It’s some of the wildest music you’ll ever hear. Twisted, high-energy fretboard heroics on top of pounding, frenetic, circular rhythms. An intense mix of howling, hand-clapping, and an ocassional swirl of what can only be junkstore keyboards.
Some tunes are intense and meditative drones. Others are outright ecstatic celebrations. You might be excused if you mistake it for a late-night jam session involving Jimi Hendrix, Afrika 70, the guy who played keys in the Arkestra, and maybe those two drummers from the Butthole Surfers.
The truth is that the guy behind the music is a stoic man who wears a moustache and (when not wearing dark aviator glasses) has a stare that seems to go on for miles. In photos, he often wears flowing robes and holds his guitar the way a probing soldier carries a rifle. And why shouldn’t he? He comes from the damn Sahara Desert. His name is Salmou Baamar and he goes by the name Doueh. He’s been the guitarist and leader of Group Doueh for 27 years.
At home in the Western Sahara, Group Doueh typically perform at weddings, festivals and parties. They’re something of a party band, playing late into the night for dancers and revelers.
The way the story goes, world-traveler and obsessive music fan Hisham Mayet discovered Group Doueh in 2005. He had gotten his hands on a cassette of an AM radio broadcast and, taken by the raw and unique sounds, searched for the musicians along the coast of West Africa for a month before arriving at Doueh’s front door. Doueh and wife Halima have said they felt “bewildered” by Mayet’s “passion and tenacity for the music.” Mayet then introduced Doueh’s music to the rest of the world via Sublime Frequencies, a record label he operates with Alan Bishop of the Sun City Girls.
In May, Group Doueh released their fourth album, Zayna Jumma, and completed their second tour of Europe. By the time this issue is published, they will have begun their first visit to the United States. It’s a tour that includes performances at art museums, cultural centers and jazz festivals. In Philadelphia, they’ll be playing at Johnny Brendas.
Mayet was able to answer a few questions on Doueh’s behalf.
Tell me a little bit about Doueh’s guitar style. I assume he’s self-taught.
He is self-taught. His first guitar was a wooden plank strung with fishing line. His style is an amalgamation of his Saharoui roots and the influences that have come from all over West Africa and some elements of Western Music like Hendrix and the blues.
Group Doueh seems like a loose collection of musicians centered around Doueh’s guitar and his wife Halima. What types of musicians and instruments can we expect to see on stage?
The group is always shifting membership. Doueh and his wife Halima are the core of the band. This tour will feature one of their sons (El Waar) on keyboards, Tricha on percussion (playing tea glasses on a metal tray) and Lemnaya on tbal (clay drum) and vocals, and Halima and Doueh. Their other son, Hamdan, was supposed to come along and play a full drum kit, but he is graduating high school the same day they have to leave Morocco.
Does the band do anything differently when they play for a western audience? From what I understand, they don’t play at rock clubs when they’re at home.
They will be playing a mix of styles on this tour. On previous European tours, they’ve played different sets on a nightly basis. They will certainly play a lot of material from the last two albums and mix in some traditional stuff as well.
And how have they been received in Europe?
The shows and European crowds have been amazing!
There’s a lot of singing and chanting in the music. Any insights into what they’re saying?
A lot of it is the sung poetry of their Hassania heritage. Some of the more western sounding tracks are pop tracks that deal with the usual themes of pop and rock music ... love, loss, not fitting in ... also anthems to their culture and the nomadic lifestyle they have left behind.
You recorded the two most recent Group Doueh albums, presumably using more “professional” techniques than the group’s earlier recordings. Was it a challenge to balance a cleaner sound with the group’s raw sound?
It’s not really a challenge because I record with basic gear and try not to do too much. Most of it is mic placement and getting good performance out of the group. I love a room sound or a live sound and a lot of the recordings I’ve made over the years have a recognizable approach because I’m always looking for a particular location sound. I’ve recorded the group now on their turf for five years and understand their sound as much as anyone. It gets easier as time rolls on.
PW's Music Issue 2014