Mehdi Haddab is well known as both a virtuoso player of the classical oud, and for his pioneering musical projects, breaking into the rock world armed with an electric oud.
The ancient oud is an Arabic instrument that was eventually introduced into Europe as the lute or al-ud). The pear-shaped, fret-less plucked oud generally has 11 strings and became a mainstay of the Arabic orchestra. Its name meaning ‘wood’ or ‘twig’ is in reference to the strips of wood used to created its rounded body which creates the resonant soundbox.
Such a distinguished and ancient instrument, at the core of so much traditional Arabic music, has rarely been considered a rock'n'roll instrument. But this has all changed with Speed Caravan and the frenetic and joyous playing of Mehdi Haddab. Once part of Parisian-based global electronica trio Ekova, Mehdi then formed the experimental oud duo DuOud with Jean-Pierre Smadja. Now working as Speed Caravan, bassist Pascal Teillet, former Ekova electronic beat mistress Hermione Frank, and Mohamed Bouamar join Mehdi on percussion and vocals.
Pascal Teillet or “Pasco” had previously worked with King Mensah, Ganoub, Mazaher and jazz star Archie Shepp. Together, Mehdi and Pasco found that his powerful yet sensitive bass playing magnified the grooves and sustained the acrobatic arabesques of Mehdi’s oud. Despite their varied musical backgrounds, the two musicians share an obvious sense of adventure – taking their music in the most unexpected directions.
Add to this mix Hermione Frank - a longstanding accomplice from the days of Ekova and a renowned electro musician (and a journalist!). Last to arrive was Moroccan-born Mohamed Bouamar, who trained in the Arab/Andalusian tradition and for many years was percussionist for Natacha Atlas.
Together they laid the foundations of the project, spending three years on the live circuit before going into the recording studio. Building their reputation and fan base at festivals worldwide, including WOMAD Charlton Park 2008, Speed Caravan’s electrifying, high-energy stage performance has become their trademark. Support for the band came readily from fellow musicians, who admired their intriguing and adventurous ideas, and who have gone on to guest on “Kalashnik Love”.
The album was recorded in those rare, quiet moments somehow found during an unrelenting schedule, with the unerring support of David Husser (Indochine, Lo Jo). Outstripping his role as sound engineer, David, who runs at the same voltage as Mehdi, plunged body and soul into the rich and lavish sonic sculpture.
More than 19 other troops signed up for the crusade! Algira, Rabah and Deymed, from the Algiers-based hip hop band, MBS (le Micro Brise le Silence), who shared the stage on Speed Caravan’s very first performances, perform on “Aissa Wah”, a homage to the Sufi trance, distorted by blasts of wah-wah pedal. They also appear on a cover version of the Chemical Brothers’ “Galvanize” which, with its sample from a piece by Berber singer Najaat Atabou, inspired Mehdi to work again with MC Spex (former member of Asian Dub Foundation), Paul Kendall (Goldfrapp, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode) on backing vocals, Franck Vaillant (Lo Jo) on drums, and Christophe Schwob (Jad Wio) as programmer.
Another notable cover is The Cure’s “Killing an Arab”, sung mostly by Wattie Delay, from Alsace, with Rachid Taha crying out that he is the Arab, Albert Camus’ Outsider, which inspired Robert Smith’s song originally.
Mehdi also wanted to pay tribute to his Masters, and chose “Daddy Lolo” by the Armenian star of oud rock, Charles "Chick" Ganimian, featuring the unique voice of Breton singer, Erik Marchand, who joins Bruno Ferrier on vocals.
The title track, “Kalashnik Love” used to be part of the repertoire of the Armenian Turk, Udi Hrant Kenkulian – whose playing has been a great influence in the history the classical oud. Kenkulian also wrote “Parov Yegar Siroon Var” a track that features three percussionists, Arnaud Dieterlen, Rocky Singh (Asian Dub) and Rabah Khalfa (Idir, Souad Massi). “Idemo Dalje”, also featuring that superb percussion trio, is a traditional Bulgarian melody played by the young Serbian synthesizer prodigy, Viorel Tajkuna.
On “Qat Market”, Mehdi is joined by Abdulatif Yacoub, ex-partner from the duo DuOud, singing the praises of the psychotropic plant. On “Erotic Chitetelli” composed by Mehdi, David and Rocky, the oud and the guitars of David, Stephan Gensbittel and Rodolphe Burger tantalize a choir of sensual feminine whispers.
Completing this new edition of Kalashnik Love, there are four previously unheard tracks.
“Dubaï” which measures the decadent scale of the mirage city, features three singers - Rocky Singh, Mohamed Bouamar and Richard Archer, lead singer of the British Indie-rock band Hard-Fi.
“Hôtel Zyannides ****” is a traditional melody from the hawzi repertoire (an Algerian style somewhere between popular and esoteric music) worked on by Speed Caravan during a stay with the musicians of Tlemcen.
Two remixes add the final touches. Sidestepper, the British producer and lover of Colombian rhythms, has beautifully reworked “Daddy Lolo” while Malian Mo DJ has worked on “Aissa Wah”.
Speed Caravan create music that references The Cure and The Chemical Brothers alongside Algerian rai and other Arabic influences in a glorious collision of global sounds and styles. To call Mehdi Haddab the Jimi Hendrix of the electric oud would, of course, be a hopeless cliché. But it's not that far from the truth!
“As hot as a meteorite on hitting the atmosphere, this sexy and flamboyant record will enchant lovers of ruthless fusions.”www.mondomix.com
(Reworked from a piece by Benjamin MiNiMuM)