Acid Arab
Photo: Guillaume Durand

Acid Arab Bring Middle Eastern Textures to the Dance Floor on ‘٣ (Trois)’

Blending Algerian Raï and Gasba, Syrian Dabke, Turkish dance, and floor-shaking Chicago Acid moves, Acid Arab make music targeting hips with surgical precision.

٣ (Trois)
Acid Arab
Crammed Discs
3 February 2023

European DJs, samplers, and beat-based experimentalists looking to the Middle East for inspiration is nothing new. Perhaps it’s the region’s deep understanding of relentless, trance-inducing throb. Banca de Gaia (aka South London’s Toby Marks) began concocting breezy, windswept Arabesque tracks some 30 years ago. Likewise, Marks’ UK contemporary Bryn Jones as Muslimgauze, spit out so many noisy, distorted, beat-laced albums of highly political electronica for some 17 years – with titles such as The Rape of Palestine or Izlamaphobia – before his 1999 death that it seems he never left the house, much less slept.

But unlike those two examples, the music of the Franco-Algerian Acid Arab, now a quintet working in collaboration with many guests, feels like music made by people who come by their geographic explorations naturally. Blending Algerian Raï and Gasba, Syrian Dabke, Turkish dance, and floor-shaking Chicago Acid moves, they make music that targets hips with surgical precision. Nothing they do feels appropriated; instead, Acid Arab weave sand-blown Korg synth filigrees in ways that would make Dabke keyboard titan Razen Said proud. On ٣ (Trois), their third album (of course), the pulses quake, inviting us all to the post-pandemic party.

Trois’ opening track “Leila” drops layers on top of layers until an Algerian Gasba flute sample crawls over window-rattling bass, and guest vocalist, Paris-based Algerian Raï master Sofiane Saidi’s rapid-fire tenor explodes the groove’s center. Acid Arab’s ability to shift styles is as radical as it is organic, as they drop into the nearly-Balearic sunny disco of “Döne Döne”, featuring the voice and psychedelic saz of Turkey’s Cem Yildiz. Elsewhere Paris-based Syrian and North African singers such as Ghislane Melih, Wael Atkak, and the late, great Rachid Taha serve to remind that, no matter how marginalized French North Africans have been, they embody so much of the country’s culture. This is why the group’s core French duo of Guido Minisky and Hervé Carvalho can pull this music off so naturally.

But it’s Acid Arab’s love of the beat that allows them to maintain club currency. Coming on with the drive of Belgian-Tunisian Ammar 808’s infectiousness or Zuli’s deep Cairo-based thump, it’s no wonder a track such as “Ya Mahla’s” foreboding clutch is so enveloping. Or that the monster-funk throb of “Halim Guelil”, complete with Cheb Halim’s Auto-Tuned vocal, demands surrender to the dance floor.

Earlier 20th-century sounds demonstrate allegiances to pulse, such as the radical Oram, Algeria-based Cheikha Rimitti, Moroccan Gnawa, and Amazigh to pre-synth-based Dabke. Acid Arab and their many North African and Middle Eastern contemporaries have brought the tradition to the club.

RATING 8 / 10