Music

Think of One: Camping Shaâbi

Nils Jacobson

The band's stated aim, "to get many of us Westerners deeply addicted to the groove of Shaâbi," will probably work -- if only it wasn't packaged so comfortably in the familiar Western mold.


Think of One

Camping Shaâbi

Label: Cramworld
US Release Date: 2008-03-03
UK Release Date: 2008-03-03
Amazon
iTunes

Ever since the term "world music" was first exploited to market home-grown music abroad, its audiences have been steadily altering the nature of that music as we know it. It's like the observer effect in quantum physics: by observing something, we end up changing it. Especially when there's money involved. At this point, to the ears of the international market, Algerian pop may actually come from Paris. One example of many: Rachid Taha, who moved to France at age ten, has become a megastar of contemporary Algerian music. On his modern masterpiece, 2006's Diwan 2, he yet again reinvented what it means to be North African or Arab (not to mention French) in the modern world. The disc was not just popular, it was incredibly powerful. But does it deserve the Algeria tag? Maybe Egypt would work better? Or France? Perhaps those labels just don't work very well any more. But the process continues.

Think Of One is a Belgian "collective", based in Antwerp but prefering to call the world its home, and Morocco is as good a stop as any. Here the band visits Shaâbi music, an urban party style whose Arabic name means, "of the people." The hallmark 6/8 Berber rhythm, houariyat group vocals, melismatic, minor-key melodies, handclapping, and chant-like refrains dot the landscape. All the elements are there, really -- instruments, voices, melodies, rhythms, styles -- and they're completely authentic, as far as I can tell. They're just ripped out of place, mixed up, and fused with funk, hip-hop, keyboards, horns, beats, and heavily layered production. Leader and composer David Bovée is the main man at the helm (think now, folks: does a collective have a leader?) and half the songs are new. The rest are revisited pieces from previous out of print albums.

This particular hybrid deserves credit for how really mixed up it is, and there's an adventurous vibe to that approach. But it's still a Europeanized version of Moroccan popular music, and as such, it's far more European than Moroccan, even if the instruments and voices regularly assert otherwise. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's just way too decadent for me. Give me the real thing -- or at least meet it halfway. That's what Taha did. I know the title says it's only "camping," but I have the feeling that these musical nomads knew in advance that they were going to leave and go home. Cynical thinking? The band's stated aim, "to get many of us Westerners deeply addicted to the groove of Shaâbi," will probably work. But this one would rather that groove be packaged a little less comfortably in the familiar Western mold.

Track four takes a detour into hip-hop, a big fat male finger pointed at the "worldwide oppressor of music in the name of the holy crown." Whoa! I think the lyrics are meant as a form of social protest, but they come across as dated, unselfconsciously ironic, and/or patently absurd, depending on your point of view. Colonialism has its legacies, but dropping by Morocco to lift some local music and musicians, then framing them in the European pop mold sounds a bit too close to the archetypal colonial legacy for me, whether or not anyone's actually being oppressed in the process (which is clearly not the case). In the interests of full disclosure, two members of the group, twins actually, are Belgian Moroccans from nearby Brussels.

To be fair, this is all a matter of taste and perspective. The disc is consistently groovy; each song is built around a different twist of tradition and pop, and as a whole, they're affable, danceworthy, and engaging. A catchy keyboard-driven electro chant gets things started with call-and-response vocals that worm their way into your head, bursting out of interludes and shimmying back and forth. Keyboards, horns, and string washes return several times down the road to swirl around lyrics in Arabic, French, English, and Flemish, occasionally bathed in reverb and echo, as hip-hop, metal, punk, electro, and other forms of contemporary Western pop surge to hand-clapping highs and dip to ground danceworthy beats.

The soft romanticism of "Fantôme" (complete with strings, horns, and brief surf guitar) contrasts sharply with the distortion, power chords and Mr. Bungle-like wackiness of "Hamdushi Five". The male voice on the title track, punctuated by irregular electronic beats, mumbles, "leave the music on, turn the volume up", though the rest of the track doesn't justify this exhortation nearly as much as the others do.

It's hard to beat up on fun, engaging, energizing music like this, and in many ways it's out of place. But I just can't shake that overarching Euro-pop mindset, and that pretty much ruins the experience for me.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.