With Musique de France, the Parisian electronic music collective Acid Arab manage a rare feat in the cross-pollination of pan-global sounds and styles: they create a new form of music resulting from a coming together of disparate cultures. This is no crate-digging exploitation or bastardization of existing forms. Rather, Musique de France melds techno elements seamlessly with those of North Africa and the Middle East. And not just in the expected melodic riffs designed to instantly call to mind exotic locales. Instead, these Middle Eastern motifs form the basis of each track, building around non-Western electronic drums and grooves to create something wholly new and different.
Having formed in 2012, the members of Acid Arab—initially Parisian DJs Guido Minisky and Hervé Carvalho but since having brought on additional members—set about creating a sound based on firsthand impressions of the music of North Africa and the Middle East. By connecting with artists fluent in the musical language of these regions, they were able to set about organically incorporating the styles and modes of each into a decidedly continental melting pot of electronic sounds. In this they managed a new music that forgoes mere cultural appropriation or stylistic fusion, instead building their sound from the ground up, the electronics operating in service to the disparate styles rather than vice versa.
Finding a home on Crammed Discs—themselves no strangers to progressive world music—Acid Arab build upon an already impressive run of EPs. From the opening moments of “Buzq Blues”, with its buzzing electronics and heavily syncopated North African groove, it’s clear this will not be a standard electronic album. As if there was ever any doubt, the rhythm breaks yet again to allow a Middle Eastern string motif to carry the track through, embracing a hypnotic circularity underscored by a rippling sub-bass line. And this only brings us to the halfway point, the rhythm dropping yet again only to cede control to a bouncing bass figure augmented by percussive hits on the upbeats, exploratory synth squiggles and a driving standard four-on-the-floor beat. It’s an intriguing opening statement that only becomes more so as the album progresses.
No mere genre pastiche, “La Hafla (feat. Sofiane Saidi)” relies on a frenetic Middle Eastern melody and Saidi’s percussive, microtonal vocals. This is a full cross-cultural immersion, the result of like-minded individuals from disparate cultures coming together to create a universally harmonious sound. And while that may sound a tad idealistic, the ease with which these musicians integrate with one another, if applied to the political arena, would certainly alleviate a great deal of the world’s conflicts. But this is music bent on creating a new, non-culturally-identified sound out of existing bits and pieces, ideas and experiments.
“Le Disco (feat. Rizan Said)” begins with a fairly standard acid house groove only to explode into a frantic, coruscating keyboard solo from guest musician and native of Syria, Rizan Said. Abandoning Western melodicism entirely, Said’s traditional Syrian-style solo can sound jarring to those not used to such exotic sounds (it admittedly at times sounds like several children engaged in a toy ray-gun fight). But the ease with which his performances is fully and completely integrated into the track is a testament to Acid Arab’s ability to avoid the dreaded “world music” tag and create something that sounds both current and universal, easily heard in any number of clubs across the globe.
A-WA’s guest vocal on “Gul L’Abi” calls to mind some of M.I.A.’s less strident releases, the melodies bending and warping along with the beat. It again, through its repetitious circularity, proves rather hypnotic, the vocals spreading to the right and left before snapping back to center during an extended call-and-response passage. The slow-burn groove borrows liberally from trap music, bringing in yet another element to Acid Arab’s pan-global stew. Fans of modern dance and electronic music—even some hip-hop, for that matter—will find much to like here, many of the sounds having similarly cropped up elsewhere across a host of other releases.
Musique de France is an impressive opening statement from this relatively new group. And their bold declaration within the title takes a decidedly political tone in the wake of the recent Syrian refugee crisis and the scattered terrorist attacks perpetrated by radical Islamic jihadists. By calling out the sounds contained herein as the music of France, Acid Arab plainly state their case for cross-cultural understanding and acceptance. In a nation long known for its xenophobia, it’s a profound statement on the cultural situation as viewed by the younger generations. Musique de France is, if nothing else, a fascinating experiment in transcultural harmony.
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