Gnawa Diffusion

Bab el Oued Kingston

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At first, this French band of mixed nationality seems to fall into a common immigrant music nether zone. It's one step removed from the traditional gnawa music played by artists in Morocco -- keyboards and samples figure in along with flowing acoustic gimbri lines -- but equally far from the fully realized electric mix of modern world dance and pop elements that a group like Zebda offers. Lead singer Amaz isn't one of those spiraling Islamic vocal masters, which may account for Gnawa Diffusion aiming for the kind of link between reggae rhythms and gnawa melodies that Sargento Garcia is pursuing with salsa and ragamuffin. "Ouvrez les Stores" may be the clearest example -- it starts with pure rapid-fire dancehall toasting, shifts abruptly to long gimbri lines and Arabic vocals, and then trades back and forth between the two. But marimbas come out to play on "Madanga," "Kabariou" boasts 12-string acoustic slide guitar blues soloing over clattering hand percussion (always more Arabic than Jamaican), and a wah-wah electric slide guitar (?!) is featured down in the reggae rhythm of the title track, which is built around an Arabic keyboard melody. "Chara Allah" and "Gazal au Fond de la Nuit" are traditional Arabic, ska skank guitar meets the marimba on "Daka Barimba," and "Sabrina/Gas Naturel" alternates accordion and gimbri over reggae chop guitar. If this sounds haphazard and all over the map, not yet fully formed may be a better description for Bab el Oued Kingston. There seems to be an underlying method to the ideas in Gnawa Diffusion's music that a bit of judicious editing and focus would throw into sharper relief.

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