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

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image