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Speed Caravan

Debut album


Kalashnik Love

Released Sept. 28, 09

CD and digital download

Released on Real World Records (UK distribution: Proper)





A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


The name of French-Algerian band Speed Caravan is a paradox, as notions of caravans typically conjure up scenes of nomads and lumbering camels moving slowly across an arid desert and the music of this Paris based group is, more often than not, about as far from any of those things as possible. Their September release, Kalashnik Love, featuring guest appearances by Rachid Taha and members of the Asian Dub Foundation, is a rock n rolling case of Middle-Eastern meets West, at its best, showcasing not only the group’s master oud player, Mehdi Haddab’s capabilities, electrified, and the impressive vocal and percussive talents of Moroccan, Mohamed Bouamar, but also, that the influences of rock music are not only far reaching, but repeatedly shape-shifted in conjunction with various other musical influences in attempts to create something new.

As intriguing as the notion of cultural blendings often are, however, in the case of Speed Caravan’s Kalashnik Love, they are not always as successfully realised as they might have been, perhaps because the oud and other Arabic/Middle-eastern influences inherent to their tracks are at times, nearly oozed out of perceptivity, leaving more or less familiar rock riffs with any real sense of the Middle-east among them sadly, lost in translation.

That said, the tracks on this diversely inspired album not only vary in intensity, but also in density, with the opening all too brief number, ‘Taq on the Beat’ leading us down a pleasingly rocky, Bedouin flavoured trail, thanks to the imaginative oud playing of Mehdi Haddab, gliding listeners into the album’s igniting title track, ‘Kalashanik Love,’ a veritable showcase of musicianship via compulsively distinctive grooves, with Haddab’s morish oud playing tickling the senses, and Pascal Tevllet’s striking bass lines punctuating the positively pulsating beatiness being perpetrated by Hermione Frank on computer/electronics and the underliningly intensive percussion playing of Mohamed Bouamar. This track will no doubt hold broad appeal for both world music fans as well as rock enthusiasts seeking something a little more unusual than what they generally listen to.

If only the rest of this album lived up to the promise these stunning openers offer!
No. 3, ‘Killing An Arab’, the band’s cover of The Cure song, seemingly sends up the ‘60’s-retro grooves of the eighties, which would be fine, great in fact, if only the track was more original in its approach. For despite its effective singing and impressive oud playing and percussives, I have to say that neither its atypical English lyrics or similarly recognisable vocal stylings do much to maintain excitement in the here and now, especially as the band’s take on this number offers little in the way of anything ground-breaking in its interpretation.  Despite their undisputed right to dabble in Western music, as countless Western musicians do in relation to the music of their and other cultures, this track comes across as more of a case of Middle-eastern and Western influences as two distinct entities which, never quite manage to blend smoothly enough or, conflict strongly enough to create something unique or, sustain interest.
‘Qat Market’, which follows, is much more engaging, particularly in regard to Haddab’s outstanding oud playing and Bouamar’s excellent percussives, though, perhaps a trifle more rock oriented than it really needs to be, despite Bouamar’s distinctive Middle Eastern wailing. Track 5, ‘Dubai’, with its all too familiar pop-rock chanting, effectively cancels out Bouamar’s far more intriguing intermittent vocal interjections and capable, though predictable musical accompaniment. Similarly, track 6, a cover of The Chemical Brothers ‘Galvanise’, with its rapping vocal lines and traditional rock riffs offers listeners little in the way of challenges. That said, this track has been recorded in front of a live audience which, from the sound of them, were obviously thoroughly enjoying what they were listening to. My angst over this particular track may be somewhat due to the fact that a lot of what the band is doing here is nothing new sound-wise, particularly in relation to rock, causing it to come across as little more than a paler imitation of the original, albeit with the addition of the group’s trademark ‘Bedouin Beats’. Track 7, ‘Erotic Chiftetelli’ seems to reflect on ‘80’s new romantics, seemingly, doing their own take on Barry White-esque talk-singing, and, as it allows some of its musical intricacies to be more audible, would no doubt, be a little less accessible to the commercial market, possibly rendering it somewhat more palatable for World Music fans, though it still did not register too highly in terms of originality to my ears.

What a relief at last, then to have some audible grooves to latch on to with ‘Parov Yegar Siroon Var’ a rhythmic, pulsating track offering undulating beats that come as a welcome surprise and offer vivid glimpses into what this group sounds like, minus its over-indulgence in familiar Western influences, until part-way in, when some tasteful electric guitar casually peppers its patchouli background, as oud and drums fire and fuse, forming an intoxicating blend, until the song’s rockier aspects are appropriately, all but drowned out in their onslaught, dying an eerily warped Hendrix like death. Track nine – ‘Indemo Dalje’ is another dynamically successful blending of Middle-east meets West, with the former, capably and enticingly, leading the way, via some tremulously unfamiliar sounding, dynamic keyboard strains and bouncingly blended oud, drums and bass. Speed Caravan on their distinctive tracks 1, 2, 8 and 9 of Kalashnik Love is one band I could definitely warm to and, possibly, come to love. 

‘Daddy Lolo’, track no. 10 seems far too fast paced for its good, and though it’s not always clear where this frantic number is rushing off to, one senses that it may be a Chuck Berry/Jimi Hendrix/Middle-eastern mix set to rush into the annals of Speed Caravan’s own personal rock n roll canon, via many igniting visits to wedding party dance floors along the way. ‘Hotel Zyannides,’ track no. 11 offers some grooving percussives, admirably restrained organ and canny oud playing, but booming contemporary drumming and bass muddies, rather than punctuates the track in places threatening to over-power its’ intricate, potentially addictive grooves, possibly, preventing listeners from getting stuck into them as deeply they might have. ‘Aissa Wah’, track no. 12, promises edgy funkiness via its opening singing and instrumentation which it never quite manages to deliver on, due to rather cliché backup mix and reverberating drums which dilute its initial funk drive into a wateriness unworthy of its catchy opening. Lucky 13, ‘Daddy Lolo Remix (Sidestepper) is actually more infectious then that which it is taken from, largely due to the choppy beats over-riding its originally too hectic riffs bringing it down, into a more groove worthy notch which allows for dancing, albeit more akin to drum and bass, though the drumming here is decidedly more Bedouin, with additional hand-drumming offering an added layer of flavouring. That said, once I’d listened to this track for a time, my mind began to wander, perhaps due to the fact that it offered few surprises and was not distinctive enough to sustain interest, despite its very excellent drumming. In conclusion, ‘Aissa Wah Remix (MO DJ) comes on strong enough, but again, fails to break new ground or even, maintain interest in the thought of re-treads, due in part to its larger than life guitar soloing which seems to clash with the song itself, at the same time that Haddab’s oud playing beguiles. Though admittedly, creating intriguingly successful re-mixes out of these particular mixes no doubt presented a variety of challenges.

That said, these gripes are by no means down to a lack of talent on the part of anyone concerned with this project, on the contrary, for what it is, Kalashnik Love is a very well executed and produced album. My lack of enthusiasm for the end product of Speed Caravan’s labours here then, is, without doubt, more down to the group’s obvious fascination with commercial/popular Western music which is one that, more often than not, I do not share.







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