Aside from having the greatest name in modern music, Acid Arab are a duo of Parisian DJ’s inspired after a trip to Tunisia to create oriental acid music, where a moment of epiphany linked trance techno with trance states that Arabic music, particularly devotional music effortlessly seems to conjure. They speak of wanting to merge the coldness of electronic music with the warmth and deep spirituality of Arabian music. They’ve released a bunch of EP’s on French label Versatile, featuring all manner of guest musicians and producers, which is very clearly electronically treated or remixed music from North Africa and the Middle East. There’s remixes of Omar Souleyman, as well as contributions from New Jersey’s Professor Genius as well as French knob twiddlers I:Cube, Shadi Khries, and DJ Mattia, amongst others. It’s curious Omar Souleyman’s electrified dabke already felt like Syrian techno, but Acid Arab’s involvement seems to refine it, and very consciously place it on, or perhaps a little bit to the left of the western dancefloor.
Their debut album builds upon these intensively collaborative explorations, yet somehow feels more focussed. These guys clearly have an inherent knowledge of the dancefloor, and of the worlds they want to inhabit. Yet they’ve not lost that wide eyed wonder that their Tunisian epiphany delivered, and as a result their collaborations feel like there’s quite a bit of push and pull – which is important because there is a real danger when you undertake a project like this that it will become exoticism over house beats.
One clear indication that they’ve avoided this is that they’ve managed to entice one of the most amazing instrumentalists on the planet, Syria’s Rizan Said, Omar Souleyman’s remarkable synth player, to contribute, appearing on two tracks. If you’ve ever seen him live or heard his solo album ‘King of Keyboards’ (read our review here), you’ll understand he is a force to be reckoned with. With vocals and saz playing by Istanbul’s Cem Yıldız (Insanlar), and vocals from Yemenite sister trio A-WA as well as contributions from living legends like Algerian singer Rachid Taha, who’s incredible album of traditional Algerian music, Diwan 2 is essential, raï fusion pioneer Sofiane Saidi, and Gnawa musician/singer Jawad El Garrouge they’ve gathered some remarkably diverse perspectives from the Arab disporia.
In one sense its quite demonstrative of the demographics of Paris, thanks to France’s colonial history, which probably explains the album title, yet Acid Arab are somewhat musical detectives, finding and collaborating with musicians who propel their music into new, exotic and challenging directions. Part selectors, part producers, there’s a nagging feeling that they view an album like a long DJ set, populating it with their favourite tracks/ musicians – though this is not a bad thing.
I’m reminded by Algerian electronic artist Cheb I Sabbah, who’s 2005 album La Kahena saw him gathering material from the Maghreb, often recording live performances and integrating them with modern elements like jazz and electronic elements. Yet Musique de France is much more focussed, much more overtly electronic, yet the approach is quite similar, primarily due to Acid Arab’s desire to provide plenty of space to allow their collaborators to do what they do best – and vice versa, ending up in a world that neither would’ve inhabited on their own. In fact this is one of the most consistently interesting, innovative, and ass shaking fusion records I’ve experienced for some time. There’s barely a foot wrong. It’s clear that their earlier EP’s were the experiments. This is the main event.
Whilst there’s a real rhythmic focus throughout, and in particular Rizan Said’s tracks are jaw dropping exercises in Arabic frenzy, Acid Arab aren’t determined that everything needs to become heightened dance floor frenzy. Rachid Taha’s piece A3ssifa, for example, owes more to bass music than techno and the final piece the Gnawa influenced Tamuzica features Jawad El Garrouge’s vocals, strings and an organ yet in the end fizzles and electronifies, becoming a seductive near ambient exercise in chill out. Though how would you expect a good DJ to end their set?