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På skive


«Who Are We?»

When continents collide, they make a thunderous sound. The Paris-based, Middle Eastern psych-rock collective Al-Qasar (القصر – in Arabic – means the palace) creates the perfect soundtrack to that fission on their full-length debut album, Who Are We? Al-Qasar offers an explosive and subversive mix of Arabian grooves with global rock n’roll psychedelia and North African, hypnotic trance music, with esteemed guests like Lee Ronaldo (of Sonic Youth fame) and Jello Biafra (of Dead Kennedys fame). Al-Qasar calls its music Arabian fuzz, electric but deeply connected to its roots. Likewise, the answer to the album title is straight and clear and portrayed on the album cover. Look in the mirror. We are you and me. We are then. We are here. We are now. And we are tomorrow.

Al-Qasar was born in the Barbès neighborhood of Paris, and its musicians come from France, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and the United States. The band released a debut EP in 2020, Miraj (Arabian Fuzz), «Conceived, recorded and mixed in Paris, Cairo, Los Angeles, and Nashville». The work on Who Are We? began immediately afterward with leader-guitarist-keyboards player Thomas Attar Bellier composing eight pieces that twist, dance and roar in skilfully controlled chaos. Moroccan vocalist Jaouad El Garouge’s ecstatic voice, steeped in his Gnawa upbringing, injected inspiration from history as it strides into the future.

The album begins with two songs, «Awtar Al Sharq» and «Awal», driven by Renaldo’s brooding and distorted electric guitar layers that set the intense vibe of the album, and contrast magnificently El Garouge’s intoxicating groove on the Moroccan frame drum bendir on «Awal». Biafra recites Egyptian revolutionary poet Ahmed Fouad Negm’s text «Ya Malak» (the first-ever English recording of Negm’s work) against the corrupt sultans and charges this sharp and subversive social critique with global solidarity, with his inimitable voice, great conviction and pathos à la Amiri Baraka’s revolutionary poems.

«Hobek Tawrat», with guest vocalist Sudanese-American Alsarah (leader of Alsarah & The Nubatones), can be interpreted as a sensual, seductive song but also as a spiky, aching critique against the military coup in Sudan, with a powerful, passionate chorus that adopts a slogan from the recent demonstrations. «Barbès Barbès», with guest oud player Algerian-French Mehdi Haddab, is an ode and homage to the still ungentrified neighborhood in Paris where Al-Qasar first came together, and cements the Barbès style. Egyptian singer Hend Elrawy adds her powerful voice to «Mal Wa Jamal», with Arabic lyrics promoting a female-centric and humbling outlook on prostitution and its dire consequences.

The two songs with no guests – «Sham System» and «Benzine» – highlight the tight and driving, hypnotic grooves that Al-Qasar produces with such natural, uplifting passion, just like this band wants to describe itself as «the world’s most dangerous wedding band». Al-Qasar flips Funkadelic’s immortal advice and ensures that first we will free our limbs and then our minds will be liberated. The continents have already collided, and the result is deep magic.

Eyal Hareuveni

Thomas Attar Bellier (el.saz, g, keys), Jaouad El Garouge (v, awtar, karkabou, tbila, bendir, claves, caxixi, cowbell), Guillaume Théoden (b, sub-b), Nicolas Derolin (darbuka, daf, bongos, bendir, shakers, saget), Paul Void (dr), Lee Ranaldo (el.g), Jello Biafra (v), Alsarah (v), Hend Elrawy (v), Mehdi Haddab (oud) 

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