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

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.





Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.


Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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