Music

Group Doueh: Treeg Salaam

Doueh's music blends Sahrawi (Saharan) songs in the Hassania language with distorted electric guitar that alternates, in true Hendrix style, between infectious riffing and exploratory soloing.


Group Doueh

Treeg Salaam

Label: Sublime Frequencies
US Release Date: 2009-10-27
UK Release Date: 2009-11-30
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The maverick Sublime Frequencies world music label describes itself as "a collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers". The collective seeks to populate a space it sees as being under-represented by "academic research, the modern recording industry, media, or corporate foundations", aligning itself with adventurous recording labels of the past such as Folkways, Topic, Ocora, Nonesuch Explorer, and Chant du Monde. The label's releases fall into four broad categories: regional radio collages, field recordings, folk and pop music compilations, and video/film documentaries.

More recently, however, Sublime Frequencies has branched out into the promotion of recordings and tours by particular artists. In 2009 they brought the Syrian dabke star Omar Souleyman and the Western Saharan Group Doueh to Europe for a set of visceral and original concerts (Souleyman is due to return to the UK in May, this time paired with Congolese legends Konono No. 1). The label has also issued vinyl and CD single-artist albums devoted to Souleyman, Group Doueh, and Groups Inerane and Bombino from Niger.

Treeg Salaam (Streets of Peace) is the second release by the group led by Salmou "Doueh" Baamar, a guitarist influenced as much by Jimi Hendrix and James Brown as the trance musics of his Western Saharan heritage. Doueh sought creative ways to mix his varied interests while growing up in Dakhla, a town in the Western Sahara that is claimed by Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, eventually forming a group that blends Sahrawi (Saharan) songs in the Hassania language with distorted electric guitar that alternates, in true Hendrix style, between infectious riffing and exploratory soloing. An international audience was introduced to Doueh's visceral music via his first release for Sublime Frequencies, Guitar Music from the Western Sahara. The album was initially released as a limited vinyl edition and, when that sold out, was reissued as a CD. Having also been given an initial vinyl pressing, Treeg Salaam was made more widely available via a CD issue in late 2009.

Like its predecessor, Treeg Salaam comes on loud and scratchy and immediate. The five tracks -- one an epic 20-minute affair--have been compiled and edited by Hisham Mayet from Doueh's personal archive of cassette recordings made between 1989 and 1996. It is perhaps not surprising, then, to find the finished products lacking in 21st century technological gloss. But rather than see this as a deficiency, the quarried nature of the sound recordings provides absolute fidelity to what makes Doueh's music so inviting. It has been claimed that the power of Group Doueh comes through despite the poor quality of the recordings, but that "despite" should really be replaced with "because" in the case of tracks such as "Ragsa Jaguar" and "Nabi El Mohamed". Nor is this one of those felicitous occasions when "despite" and "because" are interchangeable. We should not be hearing this as an "authentic" music whose authenticity is proved via its overcoming of the limitations of recording technology. We have no access to that authenticity we imagine "beyond" the shield of tape hiss. Our presumption of it relies on a longstanding imagination of otherness that seeks to project authenticity onto musicians from cultures with which we may not be familiar. Instead, what we, as listeners, have in our possession is a musical text containing all kinds of sonic textures.

One of the many pleasures of this music is the way it alternates between the mellow and the raucous, one minute pulling us into the mysterious comforts of the trance, the next attacking our sense of what constitutes the sonorously comfortable via the tinny register of the vocals or the fuzz of the guitar. The album opener, "Min Binat Omum", engages immediately with its snaking guitar line and its invitation to join in the call-and-response vocals. The lineup listed on the CD is that of the 2009 tour, with Doueh accompanied by his wife Halima Jakani on vocals and tbal (drum), his son Jamal on keyboards, and Bashiri Touballi on vocals. Whether this same lineup is in operation on all the recordings collected here is less clear, but "Min Binat Omum" is certainly characterized by the dynamics of the male and female vocals and insistent tbal.

In contrast to this well-recorded opener, "Ragsa Jaguar" tears from the speakers with the insurgent anarchy of a bootleg punk recording, all tinny guitar riffing and what sounds like a combination of tbal and drum machine. There are no vocals on this track, just exuberant whooping from the crowd that attests to how thrilling it must have been to witness Doueh's extemporization in the flesh. But, as mentioned before, this album shouldn't be listened to as a transcription, but rather a prescription, a fresh text that sets off all kinds of new imaginings for the listener who, after all, has only this sonic document of those lost Saharan nights.

Intertextuality abounds on "Beatte Harab", a weird mixture of competing vocals and time-slipping string work. But, while the track may well appeal to fans of psychedelic music (as indeed the whole album should), it is clearly a more traditional number, a reminder of the Mauritanian influence on Doueh's sound. In addition to electric guitar, Doueh regularly plays the tidinit (here, "tinidit"), a four-stringed spike lute associated with Tuareg music. "Nabi El Mohamed", meanwhile, is another scratchy, fuzzy party piece with wah-wah guitar fighting against the accumulating vocals and the sudden entry, midway through, of some chunky synthesized beats. Towards the end it's as though the guitar is trying to frantically escape the stranglehold Doueh has over it, its mesmerizing life force sizzling out into spasmodic death throes. This is guitar playing at its most possessed.

The extended piece "Tazit Kalifa" finds Touballi chanting over slowly bubbling guitar and droning keyboards. The track allows us to witness the calmer moments of Group Doueh, at least for its first seven minutes or so. Then a drum machine starts up and we seem to be occupying two sonic spaces simultaneously, that of the reflective "Tazit Kalifa", and that of a noisy neighbor. Except that, of course, it's all part of the same textual space and gradually we learn to reconcile the two worlds, helped by the gradual meshing of the guitar and keyboards with the beat. Just as we are getting used to this fascinating sonic palimpsest, the beats cut out and we are left with Touballi's vocal, the swirling keyboard, and occasional barbs of sound from Doueh's guitar runs.

To present a collection like Treeg Salaam as a sonic text is to situate it at the heart of the debate over what constitutes an ethnomusicological recording and what passes for contemporary "world music". This is one of the great benefits of the work that Sublime Frequencies is engaged in and the fact that the label has moved from solely presenting compilations--occasionally with little or no accreditation of the original recording artists--to "albums" by established performers has only served to further their intervention in this debate.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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