Fanfarai is a pun, a mashup of “fanfare” and “rai,” as in the slinky groove music from North Africa. What does this multicultural, Algerian-born, now Paris-based brass band sound like? Like Balkan brass music, with some occasionally different if similarly tricky tempos and frequent detours into both Middle Eastern and western grooves. Which makes sense, considering that the roots of a lot of Balkan music can be traced back to Turkey and from there to Egypt and what’s now Algeria and Tunisia. The group’s latest bitingly edgy, chromatically-infused, surprisingly elegant album Tani is streaming at soundcloud, and they’re playing a New York Gypsy Festival gig at Drom on Sept 23 at 9 PM, $15 advance tix are available at the club.
The opening track, Goulou L’rim has one of those classic, pouncing two-chord Balkan minor-key vamps, over which the band layers both a balmy trumpet arrangement as well as an eerie, otherworldly Ethiopian fiddle break. The second number, Raba El Haraba is a real trip, kicking off as a snaky rai groove before morphing into roots reggae with elements of both Balkan music and deep dub: the influence of Mahala Rai Banda immediately comes to mind.
The briskly strolling Achdah a Taous, built around a classic Egyptian maqam riff, features some nimble oud-and-percussion flurries along with the precisely soaring, hefty horns. There’s a similarly dynamic pairing between tuba and flute throughout Saissi, a pulsing early 70s psychedelic funk tune. Touchia Zidane reimagines an ancient Andalusian classical piece as a distant, darkly microtonal dirge, violin and flute taking turns leading the slow procession as it gathers steam up to a majestic peak – and then goes for a sprint. It’s the most stunning track on the album.
Waye Lahbib El Ghali brings back a wry psychedelic soul strut, with North African syncopation and the tuba’s dancing lines taking the place of, say, a clavinova or funk bass. Metrics aside, it’s not hard to imagine this in the Ramsey Lewis or Isaac Hayes catalog. They hit a hypnotically dancing gnawa pulse with sintir lute, flute and bright horns in Elmima, then a scampering clip-clop beat on the upbeat Zwit Rwit, equally informed by New Orleans brass, Mexican banda music and American funk. The album’s last track is Zina Hlima, a steady, bouncing number that’s equal parts funk and vintage Khaled rai, with an unexpected detour into Ethiopiques. If you love Balkan music, or Middle Eastern music, or just dance music in general, you can’t go wrong with these guys.