is definitely a winner.

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