If you happen to find yourself in the middle of the contested territory of Western Sahara, you’ll be hard pressed to find a lot of good rock music. That is to say, Group Doueh (pronounced DOO-WAY) is a bit of an anomaly in that they have consistently played electric guitar-infused rock in Western Sahara for the last 27 years and they know how to do it well.
With guitar sounds unlike anything you’ve heard, tea glasses used for percussion, and some Korg synth-organ, their newest album from their label, Sublime Frequencies, continues to expand the limits of traditional Saharan music. Recorded on location in Dakhla at the end of last year, “Zayna Jumma” is a family affair. Two of bandleader Salmou Bamaar’s sons join the band (Hamdan on drums and El Waar on keys) and his wife Halima leads a group of female vocalists.
The first three tracks are a jolt of energy as the music roars to life, and you don’t know whether to dance or furiously bob your head. Halima’s piercing vocals and Salmou’s wah-wah-ing guitar compete for your attention, exploding through the mix as their style of jam band rock seamlessly fuses with Saharan rhythms and Mauritanian modes. It’s loud, energetic music that you’ll want to blast. It’s Saharan rock and roll.
And yet about halfway through the 8-song album, the energy drops. The percussion still holds its steady grooves, but the rock feel that characterized the first part of the album is lost. The sudden change in energy may surprise you, but the music can still mesmerize and slip you into a trance-like state. When it’s time to wake back up, just blast the album from the top again. The CD closes on a high note with “Wazan Doueh,” a six-minute, relaxed jam pushed along by some solid keyboard rhythms and virtuosic tindit (a three stringed lute) played by Salmou.
Clearly, these guys exist in a musical landscape all their own, and yet Group Doueh manages to be approachable, exciting, and familiar. You may not have many options when it comes to rockin’ albums from Western Sahara, but with the release of Zayna Jumma you have a great place to start.