In 2020, Sahel Sounds hosted a project called Music from Saharan WhatsApp. This series consisted of ephemeral digital EPs, documenting live performances by some of the most exciting acts in the Sahel playing music, including Nigerién techno, wedding rock, Woodabe guitar, WZN, traditional music, Mandingue music, and more. Responding to an open call from our network of artists, musicians recorded a handful of tracks on their cellphone and sent them over the popular mobile app WhatsApp. Each session was hosted for a month on Bandcamp and sold on a sliding scale, with all profits wired directly to the musicians. After a month, the EP would disappear, replaced by another one. Now, some of the label’s favorite tracks from this series are collected for the first time outside of Bandcamp as the Music from Saharan WhatsApp compilation LP. This LP features tracks by established Sahel Sounds artists such as Etran de L’Aïr, Hama, Alkibar Jr, Amaria Hamadaler (of Les Filles de Illighadad), and artists new to the label like Bounaly and Andal Sukabe.
Hassan Ideddir’s 1989 single “Atfalouna” sees an expanded repress courtesy of Dark Entries. Born to Berber parents in Morocco, Ideddir began making music at the age of 10 after being discovered singing in the stairwell by his school’s headmaster. Encouraged by his peers, he began playing concerts, and his status grew. In 1987, he played a string of sold-out concerts in Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakesh, in support of a children’s charity. The success of these concerts secured him a record deal, and he went to Paris to record his debut single “Atfalouna” in 1988. Released in 1989 on WEA, “Atfalouna” is a dense slab of multi-genre pop. An opening wash of digital synths and reverberant vocals quickly falls away to a cascade of orchestra hits and pulsing electronic drums; the monotone chant-rap of a female chorus collides with Ideddir’s soaring melismatic vocals, pleading against the injustice and hunger in the world. While Hip-Hop and New Beat borrowed tropes from Arabic music, “Atfalouna” inverts the gesture, resituating orchestra hits and sampling techniques within a Moroccan music framework. A shorter instrumental version follows, which preserves the female vocals. Also included are two tracks not on the original 12”. “Ibina” is a moody, downtempo instrumental that sounds like a cult Italo B-side. The record closes with “Ydouchababe”, an electro number driven by funky guitars, electronic claps, huge horn riff. Here, Ideddir sings of a youth festival honoring Hassan II, former king of Morocco.
Outer-national dance discourses, that strive for no country and obey to no flag: when Düsseldorf based producer, Stefan Schwander creates music as Harmonious Thelonious, highly percussive rhythms, dissonances and melodic twists tango chatoyant virtuosic. All eight musical objects collected on “Instrumentals!” document a chapter in Harmonious Thelonious’s work, that left the noisy background drones behind in favor for a signature sound full of echoes of ancient rituals and ecstatic ceremonies. Eight growing outlaw music studies crammed with living, deeply haunting entities. They all came to life in different cities like Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, London or Paris, first published on labels like Asafa, Disk, The Trilogy Tapes, or Versatile. United under one roof, they unfold their magical groove symbolism, notable hypnotic harmony and agitating rhythm archetypes in a total overpowering coalition.
If you’ve ever travelled to Egypt and wandered through its crowded streets, you probably ended up buying a cassette or a CDR of popular synth based music heard in most cabs, cabarets, or alleys around town: the almighty Shaabi. Raed Yassin and Paed Conca based their project PRAED on research between Shaabi and Mouled (traditional trance music from Egypt) and the hypnotic structures of both these genres. Repetitive beats, loud Mizmar and loads of energy, with a strong influence from psychedelic rock, free jazz and electronica. During the years in which the duo produced 4 albums and performed on an endless number of stages around the globe, PRAED started working on anambitious expansive project: an orchestra that could transpose this study of rural and popular culture into an immense, iconic work. In autumn 2018, supported by the Sharjah Art Foundation, PRAED Orchestra! premiered “Live in Sharjah”, interpreting new material merged with some of the band’s iconic pieces. The composition process started with the choice of musicians: the line-up consisted of some of the most innovative artists coming from a wide spectrum of musical practices. Each musician was chosen for a defined role, and the common denominator was their capacity to interpret written material, and their ability to improvise effortlessly. Each role was clearly set to work in unison with the rest of the group, while simultaneously sustaining a centrality in the choir. Solo parts masterfully drawn over the structure as a fil rouge connecting every piece of the entire concert; massive and powerful orchestral sections leading to a breathtaking trance-like state of mind; all of this material ultimately coalescing into an Egyptian Operette that narrates the sorrow, love, and deeply rooted culture of this urban music called Shaabi.
