Monday, December 31, 2007


Yes they are Bedouins, and yes they really do use jerry-cans as a percussive instrument, alongside clay jugs, coffee grinders, ammunition boxes and anything else that will add rhythmic value to their addictive North African dance music. Semi-nomadic Sufis from the Sinai, the Bedouin Jerry Can Band base their earthy Arabic sound around the simsimiyya (5-string Egyptian lyre), the assorted percussive detritus of the Sinai desert, magroona (reed pipe), rababa (single-stringed fiddle), call-and-response vocals and a deeply rooted sense of tradition. Despite the reference to jerry cans, this isn’t a jumble of sounds gathered haphazardly together, it’s a carefully-crafted traditional sound draped in years of steady musical refinement that falls somewhere between the bluesy hand-clapped call and response songs of acoustic Tuareg bands like Tartit and the up-tempo popular chaabi music prevalent throughout the Maghreb. Fellow Egyptian Sufis El Tanbura add vocal lustre to three of the best tracks, Am Ye Gamal, Drobie and Black Coffee, the latter a rousing contemporary folk song in praise of the coffee making rituals around which the Bedouin tribes of the Sinai revolve. There’s plenty of variety to the tunes as well, in sound if not theme (this being desert pop music of yore, most songs are on a love-related theme). On the instrumental Debaka, various wind instruments exchange playful melodic passages over sparse handclap and tabla support, and female vocalist Rana Awad adds gorgeously sweet, yelping vocals that are every bit as contemporary and seductive as the best modern Arabic pop chanteuses on what is possibly the album’s highlight, Wesh Melek (“a tragic tale of mismatched desire between two young lovers” according to the sleeve-notes). All in all, an infectious, educational gem of an album.

This review first appeared on

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