Speed Caravan were one of the real highlights of this years Womadelaide, a feverish high energy electronic freak-out with hand drums and electric oud. Their approach is sacrilege to the purists, but this Algerian/ French ensemble really felt like they had bridged the gap between the traditions and the dance-floor without necessarily whoring themselves behind cheesy 4/4 beats or attempting to exoticise themselves for western audiences. The electric oud sounded incredible, heavy, raw, almost sexual, leaning closer to the likes of Hendrix than to say Omar Faruk Tekbilek. It’s played by charismatic leader Mehdi Haddab who stumbles around the stage with the decadent cool of Rachid Taha (who also contributes vocals) or Warren Ellis (Dirty Three). There’s bass, hand percussion and also a dedicated electronics and computer guy who regularly offers up these taut driving techno inspired beats that would repeatedly bring the crowd to a frenzy. Away from the party and on record everything’s much cleaner, perhaps almost clinical. The beats seem to take centre stage, with the rock element kind’ve lurking on the periphery. Their cover of the Cure’s killing an Arab whilst possessing a humour and irony is pretty average, though they have a little more success with the Chemical Brothers Galvanize, particularly when they do away with the lame hip hop. They are much more successful on the tunes they pen themselves, where the oud and beats compete for equal space and begin to fuse together. There’s an incredible diversity of styles here and at times it’s difficult to reconcile all of the cultures and influences. At times it’s brilliant, others it’s misguided, yet this only adds to the mystique of a band that really need to be experienced live.
Bob Baker Fish