Awesome Orientalists From Europa is an edits project dedicated to awesome music and new politics. Inspired by record labels and DJs that specialise in reissuing ‘world’ music, A.O.F.E. turns the tables on the perception of exoticism by rediscovering obscure and forgotten western dance floor tracks. The music published in the project fantasises about the foreign, tribal and oriental, but was in its whole created in the west, for the west. The third release on the project features three edits by Aaron Maple.
All profits from this release are donated to NGOs that fight Islamophobia, antisemitism and racism in Europe.
Long-time Muslimgauze fans with keen eyes and/or photographic memories may immediately notice something about the newly unearthed Sadaams Children album; with some slight orthographic differences, it just about shares a name with a short track from the classic Narcotic (Staalplaat, 1997; the similarity and the difference is pretty much expected from someone who both liked to reuse names and didn’t care for consistency in spelling as Bryn Jones did). While none of the four lengthy tracks found on Sadaams Children actually sound like sparse, clean string sounds of Narcotic’s ”Saddams Children”, three of them never previously heard extended versions of tracks previously found on that release – well, one is both an extended and truncated version, but such are the idiosyncrasies and joys of the ever-complex Muslimgauze oeuvre.
PT004 sees a Belgium via Morocco friendship and studio collaboration Mameen 3 take the reigns for Planet Trips fourth physical release. A group made up of much loved and respected DJ, digger and curator of the always on point Elsewhere comps soFa, connecting with innovative producer Reda Senhaji aka Cheb Runner, whose refreshing approach tips the no boundaries no borders sound only few can uniquely pull off. The Incunabula EP spotlights 4 club focused jams from the groups recent heavy output, channelling influences from their diverse tastes and effortlessly marrying hypnotic percussion, Middle Eastern rhythms and machine funk psychedelia into their very own style no style.
Mazen and Vish (together Dar Disku) have teamed up with label collaborator Moving Still for a Hi-NRG version of ‘Sidi Mansour ‘ originally recorded by Algerian Disco superstar Cheba Yamina. On the flip side Moving Still gives us a bass-heavy edit of Syrian Wedding Performer Sarya Al Sawas – ‘Bas Asma3 Mini’. The last track of the three is the first Dar Disku edit. Sampling Indonesian Group Orkes Kelana Ria originally released in 1961 and featuring Arabic vocals by Munif.
The excellent Black September, a continuous, five-part, 68-minute epic, is as formidably competent as ever, although more for the brooding, surreal nature of its soundworld than for its grooves, which here sound almost subsidiary. The soul samples and restlessly evolving minor-chord kaleidoscopes that unfold throughout the work is prima facie evidence of a musician on a roll. Boldly named after one of the most notorious Palestinian terrorist organizations, the group which carried out the Israeli Olympic athlete massacre in 1972, September matches it’s dark black artwork and design with equally doom-laden music (mastered as one track, despite the five separate song titles listed on the back).
Songs about the unity of Sudan, peace between Muslims and Christians and the fate of war orphans, backed by grooves equally taking influence from Arabic sounds, American funk as well as neighboring Ethiopia. Habibi Funk serves up an album of previously unreleased material by veteran performer Kamal Keila. The music contained on the album comes from two reel-to-reel tapes of session recordings made by Keila and his band for Sudanese radio in 1992, though many of the songs and arrangements date back to the 1970s. During his ’70s peak, Keila was often described locally as “Sudan’s answer to James Brown or Fela Kuti”. Although the influence of both is present on both tracks, you’ll also hear Sudanese blues, fifties-style R&B, hazy funk influenced by the Ethiopian music scene and sweet, horn-heavy, breakbeat-powered sing-alongs.
