With a wet dream line-up this show promised an awful lot. Doueh, sadly, disappointed but The Brothers Unconnected shone.
It’s rare that a gig appeals to both the higher functions of the frontal cortex and the base lizard brain underpinning it. One somewhat obvious, and very seductive, theme which stands out throughout the night though is that of misappropriation of another culture’s music.
This is a two-way process that puts me in mind of a David Keenan lecture (http://www.archive.org/details/ApLecture-DavidKeenan) where he discussed Japanese avant-rock bands like Fushitsusha not originally having easy access to bands like Led Zepplin. The poor quality bootlegs they did manage to get hold of gave a completely warped image of what they really sounded like and, not knowing any better at the time, these bands would go and imitate this. You can really hear this too – walls of guitar distortion as a product of a cheap tape recorder badly placed right next to a speaker cabinet for example.
The reason I mention this is that Master Doueh acknowledges the influence of Western music and he has actively sought out and incorporated a wide array of sources since childhood. I like to imagine him huddled around a small radio absorbing tinny, static drenched Hendrix and James Brown etc.
Group Doueh are from Dakhla, Western Sahara and on record they are feisty and frenetic. They play party music for weddings and private functions combining the sung poetry of the Hassania language, traditional Saharawi music and brash Western rock. The unusual sounds, DIY/No-Fi recording quality, hypnotic repetitions and strange track edits combine to an almost psychedelic fervour.
I’ve seen Group Doueh live once before, sharing a bill with Omar Souleyman and Akron/Family. At that show they partied pretty hard, everyone danced and I loved every minute. Expectations were high but unfortunately I just didn’t dig it this time around. Previously they’d played as a four-piece. This time Doueh’s friend and vocalist Bashiri Touballi was absent and the master’s wife Halima Jakani, also vocalist, was joined by 3 additional women who would provide backing vocals and share percussive duties.
Doueh started off playing the tinidit which is a Moorish four-stringed lute. His son Jamaal Baamar, on keyboard, played around the mode whilst Doueh tuned to it. Thing is, it still didn’t sound in tune and I’m not just talking Western scale, I’m hip, give me some credit. The tinidit performance struck me as technically virtuosic with fast runs and pneumatic hammer-ons. The keyboard playing was adept but the tones were pretty rough. The presets just felt too cheesy which became slightly distracting.
The singing was sublime in quality and poetry whilst the percussion, dominated by a tbal, was simple and uncluttered. The women also took turns to dance and whilst I couldn’t say so with any authority the band’s performance, overall, to be in quite a traditional idiom.
After the first song we tuned again, the tinidit still sounded rough, the keyboard was still distracting and we had another traditional seeming number. Doueh looked sternly cross throughout. It seemed there were a handful of teething problems, sound-wise, though the mix in the theatre was spot on. This pattern repeated for, judging by my notes, 5 songs in total and then Doueh picked up his electric guitar.
First off he tuned and then went through a few runs, kicked on a shit load of phaser, made the sound of an aircraft taking off and shredded it up a bit more.
There was raw power and virtuosity that was initially impressive. The two extended songs which followed again felt more traditional than on record. The tbar was replaced with the keyboard’s drum patterns. Instead of the dance hall bombast of my first live Doueh experience though there was more of a casio demo feel and the backing was still a little cheesy sounding and subdued. In this context, the guitar master’s Hendrix fuelled jams seemed more reminiscent of self-indulgent youtube shredding than the sand-blasted genius heard on ‘Treeg Salaam‘ and ‘Guitar Music from the Western Sahara‘. He did crack the odd wry smile after moments of particularly fierce riffing and the Group felt like they’d found a more fulfilling vibe.
They ended with a mostly vocal-less jam. The ladies dragged up the first row of the audience for a dance (the Cube is a wonderful venue but a seated show for what could predominantly be considered a dance band wasn’t ideal), Doueh (playfully) parted the sea of women with his guitar to take an extended solo with the guitar behind his head and everyone had a good time.
I really can’t blame Group Doueh for, on their return to the UK, wanting to show more of the traditional culture from their homeland. It’s also always refreshing, in a world of hair-do bands and NME photoshoots, to see a straight up, honest band of musicians engaging with, rather than rehashing, their culture and wider influences. I don’t want to fall into the trap of post-colonial guilt or ethnomusicologist blind reverence either so ultimately I’ll just have to go with my ears and Group Doueh failed to live up to the expectation they’d previously set.
