Electric Jalaba ‘El Hal / The Feeling’ LP/CD (Strut) 4/5

Accompanied by his guembri, a three-stringed instrument with a camel-skinned hollow body, Moroccan-born Simo Lagnawi continues to promote Gnawa vibes from his base in London with performances and recordings as a solo artist and in collaborative environments and also founding a school of Gnawa music in the capital.

Electric Jalaba is a group fusing Gnawa, North African, electronic and dub influences with Lagnawi on lead vocals, guembri and krakebs. The group also comprises of drummer Dave De Rose, who’s played with Mulatu Astatke, Mark Ronson and many others and siblings; bassist Olly Keen, Henry Keen on keys with Nathaniel Keen and Barnaby Keen providing guitar, additional vocals and numerous other instruments. “El Hal / The Feeling” is their third album and the first in five years.

“Tora Tora” builds from restrained guitar and shimmering synths to hand-clapping and assertive chanting. “Cubaili Ba” has its organic and natural themes rubbing shoulders with megalithic slabs of synth, vaguely reminiscent of The Comet is Coming. “Agia Hausa” has a heroic feel and the guembri and bass guitar interplay is a bottom-end delight. “Daimla” brings the pace down a little as the guembri rumblings lend to an unctuous dub with lovely lashings of heavy reverb and backward masking. The percussive “Hindewu” showcases the distinctive sound of krakebs, another traditional Gnawa instrument, sort of a cross between castanets and cymbals

The uptempo rhythm and the call and response vocals centres “Fulan” somewhere further south of Morocco. “Shabakru” dives deep into extended murky psychedelic dub, African Head Charge style. Guembri rifferama is the core of the catchy “Briando”, bouncing off the breakbeat-like drums. “Lagmami” is more laid back with lightly strummed guitar framing Lagnawi’s smooth-with-a-hint-of-smoke singing and delicate licks of keys and… is that lap steel?

Five years is a long time and this is a significant progression from “Merhaba”, their previous release. In some ways, it feels almost like a different band. “El Hal / The Feeling” is refined, direct and confident due to the band honing the sound and concept. It’s clearly contemporary and neither disrespects nor strictly adheres to its sources. It’s fascinating to see the group bring together those disparate parts and find a distinctive voice of their own.

Kevin Ward