Group Doueh mixes blues with Saharan traditions

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      Since 2003, Seattle’s Sublime Frequencies label has released more than 60 CDs and DVDs, with co-owners Alan Bishop and “experimental ethnographer” Hisham Mayet searching out and documenting unusual ethnic musics from Syria, Thailand, Burma, Morocco, and elsewhere. According to Mayet, perhaps the most poetic story in their history involves their discovery of the music of Group Doueh.

      Bishop was scanning a Moroccan radio station in 2005, tape running, when a “lo-fi ruckus” erupted that stood out against the polished, western-influenced Mauritanian music they’d been hearing. “We were awestruck,” Mayet tells the Straight via Skype from Seattle. “We were just, ”˜This is it.’ ” Unfortunately, the radio station didn’t announce who the artists were.

      Armed with a cassette recording of the song—“Eid for Dakhla”, which would ultimately appear on Group Doueh’s Guitar Music of the Western Sahara—Bishop and Mayet spent the remainder of their African journey seeking information on it, to no avail.

      “I became even more obsessed than Alan with how to deal with this, and decided I was going to go back,” says Mayet, whose film Palace of the Winds documents his village-to-village quest in search of the elusive music.

      He admits that he was almost at his wit’s end by the time he arrived in the Western Saharan town of Dakhla.

      “I pop into this house,” he says, “waiting for another defeat.”

      But there Mayet encountered Salmou “Doueh” Baamar, and played him the tape. “He hears those opening chords and looks up with that million-dollar smile and says ”˜Oh, yeah, how’d you get these recordings—this is me!’ I was frozen solid, goosebumps all over. I felt like I was floating for two days.”

      Doueh plays tidinit, a three-stringed Mauritanian lute, and fingerpicks a Fender Telecaster with added frets—“to give him the microtonal scales of this music,” Mayet explains—which he filters through phaser and wah-wah pedals. His band—now on its first North American tour—plays traditional music in the Sahrawi/Hassania tradition, tinted by exposure to Jimi Hendrix and James Brown.

      “This music has developed outside the realms of other West African music,” Doueh tells the Straight. “If there are similarities with any sort of western music, It’s the blues, in terms of colour and style and execution.”

      People further should understand that “this is a dance music,” he adds. “It’s something that should be celebrated physically. I would like it to be celebratory—an ecstatic music!”

      Group Doueh plays Performance Works on June 28.