The trio of ‘Sun City Girls’ formed in 1979, have released over 50 full length albums along with an array of cassettes, 7″s, side projects and other miscellany. They churned up and cannibalised anything and everything from surf rock, free jazz and Indonesian folk to radio drama, agitprop theatre and American roots music. In 2007 drummer Charles Gocher died of cancer. Brothers Alan and Richard Bishop, as The Brothers Unconnected, play tribute to their band-mate and the music of Sun City Girls.
There’s something ridiculous as the brothers appear onstage in sunglasses but with their wise-ass demeanour you wouldn’t dare tell them. Early on they play several more recognisable ‘hits’ from ‘Torch of the Mystics’ such as ‘Space Prophet Dogon’ and ‘Sky Burial’. Contorting through caricaturistic Eastern ‘croaky voice’, an essence of throat singing, made up Occidental languages and inventive misappropriation of folk melodies and cultural idioms. In between guitar tunings and songs Alan goes off on tangential banter like a world-weary, channel hopping ‘Johnny 5’ made flesh. Richard predominantly plays foil. Traversing characters and flitting between CIA man, car sales pitch and conspiracy theorist… taking on stagnant academic ethnomusicologists, theories of Israeli suicide bombers blaming their atrocities on Arabs, the British Monarchy (apparently the Queen wont return ‘Sir’ Richard Bishop’s calls to clear up some misunderstanding over his title), cut-throat businessmen and our own politeness as an audience.
The genius is that this doesn’t feel rehearsed in any way. With over 30 years mining this seam it shouldn’t be surprising that it comes naturally but it’s still an impressive feast.
They’re damn funny too, with hints of Lenny Bruce. They perform the raucous ‘Six Kids of Mine’ about smothering ones children to get some peace and quiet and blaming it on crib death. We are then, upon the resulting applause, questioned on our moral judgement in supporting such an abhorrent practise. They’re always one step ahead and forcing you to question the stability of the ground you’re treading.
It’s very much an embodiment of the axiom ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’. They have no answers (though on stage they’d have you think otherwise) but if you don’t question anything and everything, never act out on your own natural curiosity, you’ll never really learn anything and, to paraphrase, “may as well stay home and throw potatoes at the TV screen”.
The music, played out almost entirely on 2 acoustic guitars, seemed much more idiomatic than the original trio’s recorded material. Something you can hear more in Richard Bishops solo output. It was still inventive, skillful and thoroughly entertaining.
I don’t know for sure as we arrived a little late but I think their was screening of some of Gocher’s film works at the beginning of the evening. I’d love to have seen these too.
Overall a fantastic night and all the better for being challenging in several ways.
I leave you with my personal highlight of the evening. Sir Richard’s spoken word romp ‘The Brothers Unconnected’:
(Oh sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.) Aah, that’s okay. So, I got my wife, you know, the brunette, a plastic Marilyn Monroe mask for her birthday the other day . . . . . Well, we rented a hotel room that night. So, she got dressed up like Marilyn and I got dressed up like both Jack and Bobby Kennedy. You know, the dark blue suit, green silk tie, Florsheim shoes, and a St. Christopher’s Medal, right? Comfortable. So, before you know it, we’re both naked on the floor having oral sex together and I realize I had to cut Marilyn’s plastic lips off if I wanted to drive deep. I’ve got ’em right here in my pocket, wanna see ’em? I guess the short dark hairs distracted me because I started moaning “Oh Jackie. Oh Jackie.” And she started screaming, “Oh Mr. Gable, you finally rose back up from the dead.” Then she started holding me like a microphone and sang, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” I started shining like a sunlit temple for Apollo. So I sang “Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m schizophrenic, and so am I.” Then she said, “Well, 23 Skidoo!” It was the biggest fucking group orgy I’ve ever had with one woman. Listen, Marilyn was so hip, she had AIDS years before it became popular. Well, when I realized that it was too late to call the Supreme Court and ask for their approval as to whether I could have a mutual orgasm with Miss Monroe . . . . I started a-twitchin’ and a-shakin’ like the Washington Monument, and just as I was ready to shoot, my head popped off and blood squirted all over the ceiling. And when it dried, it perfectly resembled the nativity scene by Hieronymous Bosch. Then Marilyn murmured, “Oh Jack,” and I said, “Uh, thank you ma’am but you can call me MISTER Ruby!” So, later that night, as I drifted off to sleep, I said goodnight to Dallas, Texas and hello to a land dominated by nightmares and superstitious motorcades. Thirteen days later, I realized that my mother-in-law spoiled my marriage. (Oh yeah? What happened?) Well, my wife came home from work early one day and found us in bed together. By the way, what’s your name? (Sirhan Sirhan.) Yeah yeah, I heard you the first time.