Who Are We?

GB 130LP GB 130LP

LP version. Middle Eastern psych-rock collective Al-Qasar's debut album is an explosive mix of heavy Arabian grooves, global psychedelia, and North African trance music. The band calls it "Arabian fuzz." Brazenly electric and deeply connected. When continents collide, they make a thunderous sound. Al-Qasar create the soundtrack to that fission on their full-length debut, Who Are We? The musicians came together, from France, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and the United States. Shows followed, first in France, then in Europe and the Middle East. They put out an EP, the widely-lauded Miraj, recorded in Cairo. Work on Who Are We? began in December 2020, with Attar Bellier composing eight tracks that writhe and roar in skillfully controlled chaos. Bass, drums and traditional percussion create a deep, irresistible groove for the foundation, while electric saz and guitars build a wailing wall above, with Moroccan vocalist Jaouad El Garouge's ecstatic voice, steeped in his Gnawa upbringing, pulling inspiration from history as it strides into the future. Drawing on years of experience working in Los Angeles studios, Attar Bellier produced the album. Who Are We? translates the sound that inhabited his head into something physical that stirs spirit, heart and feet. The Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra was a natural addition to "Ya Malak," his inimitable voice reciting a translation of Egyptian revolutionary poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, elevating the record's social critique while showcasing the first-ever English recording of Negm's work. Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth layers textured, brooding guitar over the first two cuts, "Awtar Al Sharq" and "Awal." The sweeping drones embrace the Moroccan bendir groove to magical results. Hend Elrawy, the acclaimed Egyptian singer whom the band met in Cairo, brings her powerful voice to "Mal Wa Jamal", whose Arabic lyrics promote a female-centric and humbling outlook on prostitution and its consequences. Like the other songs on the album, its social consciousness is carefully veiled in images. "Hobek Tawrat," for instance, can be taken as a love song, with its seductive, ringing opening on the electric saz that leads up to the aching voice of New York-based Sudanese innovator Alsarah (Alsarah & The Nubatones). One of the band's great coups is the track "Barbès Barbès," an ode and homage to the neighborhood in Paris where Al-Qasar first came together. The iconic Mehdi Haddab (Speed Caravan) added his oud virtuosity to the track. Who Are We? is a deep, exhilarating album. Its intensity never wavers, music that pulls from the hypnotic roots of North African trance and threads it into a fabric with the elaborate beauty of Arabic scales and the shock and thrill of rock'n'roll. Mixed by Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age, PJ Harvey). Mastered by Grammy-winner Dave Collins.