Iness Mezel ‘Strong’ (Wrasse) 3/5

iness-mezelWorld roots music only occasionally enjoys the commercial success of a musician who is able to crossover to a wider audience, but North African/Algerian Berber singer Iness Mezel has done a pretty fine job of promoting herself and her music in recent years, and consequently has landed a deal with a major. Although the promotion clearly aims at a world/crossover audience with its glossy inner sleeve, the music itself is firmly within the world roots tradition, albeit with a pop/rock sensibility. Mezel’s voice is a softly delivered one and the songs in general are pleasant, though not necessarily all that memorable. Recorded in London, with producer and multi-instrumentalist John Reynolds at the helm, whose credits include Bjork and Sinead O’Connor, the question remains of once one actually strips down the external layer of PR gloss, is the voice itself sufficiently distinctive to warrant the attention of a mass audience? Her supporters will point to a percussive mid-tempo number such as ‘llni’ where the fusion of pop with Berber lyrics and local percussion in the form of the derbouka works extremely well and that would be an ideal single to promote the album as a whole. Her detractors will, on the other hand, point to an uptempo rock-tinged song such as, ‘Izha Wuliw’ and possibly legitimately ask the question: ‘Who will like this?’ A French language song, ‘Eau fil de l’eau’ hints at her potential cross-Channel appeal and the repetitive guitar is supplemented by whispered vocals that together create an unusual sound effect, and wordless vocals on the attractive sounding ‘Agellid’ are another side of Mezel’s craft that is worth pursuing further. Incursions into the English language are made on the downtempo ‘Precious Souls’ which is the official first single and of a trio of English numbers, the pick of the bunch for this writer is the gentle breezy mid-tempo ‘Aim at your dream’, the title of which pretty much sums up Iness Mezel’s philosophy of how to approach and crack the inner workings of the music industry.

Full bilingual lyrics are provided and this is to be applauded and Iness Mezel is a distinctive artist who sings in a combination of her native Tanzazight (Berber), French and English. Whether this linguistic mix eventually pays dividends still remains to be seen, but there is no doubting her determination to succeed and that may just prove to be her greatest asset.

Tim Stenhouse