Album Review: Dominic Valvona




Moulay Ahmed El Hassani ‘Atlas Electric’ (Hive Mind Records) 30th November 2018

Returning to the stimulating landscapes of North Africa after a brief excursion to the visceral South American horizons of Rodrigo Tavares Congo, Marc Teare’s burgeoning tactile Hive Mind label rests in the shadows of the Titanic straddling Atlas Mountains with its third release, Atlas Electric.

Paying tribune to the atavistic folk music forms of the Amazigh people (the Izlan and Ahidous) of Morocco meets modern synthesized pop fusions of the celebrated Moroccan polymath Moulay Ahmed El Hassani, Teare’s latest labour-of-love repackages a double album’s worth of material that was originally released on Hamid’s own label, Sawt el Hassani, during a decade timespan between 2004-2014.

Relatively unknown outside his homeland, the prolific doyen of modern Moroccan pop music has knocked out over fifty albums (mainly confined to cassette tape and CD) during a thirty-year career. Though crate-diggers, samplers and admirers of cult Arabian music will know the name, this lavishly illustrated and compiled collection acts as an introduction for the rest of us: A showcase if you like.

A sprawling musical odyssey that immediately evokes the romanticized escapism and exotic fantasy of the Atlas Mountain landscape it was produced in, Ahmed’s swirling paeans and lyrical social commentaries trot and canter on air like a magical camel trail through the rugged canyon and desert terrains. Like the Bedouins, this electrified pop hybrid moves lightly and freely across an expanse, weaving the traditional with a taste of modernity: The dramatic, sauntering and gliding mirages of tradition, in this setting, are countered by Casio keyboard pre-set rhythms, fizzled drum pads and warbled auto-tune. This melding of forms, a bridge between generations, gives it a twist. Though undoubtedly the technology is lagging behind a little, elongated thumbed strings and psychedelic, Tuareg-like, blues guitar are undulated by 1980s style balladry synth and programmed drums throughout.

Joining Ahmed on this adventure is the richly voiced trio of dueting Arabic and Amazigh language sirens, Karima, Hind and Khadija, who lull, trill and accentuate the heavenly and romantic gestures of these delightful sonnets: Often sounding like the Arabian equivalent of a Bollywood musical.

Electrifying the landscape with a strange beguiling fusion of R&B and pop (the sort of sound clash M.I.A. soaks up), yet staying true to tradition, Ahmed’s Moroccan musical fantasies soar and flutter above the travails and toils of the modern world; representing, even if plaintive at times, the beauty and dreamy lovelorn desires of those who live in the shadows of the Atlas Mountain. It’s a marvelous release and an education.




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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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