Electric Jalaba has been a live institution for nearly a decade, entrancing audiences from London’s beloved Passing Clouds to a plethora of UK venues and festivals worldwide with their modern take on Gnawa music.
The Keens are four brothers from Dorset who were pretty much born with instruments in their hands, and followed their eclectic musical path(s) ever since. Outside of the numerous solo projects and collabs (Olly and Henry’s Soundspecies being the most well known, check the incredible album they recorded in Cuba with Ache Meyi), the brothers have teamed up with drummer extraordinaire Dave De Rose and Morocco’s Simo Lagnawi to form Electric Jalaba about a decade ago.
Lagnawi is arguably the UK’s foremost maalem (master) of Gnawa music, and as part of Electric Jalaba their aim has always been to re-interpret and give a fresh take to some of the standards of the genre. El Hal/The Feeling is their third album, which sees them step up to big stage via the revered Strut label. This is their most accomplished studio effort, displaying a unique approach to the various cultures and peoples of North and West Africa (the Gnawa are descendants of sub-Saharan African slaves who originally came to Morocco in the 16th Century, and their music has always incorporated those influences). Cosmic flourishes (‘Tora Tora’), electro bangers (‘Cubaili Ba’) and psychedelic undertones that permeate the album throughout (check the mesmerising ‘Briando’) come and mix perfectly with Gnawa’s entrancing rhythms and spirituality.
The whole set has a really futuristic feel to it, as exemplified on the single ‘Daimla’, an irresistibly groovy fusion of funk, call and response, Gnawa rhythms, and deep, dubbed out electronic undertones (courtesy of Henry Keen aka The Room Below), as well as their heavily percussive and psychedelic use of mbalax rhythms (‘Agia Hausa’).
“The trance-inducing effect of Gnawa was what hit us first. It was visceral, heart stopping,” says Olly. “Simo selected the chant from the traditional song suites and, as a band, we extended these short pieces of ceremonial music and experimented with sound and structure.” As the title goes, it’s a feeling - just let yourself be transported.