Music

Group Doueh: Group Doueh

The songs on Group Doueh were recorded by the group itself, “at home", say the liner notes, “on modest cassette recording equipment". But you don’t need to read the packaging to know that.


Group Doueh

Guitar Music from the Western Sahara

Label: Sublime Frequencies
US Release Date: 2008-05-13
UK Release Date: 2008-04-28
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Doueh, the guitarist and leader of Group Doueh, is Sahrawi, of the Western Sahara. The Sahrawi were displaced in the 1970s when Spain followed the death of Franco by throwing off its colonial holdings in North Africa. Different forces clashed over the newly unheld land and many of the Sahrawi ended up in refugee camps. Nubenegra's Saharauis series, the most concentrated attempt by a European label to bring their music to the attention of the wider world, was recorded in these camps.

The members of Group Doueh live in Mauritania. So in a pedantic sense the band is Mauritanian, but its music doesn't sound quite like the other Mauritanian music you might have heard, the Moorish kind performed on traditional instruments by Dimi Mint Abba and her husband Kalifa Ould Eide, or the Afro-Arab folk pop of Malouma. There are strong parallels between Doueh's music and Dimi's, but to a casual listener Group Doueh is more likely to suggest the Sahara blues of Tuareg groups like Tartit and Tinariwen: rolling, confident splashes of electric guitar, the clapping and chanting of women, the singular response of a man.

The most obvious difference between the albums from those bands and the current album from this one lies in the recording. The songs on Group Doueh were recorded by the group itself, "at home", say the liner notes, "on modest cassette recording equipment". But you don't need to read the packaging to know that. All you need to do is listen. Different musicians seem to shriek noisily or fade out altogether, depending on their proximity to a single microphone. In parts of "Tirara" the women are heard as if they are in the distance, a faint ricochet of clapping sitting far back in the landscape of the song, while the tangled chainsaw of the guitar claws obtrusively across your ear. During "Eid el Arsh" the voice of one woman, who might be Doueh's wife Halima, shoots forward with a metallic screech, followed by the guitar, which blots her out. She resurfaces when the guitar pauses, then disappears behind it, then surfaces again. Listening to this song is like listening to two people scream at one another, although there's nothing in the tenor of the album to suggest that Doueh and the other members of his family band actually do scream at one another. Instead they have the same group-sound that usually winds its way through the roots music from this part of the world: everyone in the same snug room listening attentively for their cues and judging their tempo against the decisions of the others.

Sublime Frequencies appears to be acting as a conduit here, not a producer, not an intrusive presence, no nipping and tucking involved, no polishing or tidying. These were cassette-quality recordings to start with and that's how they've stayed. Technically speaking, Group Doueh stands in relation to an album like Tinariwen's Aman Iman as a studio rock album stands to a lo-fi indie release recorded in somebody's garage. On the former the production tries to seem transparent, it wants to vanish so that you forget it's there and imagine that the artist is singing directly to you. On the latter the production is sometimes all you can think about, the deficiencies of it, the way it alters the sound, the infidelities, the uncleanness, the grit. You become aware of the obstacle that sits between yourself and a living experience of the band, as you might become aware of the air you breathe only when the morning is foggy.

The liner notes hint that the members of Group Doueh prefer it this way. "As the group began to draw more attention [in the 1980s], recording offers came from the Moroccans and Europeans but all were refused. They soldiered on and recorded prodigiously at home." Then again, the labels offering to record them might have been crooks, obvious exploiters, eager to make a quick buck and dump the band afterwards. I wonder what kind of money they're getting for Group Doueh. A nice amount, I hope, since the album covers several decades of work, compiling songs from the 1980s along with more recent ones recorded in 2006. A New Wave percussion effect zoops into "Dun Dan" for no more than a few seconds and grounds the song weirdly in several places at once: the Arabic-sounding folk wail of the singing, the Hendrix jangle of the guitar, and then this breakthrough of dayglo light from a roller skating rink circa 1985. It's in moments like this that Group Doueh overcomes the limitations of its recording style and startles you on its own terms. On the whole though, the style wins: too often on this album we're left listening to the intrusions of the recording rather than the accomplishments of the band.

5

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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