Maghrebika with Bill Laswell :: Neftakhir
Some musical marriages are so exemplary that the term "destiny" seems pointless. Having well proved himself in a number of sonic modalities - most notably dub reggae and classical Indian - bass player/producer Bill Laswell was meant for North Africa. And when coming into contact with a group of talented Algerian and Moroccan upstarters, young men and women that swirl between more traditional shaabi and raï sounds to deep, dubby electronica and hip-hop, the results are, well - Maghrebika.
Inspired by the fierce work he performed on vocalist Azzddine's genre-defying Masafat, the duo that defines Maghrebika (Abdelkader Belkacem and Abdelaziz Lamari) sought Laswell's help. Being label mates with Azzddine (as well as musical counterparts) helped, and while many of the same techniques were applied, Neftakhi trumps Masafat due to its diverse stylistic ranges and rhythmic applications. Whether swinging low in a Massive Attack headnod to trip-hop or adding a slice of Rachid Taha streetfight rocking raï, every one of these 14 tracks displays amazing integrity.
And that last word is key, for their raï is not the pop result of a Cheb Khaled or Mami, and their shaabi isn't as shabby as Hakim's. Both of these folk forms were late 19th century innovations by the lower classes, much as Spain had developed Rom-influenced flamenco a century prior. That is, these forms grew from struggle and desperation, as well as enjoyment of music for music's sake, not for record sales. Abdelkader and Abdelaziz are as much informed by digital beats as the guttural inflections and intonations of their Algerian homeland (they are now based in Switzerland).
This is further backed by the inclusion of the inimitable B'Net Marrakech, a Berber female troupe I've been waiting for Laswell to collaborate since first stumbling into Chama'a years ago. What Morocco and Algeria screams for - the only thing it lacks in recording studios - is bass. The Gnawa guimbri, for one, is a homegrown bass lute never given enough prominence in the headphone mix, lost behind the frame drums and krakebs. With this collaboration between Laswell and Maghrebika, that union is complete. Much like the hinting at such a fusion with Cheb I Sabbah's exploration of Algerian and Moroccan female vocals groups (in which B'Net contributed), La Kahena, this album is a speculative gaze into the future of North African folk.
To hear handclaps amidst the frenzy of muddy computer-generated beats - there is something primal in this. When the slow crawl of "Neftakhir" is met with a searing rock guitar and B'Net's soundtrack-quality vocals, there is really no geographical pinpoint. The same for the bobbling beat and occasional six-string on "Al Insan," and the bass line on "Babour" is unmatchable, as are the duo's vocal efforts - Abdelaziz also the violin, guitar and oud master throughout. Laswell sets such a fascinating groove for 13 tracks (the 14th, a techno-ish club cut, reminded me of a forced club-ready track on Azzddine's album; it doesn't suit the temperament of the whole), one realizes this marriage is still in its honeymoon. Considering what he's able to do with the rhaita, a flute that is possibly one of the most challenging to temper in the studio given its grating, piercing qualities (the sound became famous after Brian Jones uncovered Jajouka over three decades ago), there is truly no limit to future rendezvous on the south side of the Mediterranean.
When the honeymoon ends, the true work will begin - an essential duty for both the sonic future of this region, as well as a political and social panacea for an important part of Islam rarely given voice. That is, the human and devotional side. These sorts of fusions are the balm that heals a growing divide in global culture today. As always, the medicine is prescribed not by politicians or Big Pharma, but by our artists.