Album Review: Ifriqiyya Electrique – Rûwâhîne [Glitterbeat Records, 26th May 2017]

Rûwâhîne is the debut album from Ifriqiyya Electrique, a Franco-Tunisian collaborative project that will make your soul shake to fainting with their raw, sophisticated and daring amalgamation of Sufi chants and industrial grooves of metallic sonority.

Imagine yourself rushing through a labyrinth in the middle of an electric thunderstorm. This is what the album feels like to me, a place I have never been to before; obscure, spiralling and exhausting.

Ifriqiyya Electrique originated in the southern Tunisian desert of Djerid, as French-born guitarist and field recordist François R. Cambuzat and Italian bassist Gianna Greco met members of the Banga music community. Tarek Sultan, Yahia Chouchen, Youssef Ghazala and Ali Chouchen are masters of this ancient musical tradition, an annual ritual typical of the former Afro-descendant Hausa slaves that commonly takes place in private houses and city streets – (as the documentary film Trans-Aeolian Transmission magnificently portrays) – and aims to appease the possessing spirit, ‘Rûwâhîne’, after which the album is named.

This accelerating journey to ecstasy, which opens and closes with atmospheric tabla rhythms and religious chanting,  guitar, bass and electric beats, then embarks on a sophisticated dialogue with Banga instruments, including the iron castanet-like krakebs (also used in Moroccan Gnawa music tradition) and vocals sung in Arabic and Ajami, the language of the Hausa. The album’s fourth track, ‘Zuru el Haadi – El Maduulaa – Maaluuma’, is an example of how traditional Banga polyrhythms not only mesh well with electronic bass, but it also results in one of the catchiest and flowing of Ifriqiyya Electrique’s compositions.

Meticulously crafted, despite its possible sense of sonic blurriness, Rûwâhîne has reminiscences to the very origins of the so-called ‘world music’ or ‘fusion music’ genre, along the lines of the projects that Transglobal Underground used to create, in which sounds of folkloric tradition are often merged with electronics. This is a serious, mystical and skilfully produced album that genuinely revisits centuries-old rituals and stems from the spiritual encounter of peoples.  This may not be love at first sight, so feel deeply and pacify your own spirits.