Va Fan Fahre - "Al Wa' Debt"

Tagged with: Va Fan Fahre Al Wa' Debt Zephyrus Michael de Schryver Aicha Haskel Abdelhamid Farag Eduardo Vega balkan arabic moroccan egyptian Zet Je Maar Romski Robbery fusion jazz Glyn Phillips CD Review world music

 Al Wa' Debt - Va Fan Fahre (ZEP010)

Take a bowl of Balkanic Belgians, stir in some North African and Middle Eastern instruments and sprinkle over with some Arabic vocals written by an Egyptian poet and delivered by a Moroccan chanteuse and what you get is: "Al Wa' Debt".

This third album by the Flemish band Va Fan Fahre goes further away from their Balkan brass origins than ever before. In a calculated risk the band invited the singer Aicha Haskel and the poet Abdelhamid Farag to join with them to produce an album that looks toward an audience "broader than your average diehard world music fan."

It's a strange mix, a bit like an exotic meal where familiar ingredients are cooked up in ways you don't expect and half-remembered flavours tickle your tastebuds and then melt away instantaneously. Towering Egyptian date palms overlook fields full of Serbian vegetables as the scent of jazmine and fresh mint tea mingles with strong coffee, belgian truffles and diesel fuel. Yeah, I know. Weird isn't it!

At times it feels like the atmospheric backing music to an edgy low-budget film set in the margins of a bleak immigrant suburb, at others it's a majestic tour through green mountainscapes, or even a comic romp through the back-streets of Cairo as Tintin, Captain Haddock and the Thompson Twins* are chased by a belly-dancing cabaret singer and three fez-wearing villains on a camel . . . It's certainly different.

Va Fan Fahre's normal brass line-up of trumpets, saxes, clarinet, tuba and helicon are augmented with percussion instruments such as Darbouka (North African hand drum), Riqq (large Arabic tambourine), Carcabous (Moroccan Castanets) and Tapan (a turko-balkan drum similar in playing technique to the Indian Dhol drum - one thick stick for bass sounds and one thin one for higher sounds). The band's leader and main composer, Michael de Schryver also swaps his trademark accordion for wonderfully cheesy organ sounds which combine with Eduardo de Vega's 60s surf guitar licks to provide a retro-fromage homage. There are also plenty of catchy tunes and interesting rhythms to rattle your ears and get you shaking a tambourine.

Moroccan Aicha Haskel sings delightfully on five tracks - most notably on "Akwa Melly Fat" and the wonderful cover version of Medhat Assam's "Ya Habibi Taala" (My Love Is Coming) originally made famous by Egyptian singer Asmahan. She also delivers a wonderful Arabic/Flemish rap on "Lahzet Zekrayat" over some very Pulp Fictionesque guitar. The sleeve notes don't specify the tracks to which the poet Farag contributes - but if you do understand Arabic then apparently they are permeated with both romance and deep melancholy. The musicianship overall is of high quality and I must in particular mention the percussive multiplicity of Messrs Kramer & Simoen as well as the impressive tonguing techniques of Va Fan Fahre's brass section, something which must please their partners tremendously…

Intoxicating Arabic vocals, balkomaroqui grooves, jazzy waltzes, chicha-style 'orgelsurfmuziek' (to quote one Flemish magazine!), rasping trumpet and pumping helicon, de Schryver's cheesy organ, even shades of Hendrix's "Purple Haze" on the intro to "MonoPoly Inc Resolution" - what's it all about? I'm not sure, but all I can say is, buy the album and let Va Fan Fahre take you from Ghent to Casablanca via Cairo, Belgrade and the Night Train to Beirut. When you've finished, email me and let me know what YOU saw and heard!

The album was released in October 2010 by Zephyrus Records and at the time of writing (Nov 2010) was at No 9 in the World Music Charts Europe. My favourite track is the title track "Al Wa' Debt'.

I looked all over the CD and listened to it several times, but I couldn't still couldn't see the accredited dancer, Maya Sapera. If you see her, let me know. Maybe she's run off into the sunset with Professor Calculus** . . .

Glyn Phillips

Note for our Belgian readers:
* Thomson and Thompson = Dupont & Dupond
** Professor Calculus = Professeur Tournesol