Fanga & Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa, Fangnawa Experience

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

By Ben Beaumont-Thomas

on 11.12.12 in Reviews

Fanga are a French collective who play a mix of hip-hop, Afrobeat and highlife; “gnawa” is a trance-inducing North African spiritual ceremony set to mystical Islamic music and indigenous African rhythms. Fangnawa Experience, then, is a collision of these two worlds, featuring Moroccan music legend Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa (Maâlem means “master musician”).

Combining North African desert blues with clattering percussion and funk guitar

Given the dizzying richness of this source material, it’s disappointing that the album opens with “Noble Tree,” a track that sounds like an Afrobeat pastiche, and shows the influence of Fanga’s old collaborators Fela Kuti and Tony Allen. From then on, though, African polyrhythms and horns are folded into a more nuanced hybrid, combining the delicacy of North African desert blues with clattering percussion and funk guitar. Guinéa plays beautiful lines on the gimbri, a three-stringed lute that lends a contemplative hue to even the wild organ and brass workout of “Gnawi.”

The vocals take in elegant chanting alongside brusque declarations. “Kelen” features a hypnotically repeated vocal line that places it somewhere between the mosque and the dancefloor, while rapper Korbo gives “Wouarri” a memorable charisma, before the track slips into a beautifully psychedelic electric guitar solo. The production sounds big enough for a soundsystem, without being too slick; the percussion-heavy “Dounya” could almost be a field recording. With most tracks drifting towards the 10-minute mark, the Fangnawa Experience becomes a truly immersive one.