New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: watcha clan

A Fun Random Rediscovery

Isn’t it cool when you stumble on something completely random that’s so much fun that you have to share it? This is a mix simply titled Arabic Beat, assembled by the avid playlisters at Putomayo and streaming in its entirety at Bandcamp. It’s sort of a North African  equivalent of those Strictly the Best reggae compilations that VP Records have been putting out since forever. Most of the artists here are from Algeria or Morocco, playing variations on Rachid Taha-influenced rai-rock or Khaled-style trip-hop. For those unfamiliar with this kind of music, it sounds a lot more gypsyish, i.e. minor-key and chromatic than Arabic, i.e. microtonal and otherworldly.

The best song is a real surprise: French gypsy/Middle Eastern rockers Watcha Clan doing a spot-on Chicha Libre imitation, right down to the creepy analog synth on a psychedelic cumbia sung in Arabic and French. Of the rai-rock tracks, Algerian guitarist/singer Djamel Laroussi offfers a more sunny take on the classic Ya Rayyeh riff, with a bit of a Gipsy Kings vibe. That style is echoed a bit later on tracks by Moroccan chanteuse Samira Saeid and Moroccan-French bandleader Cheb Amar.

Another Algerian, singer Ali Slimani is represented with a bouncy habibi-pop track, as are Algerian brother duo Choubène, who manage to blend cheesy, techy synth with a bitingly tuneful chorus. The most traditionally Arabic-sounding song is a lush, string-driven ballad by Moroccan crooner Jalal El Hamdaoui. And Algerian dub maestro Nour has a chromatic Arabic reggae tune with growly bass and wah guitar.

Moroccan singer Ahmed Soultan’s hit Itim is minor-key, bluesy Rhodes funk, Bill Withers done North African style. And Syrian pop chanteuse Zein Al-Jundi has a tasty cut that blends rapidfire accordion with a little surfy guitar. All this is a fun way to discover some of the best of the curent crop of pop stars coming out of North Africa. Right now it’s gypsy music that’s all the rage – maybe, as the Arab Spring turns into summer, Middle Eastern music will take the world by storm. We can hope, right?

And for what it’s worth, there’s a funny (from this perspective, anyway) backstory here. This mix was originally pitched to this blog long before its release date last July. Trouble was, the label wouldn’t provide downloads, so that pitch went straight into the trash. Memo to what’s left of the record industry: want press? Give the bloggers what we need to do our jobs.

Orient Noir: Klezmer Sounds from the Edges of the Diaspora

On the Orient Noir compilation, billed as a “WestEastern Divan,” the folks over at Piranha Records in Germany raid their own archives for an instant album…and a pretty killer playlist that goes on for well over an hour. It’s quite an inspiration for adventurous downloaders (most of this stuff is on youtube – follow the links below). It’s noir to the extent that the sexy and mysterious microtones of Middle Eastern and Jewish music are noir. This is first and foremost a klezmer playlist, one that ranges across more of the Jewish diaspora than most, with a handful of tasty levantine numbers thrown in for good measure.

The weakest tracks are from French band Watcha Clan: a brief klezmer intro and a woozy reggae cover of an Ofra Haza hit. The track most instantly identifiable as klezmer is from Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars, Susan Sandler out in front of the band, giving the song a barely restrained longing. London also appears in a low-key, moody collaboration with Serbian brass virtuoso Boban Markovic, while another project he’s been involved with for decades, the Klezmatics, are represented by the understatedly ferocious, gospel-fueled I’m Not Afraid.

A couple of instrumentals are stripped down to the basics of slinky percussion and a single melody line: a flute-and-accordion jam from Nubian artist Mahmoud Fadl, and Ali’s Nay, credited to veteran Lebanese composer Ihsan Al-Mounzer. The most eye-opening stuff here is the Jewish music that pushes the boundaries of klezmer with influences from Africa – Moroccan cantor Emil Zrihan’s amusingly titled, flamenco-flavored Maka Shelishit, and Moroccan Sephardic crooner Maurice El Medioni ‘s long diptych Ya Maalem/Kelbi Razahi, a noir cabaret tango with Balkan horns!

Ruth Yaakov’s Las Esuergas de Angora – from her album Sephardic Songs of the Balkans – offers a tricky blend of flamenco and gypsy music with what sounds like creepy, swirly West African riti fiddle. And a track by popular Zanzibar taraab chanteuse Bi Kikude blends Bollywood-flavored, surfy rock with lushly suspenseful levantine orchestration.

Interestingly, on this klezmer-oriented playlist, the most outright haunting tracks are by the Arabs. Salwa Abou Greisha sings a sweeping, haunting multi-part Egyptian bellydance epic, and iconic Egyptian trumpeter Samy El Bably provides his hit Ana Bamasi El Haba Doll, an elegant vamp with richly nuanced solos from trumpet and accordion. The playlist ends the way you might end your own playlist, with something completely random and weird: in this case, The Garden, a cantorially-tinged 1979 song by short-lived German hippie-rock band Efendi’s Garden. If Hotel California-style twin guitars playing vaguely Middle Eastern riffs are your thing, you’ll love this one. Happy hunting, wink wink!