GROUP DOUEH: ZAYNA JUMMA Limited Edition LP out soon
Group Doeuh – Zayna Jumma May 24th, 2011 Sublime Frequencies Score: 8.2
Planting yourself before a mirror and peering into it is child’s play. Most days, we might merely process the reflection of a muddled silhouette and go about our thankless business should no patent mars or juts rear their wretched heads into our line of sight. We aren’t moving forward — only sideways into a sea of perpetual thrall. Seeing rather than just looking, however, can set us free and consequently cries out for a much sturdier backbone. We’re forced to confront our frailties and vices and fundamental natures, and the snag of how we’ll reconcile them with our ambitions. Indelible daubs crawl out from under our skin, and we stand unable, nay unwilling, to gloss over them any longer.
This is an about-face until we’re blue in it.
Few contemporary African acts have presented as diverse a discography as Group Doueh has thus far, and even fewer have performed their songs with the verve these Saharans have conjured on their three previous full-lengths (here’s a rare occasion where I’m counting a compilation — 2007′s Guitar Music From the Western Sahara— as a studio debut). That being said, a multiplicity of identities has emerged through the band’s rough-hewn bluster and solemn elementalism. These records have been solid on their own, but if push comes to shove, we couldn’t offer an accurate read on who Group Doueh truly is.
The catalog kicked off in endearingly clatter-laced, guitar-driven iridescence, then moved onto more brooding, impassioned pastures, and finally came its quietest, most traditional affair to date with last year’s Beatte Harab.
On their latest, Doueh and company erect one singular voice by pulling from their past lives and treating each angle with a deft balance — tracing a fair middle ground while skirting the mundane grip of settlement. Zayna Jumma comprising GD’s third full-length in three years, one could have expected them to tire from their prolificacy but the very opposite scenario unfolds. After a spell of stone-faced serenity, the formidable troupe has returned in fine form, evidenced first and foremost by Doueh’s enchanting electric guitar. It’s BACK in a big way. ‘Ishhadlak Ya Khey’ and ‘Zaya Koum’ present a brief albeit fulgurous suite as sleazy, distorted guitar pairs with communal chants to weave psychedelic oases in the arid desert air. The tunes are groovy as can be, like an interstellar garage funk band jamming with the entirety of its astral might…in the Sahara.
A wondrous upshot of the pure leader’s revival is the galvanizing tints it shines on his troupe. Where the previous two LPs appeared so concerned with portraying a mood that the charming esprit de corps deeply embedded in Guitar Music somewhat dissipated, here, every call is met with an answer, every component holds its ground. Opener and title track ‘Zayna Jumma’ captures this cooperative elan straight out of the gate, affirming that the playfulness of old is indeed back for seconds — a spirited, layered rock ‘n’ roll gallop accented by piercing vocals shooting up through the sand in a hair-raising heartbeat and retracting just as quickly.
Elsewhere, ‘Met-Ha’ and ‘Aziza’ provide dulcet respites from the storm. Slower, earthier entries, the two are rooted in old-school fare; hymn-like vocals, handclaps, and gentle folk arrangements acting as a spiritual intermission of sorts. A prayer for good fortune.
In the end, though, the crux of this journey is that mammoth of a guitar and its finest showcase is ‘Jaguar Doueh’. The instruments cascade and trip over themselves from the outset, leaving the treated guitar to fend for itself. Gathering the requisite fortitude to carry on, the axe is brandished skyward to stare down an inconceivably clear firmament and the scorching, oppressive orb at its core. Doueh absorbs its all-powerful glow, if only for 4 minutes, and just barely manages to harness it, like he’s swept back to adolescence with the world dangling at his fingertips. It’s awkward, it’s cumbersome, it’s fascinating. Gleams pour out now and again, on irregular cycle, and these slapdash pocks come to represent our oneness strewn across once uniform plains to reinforce its sanctity.
Decades in the works, Group Doueh’s sundry slants have conflated into one distinct trajectory. Despite the guitar rightfully at the helm, the vocalists, the percussionist, they all carry the mail at various junctures of Zayna Jumma. There’s no restraint on hand, no hesitance chiming in.
Closer ‘Wazan Doueh’ perfectly bottles the act’s newfound equilibrium, Touareg-style hollers yielding to a jarring start/stop countenance courtesy of guitar and drums. Through poise or panache, the track brushes off its mazy coils and comes to document GD’s continual shake-ups: raw and welcoming, melodic and tempestuous, fun-loving and contemplative. It all convenes under one banner, effortlessly, as though the strokes weren’t always meant to be shortened. They aren’t at all.
Self-discovery is often draining, daunting to even consider — let alone commence. It’s spun out, ghosts of our past and glimmers of our future halting any headway to an unctuous grind.
Group Doueh, for its part, dives right in without a second’s apprehension. It never pauses, never protracts. It flows to the hilt with small-town coarseness and candor and chirpy excitement over the yellow-brick road at its feet as well as the dusty, long overdue promised land that awaits just around the bend.
A limited Edition LP version of Group Doeuh's Zayna Jumma
will be available on the Sublime Frequencies web site soon...