Fanga is an 8 person band from the south of France whose West African-influenced music combines influences from jazz, funk, and afrobeat. Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa is a vocalist, gimbri player, and master of gnawa music. Together, they produced Fangnawa Experience, an astounding album whose tracks meld traditional gnawa melodies and style with the electronic keyboards, powerful horn sections, and rhythmic percussion grooves of afrobeat.
Gnawa music is spiritual African-Islamic music that originates in Morocco and south-western Algeria. Some of the characteristics of gnawa music are a repeated phrases or lines that can go on for whole songs; rhythmic patterns that move back and forth between triple and duple meters, and sometimes both at once. The melodies often lower the third, fifth, and sometimes seventh notes of chords, creating a sound similar to the blues.
The tracks of Fangnawa Experience showcase a variety of styles. The second track, Gnawi, starts off with a percussion-and-guitar groove and repeated vocal lines that eventually give way to jazzy saxophone solos. In the third track, Kelen, the repeated melodic elements begin in the vocal parts and are eventually played on instruments which layer on top of one another to form new melodic grooves and elements based on the same source material. Dounya, the fourth track, is also the shortest on the album, and features vocals and percussion exclusively. Wouarri, the last track on the album, features harsh, husky vocals that are a nice change from the vocals that permeate the other tracks.
Fangnawa Experience is an experiment for sure, fusing the hypnotic bass grooves of Gnawa with the song structures and full band arrangements of West African music. While it sometimes can fall flat, if the saxophone solos, the call and response vocals, and the smooth percussive grooves are criteria on which the album could be judged, it’d be hard to say that the experiment was not successful.