Ifriqiyya Electrique's debut album is gutsy and driven, boasting an individualist attitude and unique musical slant
Reader Rating7 Votes
Ifriqiyya Electrique are a unique proposition. Although not the first North African group to meld the music of their homeland with a more traditionally western palette of rock drums and electric guitars, the way in which the group synthesises those divergent strands of influence is defiantly original.
Hailing from Tunisia, Sufi chanting forms the heart of Ifriqiyya Electrique’s classy debut. It’s an innately rhythmic and often compellingly raw sound that melds far better with rock instrumentation in practise than it may on paper. ‘Rûwâhîne’ is ultimately an album of rhythm, first and foremost. Everything here is percussive and, though not exactly a-melodic, chanting here does strive to find its spiritual profundity through trance-like repetition rather than melodic hooks or overt harmonic change. It’s immediate and vital, a sonic one-two punch of sheer passion and crashing drive. It’s a trait shared by the instrumentation; pounding bass and thumping drums recall to mind the same dancefloor-friendly ethnic-crossover music that boombed in the ’90s. Sufi chanting has always been sound made to move to and Ifriqiyya Electrique’s rock leanings only accentuate that.
There’s more than a passing nod to another ’90s momvement, too. The clattering intensity of industrial metal is recalled in the blistering harmonics and sharp edged brashness of the guitars on ‘Annabi Mohammad – Laa la illa Allah – Deg el bendir’, a 10 minute medley of dizzying eclecticism. Although always grounded by the group’s wildly evocative vocalisation, the instrumentation that oscilates it encompasses everything from crunchy, boisterous drums to percussive, funky turntablism in a staggering whirlwind of striking individuality. ‘Rûwâhîne’s component parts are not innately unique – a range of influences from across the globe come to mind with readiness – but the band collate those influences into something greater than the sum of their parts. It’s a disctintly single-minded brew of divergent tones that make for an album that certainly never struggles to catch the ear.
For all the punchiness and immediacy of ‘Rûwâhîne’s denser moments, it’s actually the record’s most bare-bones songs that have the strongest impact. The jubilant cries of ‘Mawwel’ have the auditory intimacy of a field recording, momentarily ditching the synths and electric guitars for more organic instrumentation that, perhaps conversely, has an unbridled force all of its own. A-cappella album closer ‘Sidriiya’ strips back even further, exposing the raw soul at the heart of the group. Close harmonies and ephemeral grunts evoke a dusty atmosphere of sonic communion, a powerful reinforcement of the vitality that Ifriqiyya Electrique tap into on ‘Rûwâhîne’.
The tone of ‘Rûwâhîne’ is an unrelentingly forceful one. Although an album with a keen sense of the spiritual at its core, the deep locked-in groove and shuttering force of both instrumentation and vocalisation makes for an album with an overly uniform affect. Although far from inconsistent, ‘Rûwâhîne’ would certainly benefit from the occasional divergence into other tones and moods. On the album’s more heavily arranged moments, the tone is reliably stark; intense, crashing drums, buzzing synths and scuzzy guitars that tug at their leads like rabid dogs. It certainly doesn’t lack impact but the odd moment of more overt melody – even if crafted on instrument rather than voice – would make for a welcome change of pace and offer a little more tonal variety.
Nonetheless, Ifriqiyya Electrique have struck on a sound that has the rare distinction of being both saliently unique and remarkably intuitive – to the point where it’s hard not to wonder why it hasn’t been done before. ‘Rûwâhîne’ is an album that works, plain and simple. Despite being only their debut album Ifriqiyya Electrique have already found a clearly defined, confident identity and any small flaws are easy to overlook when the overall package is so appealing.