Based in Algeria, the El Foukr R’Assembly is a rarity among North African bands in that they really take their “Africanness” seriously. Where many in this part of the continent identify more with their Arabian than their sub-Saharan neighbors, this group has shown deep fascination with music and culture to the south. Hence the title of this impressive six-song EP.
Afropop first learned about El Foukr R’Assembly when the group made a musical expedition to Ghana a couple of years back, and collaborated with musicians there. El Foukr’s YouTube channel includes a number of videos from that and other adventures. The band describes Look South as a “sound manifesto” created as they traveled around North Africa and the Sahel meeting and collaborating with musicians in remote places.
The exuberant energy of rai music animates these tracks, but equally important is the hypnotic trance of desert ritual, accented by hand clapping and ululating. These two strands intertwine in satisfying hybrid pop songs that showcase passionate North African vocals. “Medley With A Lady” juxtaposes an ecstatic vocal performance by El Foukr’s lead singer Amine Lehchili with that of a Tuareg female guest, Aicha Macher.
“Pain Retreat” sets a text by the iconic Sufi poet Rumi within a lively 12/8 groove, propelled by acoustic guitar strumming and tempered by an ambient ruminating flute. “Saharan Redemption,” recorded near the Algeria-Niger border, channels Tuareg desert folk, once again emphasizing poetry, this time Hausa/Tuareg verse, which begins the track with spoken words. “Unarmed Corpse” builds from a spare soundscape of deep-toned plucked strings and what sounds like Indonesian kettle gongs punctuated by the periodic boom of a large frame drum, intensifying gradually into a house-inspired dance track. But the real hook here is Lehchili’s mellifluous, yearning vocal.
“Haggard Wanderer” revamps the rock-rai sound of Algeria in the ‘80s, with a catchy, distorted guitar hook and retro organ flourishes. Equally rocking is the electric guitar riffing and raggedly lyrical vocal of another guest, Seddik Selimane, on “Sand Reminiscence.” In all a solidly engaging North Africa roots-pop romp. We look forward to a full album, and hopefully a U.S. tour.