Album Review: Bab L’Bluz – Nayda! [Real World Records; July 2020]

This is a very exciting debut album by French-Moroccan band Bab L’Bluz. Lead singer Yousra Mansour and multi-instrumentalist Brice Bottin recently learned the awashi and guembri (sintir/bass lute) while exploring their love of Gnawa music and ended up in a four-piece psychedelic blues rock band. It really is much more than something that can be easily defined and there is something for everyone in this album – it’s funky, it’s soulful, it’s traditional and it’s modern.

This dynamic album can be sweet and subtle and at other times fiery with a healthy dose of punk spirit. Yousra has cited some influential singers such as Janis Joplin, Oumou Sangaré and Erykah Badu and this really comes across in her sweet melismatic vocals. They can lull you into a stupor and then shake you awake by changing up the rhythm abruptly. It’s all very deliberate and keeps this album being fun at the same time as enchanting.

The album title ‘Nayda!’ came from the Moroccan Youth movement, a Darija word with the dual-meanings of ‘to rise up’ and ‘to party’. This feels really apt in the first track which sets the tone for the whole album: a ululating war cry, a funky interlocking riff and the lyrics denouncing corrupt officials. At that point you know this either isn’t for you or, more likely, will be your new favourite album.

There is so much to love about Bab L’Bluz. Every track feels different from the last but as an album it has such a solid groove and consistency to it. The lyrics are poetic and powerful, exploring a wide range of themes including injustice, unity, motherhood and ancestry. The artwork looks like something Jimi Hendrix and M.I.A. would collaborate on. And, most of all, it just rocks. This is one of those albums that reminds you of many kinds of music and draws its inspiration from a fountain of influences yet is distinctly unique.