Arts, Culture & Media

Punk rock in North African music

Whether you liked punk rock or not, you can’t deny the energy and passion that bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols unleashed in the ’70s. It’s the same energy that was the trademark of so many artists when rock n’ roll emerged in the ’50s. 

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Today, a lot of music fans in search of that ever-elusive energy ignore idiom. They’re happy to find that musical charge in whatever style, or wherever it may come from, even if that place is a refugee camp in Algeria.

A refugee camp is precisely where this band lives. This is Group Doueh, and they’ve just released “Treeg Salaam,” their second recording, to critical acclaim. 

Group Doueh’s leader is guitarist Salmou Bamaar. His first guitar was made from an olive oil can, with fishing line for strings. Today Salmou Bamaar plays the traditional tinidit and a Fender Stratocaster.

If it sounds like Salmou Bamaar can rock out his Group Doueh, you can lay that on the doorstep of his earliest influence, Jimi Hendrix. In the Sahara at night, young Salmou would listen with his friends to Hendrix over a scratchy shortwave radio. That may account for the very low-fi quality of Group Doueh’s recordings: Some of the songs don’t even have an intro, they just start brutally in the middle of the refugee camp performance.

The label that released the band's album, Sublime Frequencies, is known for its raw, in-the-moment recordings. It’s not pretty to listen to, but you quickly ignore the production values as you get transfixed by Group Doueh’s desert trance.

Group Doueh live in Algeria, but they’re not from there. Western Sahara is their ancestral home, but it’s now ruled by Morocco. And like most Saharawi people, the members of Group Doueh have been displaced from what’s known as Africa’s last colony. The music of Group Doueh is not political though. Salmou Bamaar says he stays away from politics. 

There is a rawness to Group Doueh’s diverse array of trance rock sounds.  You could read into that and say it echoes the raw emotions of being without a country and living in exile for more than three decades.  Or you could just say that Group Doueh is a guitar band that, like the best rock n’ roll, comes only a few times in our lives, burning hot and raw like meteors in the night sky.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.