New Internationalist

Fucking Cowboys

Issue 407
Whipping up a frenzy: a band of ruffians.

Cheerfully describing themselves as a band of ruffians, Gnawa Diffusion are, as the abrasive naming of this album suggests, a bunch of musical chancers that have spent the past 15 years making a most glorious rumpus. Of the same sensibility as the raï-Gypsy-punk Les Négresses Vertes some years ago, the eight-strong Gnawa Diffusion hail from an alternative France – a place where immigrant music sounds and the realities of post-colonial politics collide.

By rights, Fucking Cowboys has much to be angry about. Recorded live in Paris in 2006 at a concert to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their début album, Algeria, the band’s themes – racism, poverty, exclusion – have remained constant throughout. But, as Gnawa Diffusion demonstrate, adversity also has some good tunes. Led by Amazigh Kateb on vocals and guinbri, a kind of lute that is characteristic of North Africa’s gnawa musicians, this is a rock band, albeit one that throws into its mix reggae, raï and ragga when the mood takes it.

Yet for all the accoutrements of the rock act, there’s something unmistakably ancient about what Gnawa Diffusion get up to. ‘Banya’, with its twangy string solo, reaches towards an old type of trance music, while the kerbab castanets favoured by the band – great, dangerously raspy things – whip up a different frenzy. Clearly a band to be caught live to taste the full flavour, the CD release comes with an attached DVD of the gig.

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