Gnawa and other North African musical styles flavour “Nayda!”, the debut of Moroccan-French group, Bab L’ Bluz. It’s the product of a meeting in Marrakech of lead vocalist Yousra Mansour and Brice Bottin. Brice plays the guembri, a three stringed instrument frequently played in Gnawa music and Yousra plays awicha, a smaller version of the guembri. As Mansour says “We use the awicha as a guitar and the guembri as a bass, both at different tunings.”
This is a fusion musically and is also reflected lyrically as Yousra sings in a variety of languages including Darija, standard Arabic and English. The ‘power quartet’ is completed by drummer Hafid Zouaoui and Jérôme Bartolome on flute and percussion.
Amid ululation and repeating guembris, “Gnawa Beat” is lively and catchy with standard rock drums. A tangible introduction to Bad L’ Bluz’s take of Gnawa music with western rock. Slower paced but sonically more interesting, “Ila Mata” is trippy with a psych, slightly dubby feel awash with fuzzy flange and electronic effects.
Mansour has stated that “more than anything we’re a rock band”, and on “El Gamra” it’s like Led Zeppelin’s Moroccan dabbling has come full circle. A crunchy power-chord intro and frantic riffing prevail. “Glibi” has a lighter touch and a cleansing purity. However, the thick, opulent soundscape combined with the simple melody of “Oudelali” is mesmerising.
“Waydelel” has a hooky call and response chorus and features manic ribab. The breezy “Africa Manayo” hints at pastoral afrobeat. The dense repetitive wall of sound on the stand out “Yemma” is truly a thing of beauty. “El Watane” has an interesting stop-start groove combined with yet another tuneful chorus. The closer, the eponymous “Bab L’ Bluz” swaggers with some robust riffing and drips liquid wah-wah.
“Nayda!” is an enjoyable and exciting mix of musical styles performed with vibrancy and lucidity. It is infectiously catchy, sonically sophisticated and very polished. Maybe I would have preferred a little more grit sometimes to rough up the shiny production but the sheer energy and imagination of the band is still intact and is captivating.