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

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