Watcha Clan - Diaspora Hi-Fi: A Mediterranean Caravan
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Watcha Clan
Diaspora Hi-Fi: A Mediterranean Caravan
Piranha (piranha.de)

Watcha Clan must be thrilled to have their latest album drop at a time of geo-political ferment. The European Union continues to expand, and the leaders of the Mediterranean nations have been meeting to determine whether or not the Mediterranean nations should form their own Union. For centuries, the Mediterranean has been a site of waxing and waning influences, resulting in rich cultural exchanges all around the Sea. With the prospect of a Mediterranean Union, the question of what role culture should play in the politicking of the region has taken on a sense of urgency. Can art represent differences, and yet forge some brand of unity, a sense of Mediterranean place?

It would appear that Diaspora Hi-Fi plugs right into this zeitgeist. The album begins with a scrambled introductory montage of voices, ambience, and Arabic strings and percussion; right away, the listener is placed into the postmodern mélange of dancefloor sounds that Transglobal Underground have mined for years. Indeed, TGU's Tim Whelan shares some of the additional production duties alongside the Watcha Clan collective. This is ethnic fusion music, dubbed and electro'd, and the listener has to wonder how Watcha Clan will differentiate themselves from the ground broken by Transglobal Underground.

The first full song, "Goumari," is an absolute monster track: a raging electric guitar line pulses through the song, which sounds like a mutant Moroccan-Tuareg disco. "Goumari" is relentless; the chanting grounds the groove, and feedback occasionally spirals and squalls right above the mix as if someone has choked the life out of Manu Chao's trademark screaming sirens.

Listen
"Goumari"
Much like Natacha Atlas, lead singer Sista K is a multi-lingual wonder, and she and the band sing in Arabic, Yiddish, French, English, and Spanish. The first half of Diaspora Hi-Fi is haunted by a Jewish/Gypsy groove that reminds me of another ethnic fusion group, Balkan Beat Box, but Watcha Clan underscore their repertoire with plenty of ragga influence. "Call of Hagar" brings together this fusion with Arabian reeds, punctuated by an insistent western-styled horn section.

I'm not convinced that Watcha Clan have entirely distinguished themselves from other fusion dance groups on this release. The reggae influences add much to the atmosphere of sea and sun, and combined with the Arabic percussion the result is arresting: the final, echoing rave-up on the traditional "Oued El Chouli" brings fitting closure to the album. But so much sound has been thrown into Watcha Clan's mix that Diaspora Hi-Fi doesn't sound so much as here or there, as it sounds nowhere. Watcha Clan put forward a dilemma: can the Mediterranean's diverse influences result in a harmonious whole? Or is the future that of dislocated sound, a Mediterranean fantasy beyond politics and region? - Lee Blackstone

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