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Speed Caravan – “Kalashnik Love” – Review
It’s pretty easy to get jaded as a reviewer. Everything is boil-downable into its so-called component parts: “Like X meets Y on acid,” or “good but not as good as Z, which you probably never heard but I did ha, ha,” etc. I’m guilty of it; we’re all guilty of it sometimes. But then every once in a while something comes along that just feels fresh and new and all sorts of sui generis, and it’s really hard to make any kind of connection at all. This right here falls into the latter category.
The most modern of musical quartets, Speed Caravan is centered around the oud wizardry of Mehdi Haddab. What, you ask, is an oud? Well, it looks like this usually, but when Haddab plays it it can look more like this–this Algerian, now centered in Paris, has figured out a rock and electronica context for this 5000-year-old instrument, and its application here on his group’s first album is pretty impressive, indeed.
For example, his series of solos on the title track, which run the gamut from good old “play the traditional instrument over a modern track” to “treat the instrument’s sound to make it even more bad-ass” to “burn that mother down in a Hendrix-like fashion.” Haddab does this again and again on this album–I hope you get to hear the solo that blasts apart “Daddy Lolo” halfway through, because it will mutate your brain from the inside. Haddab’s talent and vision are inspiring; his music is traditional and modern and ancient and experimental…all at the same time.
Which is not to take anything away from the rest of Speed Caravan. Bassist Pascal Telliet matches Haddab step for step, and Hermione Frank, who functions as a kind of live laptoppin’ DJ and riddim section, carries a heavy load as well. They provide a flexible multilingual base so that Haddab can slash away in whatever mode he’s in. “Qat Market” is a densely layered electronic composition, seemingly fractal-branched off the oud line and the vocal from new percussionist/vocalist Mohammed Bouamar, who seems a very good fit. The entire band locks in together for a delicate two-step piece in “Parov Yegar Siroon Yar,” then bursts right into the power-synth reggaetón “Idemo Dalje” without batting an eye. And that’s not even to mention the seven-minute romp called “Aissa Wah,” which showcases everything from heavy funk to fusion jazz to that excellent Arabic disco known as raï.
And then you have your guest stars. Rachid Taha, the Joe Strummer of Algeria, comes in to do a vocal on a cover of the Cure’s “Killing an Arab,” adding layers of irony on top of a sludgy new-wave sprint. Tons of people show up on the epic cover of “Galvanize” by the Chemical Brothers, including the Algerian hip-hop crew Micro Brise le Silence and Spex MC from Asian Dub Foundation; not only does this hit harder on a sonic level than the original, but the furious raps and flurry of samples actually chill one to the bone emotionally, as well. The press release details a lot of other people from lots of other countries on other tracks, including Yemen, Serbia, and France, but we never get away from the idea of Speed Caravan as a band with a fresh and unified approach.
This is often a very political album–”Dubai” is a metal-disco piece about the inequities and slavery of that strange emirate built on the backs of its workers–but then you also get the sexy downtempo spoken piece called “Erotic Chiftetelli” and the frequent instrumental pieces, so those allergic to politics can just tune out of that stuff and reckon with Haddab’s world-class musical talent and his crackerjack band. Speed Caravan draws from a lot of different sources, but this album sounds like nothing else out there; it’s a serious contender for world music record of the year.
Many tracks are available on their MySpace page.