Fangnawa Experience
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Fanga and Maalem Abdullah Guinea
Fangnawa Experience
Strut (www.strut-records.com)

There are at least a few reasons why Nigerian Afro-beat, arguably invented by the late Fela Kuti, and the trance music of Morocco’s Gnawa Brotherhood make for such a natural crossbreed: Both styles have had festivals devoted to them in their respective home countries; they’ve also both had a certain degree of popularity away from home, so much so that they threaten to supersede their countries’ rich array of folk and popular musical styles; and the two forms are based in long, deep grooves, with an emphasis on call and response vocals. No doubt, the fact that Gnawa and Afro-beat are easy for a westerner to get with musically has cemented their popularity far outside of Africa’s borders. Yet, while Gnawa belongs to continuing generations of Afro-Moroccans whose roots go back to the days when the North African nation brought them up from Mali as slaves, Afro-beat, which had its heyday in the 1970s, found itself all but finished as a popular style until the likes of non-Nigerian ensembles, such as Antibalas, started rooting their grooves in its determined, baritone sax-based threat. In fact, Fanga is from France, which, thanks to ideas hatched at Montpellier’s Detours de Monde festival, is how Guinea, who is descended from a long line of Gnawa musicians, and his band found themselves in the company of a musical style originally founded and popularized south and east of them some 40 years ago.

And quite frankly it fits like a well loved, cowrie shell-covered robe. While the amplified pulse of Fanga, with its analog synths and cheap organ, horns and choked, electric rhythm guitar all but swallows Guinea’s unamped gimbri, it’s the Qraqab-Moroccan metal castanet-like percussion, as well as the repeated chants found in all Gnawa, that melt right into Fanga’s rhythms. The track “Kononi” is a solid example of this process at work. Initially dominated by Guinea’s deep bass gimbri, Fanga stealthily makes its way into the mix: first a trap set beat, then a slithering keyboard line, punctured by horns and guitar insinuations. By the time it hits full force it is neither the traditional Gnawa it gestated as, nor has it been engulfed by anything that could be called Fela-esque. It’s here then that this marriage creates something so obvious it’s baffling that Guinea’s father Boubker Genia never jammed with Fela himself.

Perhaps more so than any other label rooted in vintage West African and Diaspora reissues, Strut has allowed its position to be the catalyst for not only documenting the resurrected talents of Ghana’s Ebo Taylor, but giving voice to contemporary cross-pollinations such as this one, well rooted in a warm analogue past but so naturally and forever current. - Bruce Miller

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