Separated from both its reputation and its sleeve art, the music of Muslimgauze explores the relationship of visual sensations – space, colour, depth, illusion – to the listening experience. The music on ‘Maroon’ is dub-like inspired techno music, laid back with voices appearing randomly in the mix. The thick drums and rich found sounds that densely populate the soundscapes on “Maroon” give materiality to the warm presence of the synth washes. The music is so layered and textured that it ceases to be aural and exists almost solely in the realm of sight and touch. Devoid of reference to any external reality, Muslimgauze’s Ambience gets remoulded by subjective experience and moved around in the memory. By shifting the quality of perception with the producer’s sleight of hand, Bryn Jones (the Mancunian behind Muslimgauze) makes explicit the interiority of the senses. Thus, the fact that our inner life determines our relationship to the world outside becomes the music’s unspoken subject. Divorcing Muslimgauze’s music from its image is like listening to Take That without seeing Robbie’s pelvis or Mark’s pouting. This is precisely why the music is so effective. Relocating music’s power within the listener instead of as an external force acting upon the listener forces reappraisal and reinterpretation. The muezzin’s wailing call to prayer and the shrieks of women mourning the dead conjure up images of a fierce ‘death-to-the-infidels’ fervour in the Western imagination, and are recast as holy prayers for the ultimate, womb-like peace that most Ambient music aims to express. The usually easy exoticism of sampled tablas and ouds instead hint at the dread on the road to the water coloured bliss of run-of-the-mill Ambient and force the listener to internalise difference and confront the received images of Islam that Muslimgauze detour by such strong powers of suggestion.
Harmonious Thelonious returns to the Kontra-Musik family with an absolute gem of a record. This is everything we want dance music to be: characterful, playful and impossibly funky. Harmonious Thelonious is a master of crafting organic sounding rhythms but arranging them in a manner that reminds one of a 1970’s car factory. Primal pulses running through modern assembly lines, gears and pistons covered in green lianas. The result is a perfect symbiosis between living tissue and mechanical parts – dance music for primitive cyborgs.
This 2XLP album, Europa, is dedicated to and inspired by events in 2015 & 2016, which saw the spectre of global crisis come knocking at Europe’s doorstep. During this time, more than a million migrants and refugees fled their homes in the Middle East, Northern Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and other conflict ravaged areas in search of a better life. For many, hopes of a future for themselves and their families lay in continental Europe. One of the most well- trodden paths on this journey was the Balkan route, a trail leading through Turkey, Greece, and the former Yugoslavia. This route was not without its dangers, and the dreams of thousands upon thousands were dashed by impassible security fences and discordant EU politics, as one by one they were turned away at borders, or worse, forcibly returned to their countries of origin. Europa was recorded during long jam sessions in Belgrade as the media spotlight started to dim. The city became the purgatorial destination for a large number of migrants, whose journeys had been cut short. This double LP reflects the atmosphere of disillusionment and uncertainty about the future, which descended on the Serbian capital. Dark and melancholic saxophone playing on top of heavy kicks and Mediterranean percussions dominate the epic 17 minutes title track. The collaboration with Jerusalem in My heart continues the melancholic atmosphere, adding to it JIMH signature delayed baglama sounds, to create a 12 minute emotional journey, tearing away abstract concepts of ‘longing’ and ‘home’ with ever growing tension and magnitude. Genre-less, illusive and not easy to categorize, Tapan’s debut album on Malka Tuti is an original soundtrack of a fragment in time and space, capturing a moment and transcending it musically for the rest of the world to experience.
