Album Review: Ifriqiyya Électrique – Laylet El Booree [Glitterbeat Records; April 2019]

Laylet El Booree cover

We are going to be honest from the beginning; listening to Ifriqiyya Électrique, as much as writing about them, is never straightforward. The plain and simple reason is because you need to go far beyond the music borders when approaching their music. Experiencing Ifriqiyya Électrique’s sound is a mystical, if not transcendental, exercise that you can’t take lightly. You need to reach some sort of communion with the notes sung and played, as much as with the imaginary interpreted by the Franco-Italian, but mostly Tunisian band.

That’s arguably what François Cambuzat and Gianna Greco, who set the project in motion four years ago, wanted since its inception. Ifriqiyya Électrique’s purpose goes beyond the music realm, realising itself in the spiritual sphere, where rhythms, dance movements and gestures blend themselves, renewing the Sufi ceremony commemorating Saint Sidi Marzuq, which is held every year in the South-Western Tunisian semi-desert region of Djerid by descendants of West African slaves.

Laylet El Booree, the new album from the ensemble, follows up on the vision introduced by Rûwâhîne, their debut also released by Glitterbeat Records in 2017. Once again, Ifriqiyya Électrique’s compositions bring together the Sufi chants, litanies and rhythmical patterns typical of the area, performed by the voice, tabla and kakrebs of Tarek Soltan, Fatma Chebbi and Yahya Chouchen, with the post (punk and industrial) attitude of Cambuzat and Greco and their electro and experimental arrangements.

The result, once again, blows the listener and her/his ears away. In their latest work, Ifriqiyya Électrique go even more radical and emphatic than in Rûwâhîne, and their intents are made clear in the album’s title. Laylet El Booree indeed reflects the final part of the Sidi Marzuq adorcist rite, “when the spirits actually take possession of the bodies”. Throughout its nine chapters, the second release of the quintet portrays a more in-depth reading of the function. If on one side, the musicians enhance the melodic component of their tunes, it’s through the rowdy and cacophonous elements of the compositions that they approach and latch on to the listener. So, if on some occasions, you can discern and even intone the vocal harmonies (as in the single “Eh He Lalla” and “Moola Nefta”), in others you’re literally disoriented and eventually overwhelmed, or better, possessed by the overlapping of instruments, chanting and tempos, as happens when listening to the more industrial tracks like “Habeebee Hooa Jooani” and “Mabbrooka”.

It goes without saying that Laylet El Booree is an album that requires a high level of attention and possibly an adequate sound-system to express all its distinct layers. However, in the same way we started, we are also going to close by being honest with you and saying that Ifriqiyya Électrique’s natural dimension is the live one. You might enjoy the 40 minutes of Laylet El Booree, but to appreciate the full picture, there’s no other way than by experiencing Ifriqiyya Électrique’s music ritual in person, following the movements, teamwork and synergy that the musicians build on stage.

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