It’s not often that Asheville audiences get to hear Saharan desert guitar music. Actually, it’s not often that the makers of such music play stateside, but that will happen this week, when Group Doueh plays its first-ever North American show, of its first-ever North American tour, right here.
All in the family
Salmou Baamar, who goes by the name Doueh (pronounced “Doo-way,”), is a virtuoso guitarist and the leader of Group Doueh. He’s played music since his childhood in the Western Sahara, and started a band of his own in the ‘80s. For 27 years, Group Doueh has blended the flammable, modal sounds of Saharwi music with the Western influences of Jimi Hendrix and James Brown.
The Sahrawi people inhabit the Western Sahara. Nomadic lifestyle is common, and includes a cultural blend of folk from Mauritania, Morocco and Algeria. Life on the move requires flexibility and working together, so it’s not surprising that Group Doueh is constructed of family and friends. Hailing from Dakhla, Doueh’s lyrics are in the Hassania language, backed by the vocal prowess of his wife, Halima, and his friend, Bashiri. Using traditional Moorish instruments — the tinidit (a Moorish four-stringed lute), the ardin and the tbal drum — alongside the rock savageness of electric guitar and Korg synth. The marriage is a cultural feast for the ears.
Putting Group Doueh on the map
Hisham Mayet of the Seatlle-based Sublime Frequencies record label has a strong working relationship with Group Doueh. In 2006, after discovering the band on AM radio in Morocco, Mayet pursued them through the Sahara desert, finally catching up to Doueh near the Mauritanian boarder.
Three albums later, Hisham and Doueh continue the voyage together, crossing the Atlantic. “This is their first show on American soil … they just received their U.S. visas today,” Mayet tells Xpress.
Group Doueh played the Barbican in London last month for an audience of 800, but the tour also included smaller “art squat” shows. According to Mayet, Sublime Frequencies desires to meet the audiences where they’re at, sharing the unique sounds of the artists included on the label to ears around the world.
The addition of a drummer has been a longtime suggestion of Mayet’s. Doueh enlisted his son, Hamdan, as drummer on the newest album, Zayna Jumma. The result is a thing of beauty. The melodies and harmonies are knit together with an enchanting pulse, daring feet that shall not be moved to dance. Unfortunately, the new drummer is not able to make this trip with Doueh; he’ll be attending his high-school graduation. Group Doueh will continue their use of a variety of percussion instruments in his place, delighting in Hamdan’s achievement.
Friends of the family
Mark Capon and Matt Schnable, co-owners of Harvest Records, are longtime friends of Mayet and the folks at Sublime Frequencies. “Having become fans of [Sublime Frequencies] and the uniqueness of the output they choose to release, at some point we began trying to turn a pipe dream into a reality — getting Group Doueh, Group Bombino or Group Inerane (all Sahara desert guitar wizards) to play a show in Asheville,” Capon says. “All of a sudden, a couple of months ago, as Group Doueh dates were being announced only in major markets in the U.S., we got an e-mail from Mayet wondering if we'd be into doing a Doueh show. As it turns out, he went out of his way to make sure Asheville had a fair shot at getting Doueh.”
Capon gives credit not only to friendship with Mayet, but to the audience as well. “We're beyond ecstatic about the possibility of such a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience happening right here in our own backyard. Such an opportunity would not be feasible if we didn't know how open-minded Asheville is, musically speaking. The success of this show will be a reflection of the extraordinary creativity of folks in town, and their desire to constantly be refreshed with musical experiences they're not used to having.”
— Kim Roney is a volunteer and DJ at AshevilleFM.org.
who: Group Doueh
what: Kick-off to the group’s first North American tour
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Thursday, June 23 (9 p.m. $13/$15. Show to be simulcast on http://ashevillefm.org. More information at http://www.thegreyeagle.com or http://www.sublimefrequencies.com)