Emotional Rescue and Malka Tuti join forces to bring a collection of the music of C Cat Trance. Drawing on the rhythms and melodies of Africa and the Middle East to produce a World Beat across some 6 EP and 4 LPs, here drawn together on a special double LP compilation. From the legendary Shake The Mind to the percussive, ethnic meets club inspired songs like Sudaniyya or the previously unreleased Some Day Soon, the album highlights a project that stood out from the post-punk haze with striking scales and time signatures to develop a unique sound. Formed by world music fan and multi-instrumentalist John Rees Lewis upon leaving post post-funk pioneers Medium Medium, the group retained the intensity of the former, but in a considerable new direction. Teaming up with fellow ex-band member Nigel Kingston Stone, together they formed the backbone of the band around a continual stream of guest players. Exotic, dense, tribal rhythms propel a mixture of club, pop and world music, creating an atmospheric fusion that can be heard across the 12 pieces. The alt-industrial feel of She Steals Cars and Screaming With You is countered by avant-percussive Dalbouka and I Looked At You or the Balearic vibes of Take Me To The Beach and They Made Them Up.
A dervish bewt from Stefan Schwander’s Harmonious Thelonious for TTT, Apakapa catches the Düsseldorf-based explorer meeting the moroccan flute of Ghazi Barakat for one of the project’s jazziest, moodily hypnotic episodes.
Fortuna Records deliver a stellar compilation of real-life magic created by immigrants from Yemen, in Tel Aviv, from the mid seventies to the early eighties. Ranging from extremely rare to previously unreleased, these tracks are a result of a unique scene which blended funk, soul, jazz & disco with traditional Yemenite rhythms & sounds. It cannot get more obscure than this.
Stefan Schwander aka Harmonious Thelonious is definitely not a newcomer. He has been around for a long time and has already released lots of amazingly varied music on labels such as Emotional Response, Italic, Meakusma and Diskant. He’s also an integral part of the infamous Duesseldorf / Salon Des Amateurs axis that is an obvious hotbed of talent. He describes his style as “American minimalism vs. African drumming vs. European sequencing”, a heady mixture which is clearly evident on this EP though with a definite Middle Eastern twist. Here at Versatile HQ we were introduced to this clutch of tracks by one of the members of Acid Arab and we were totally blown away. Stefan has a very unique production style, fusing all of the above elements with a hint of Gamelan, a dash of tweaked FM synthesis type sounds with a dose of warm ambience and finally his own singular touch on the mix. We are very happy to present you these 4 tracks to you, an essential EP from one of European music’s true originals.
Themes From Great Cities’ latest chunk of inspired, hard-to-define goodness comes from Mekine U Teksi, a fresh outfit formed by Murat Goktas and Irfan Derin. Dedicated to legendary, currently closed Dusseldorf venue Salon Des Amateurs, the mini-album – the duo’s debut release – is shot through not only with the arpeggio-driven pulse of vintage ’80s new wave, but also the chugging attitude of psychedelic nu-disco and the exotic, intoxicating melodies of traditional Arabic music. Of course, there are other influences that make their presence felt throughout – krautrock, dark Italo-disco, punk funk and dub disco – but these merely serve to enhance the duo’s core sound, which is rarely less than enthralling.
In a very “fourth world” manner, Alek Lee brings together middle-eastern influences in his music with ease and without ever having it sounding cliché: on Harabait and Sfarot (and its dub version), his friends and him play the violin, the bass clarinet and the accordion in a way which reminds of Klezmer music, putting the three songs on the EP in line with both his musical education and his cultural background.
Fortuna Co-Founder Kalbata takes the controls for this new, Middle Eastern techno banger. Al-Shark is a banging Arab Farfisa excursion played frantically on an analog techno rhythm section. It’s the first release from the Fortuna camp which is not a reissue, but worry not, this could easily be an ancient Lebanese proto-House experiment unearthed from a dusty reel. For the B-side Kalbata takes things even further with a tribal relick of the original, placing us in a voodoo ceremony where ghosts of sinners come to dance.