INTERVIEW: Remembering how Group Doueh was first discovered

Group Doueh will play Friday, Sept. 29 at (le) poisson rouge in New York City. Photo courtesy of the band.

Group Doueh, the successful band from Dakhla in the Western Sahara, are mainstays on the world-music scene. They have been releasing songs, touring the world and bringing their unique sounds to audience members for years, and now they are ready to have some fun at (le) poisson rouge, the world-famous club in Downtown Manhattan. They play that gig, which is presented by World Music Institute, Friday, Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m.

Hisham Mayet, co-founder of the Sublime Frequencies record label, first discovered the band in 2006. He was hooked on their sound, signed them to a deal and had them on a world tour the following year. A decade later, Group Doueh continue to impress both Mayet and others.

The band consists of Doueh; his wife, Halima Jakani; his two sons, Hamdan and El Waar; and Omar Laabadi. Their New York City concert will also feature Innov Gnawa, a local music collective that explores Morocco’s musical traditions.

Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Mayet about his relationship with the band. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

How did you first discover Group Doueh?

In the summer of 2005, Alan Bishop and I were in Essaouira, Morocco, on an expedition. He was recording radio and came across this amazing sound. We were both completely blown away by the feral nature of the recording. It sounded like nothing else we heard from the region.

After a fruitless attempt at trying to identify the artist, and being told that it was ‘music from the south,’ I decided to return to Morocco in January of 2006 and find this music. I started out in Casablanca and made my way south with the original cassette radio recording and stopped in every city and village along the coast to ask questions. No one knew anything, but again kept saying this is ‘music from the south, Hassaniya music.’

I was recording other musicians as I was making my way south (this is all documented in the film Palace of the Winds). After three weeks of traveling to find the source, it was becoming clear I was chasing a mythic idea, but it was not until the last stop before the Mauritanian border, in a small town called Dakhla, where I stayed for several days, that my search turned up something.

I asked, as I had in every city and village, the same questions. I was taken to a small studio and cassette shop, and introduced myself and explained what I was looking for. The man who owned and operated the studio and shop invited me in, and a boombox was brought out. And I put in the cassette (like every other situation in the previous month). The look on this man’s face (Doueh) face when he heard the track ‘Eid for Dakhla’ was unforgettable. He turned to me and smiled and said, ‘This is my recording, my song.’

There I was sitting cross-legged in front of him completely stunned. He even brought out the original recording to prove his point. It was to say the least one of the most exciting moments of my life and certainly a highlight in my recording career.

What can fans expect at the show coming up Sept. 29?

This is Doueh’s second tour in the USA. His first was in 2011. This band will consist of Doueh on electric guitar and tinidit, Halima Jakani (Doueh’s wife) on vocals, Doueh’s two sons Hamdan and El Waar on keyboards/synth and drums, and Omar Laabadi on vocals and percussion.

Did you immediately realize that the band would have potential for a global audience?

I was never looking for a global audience, but they certainly have transformed into a legitimate force and one of the most important Sahrawi groups from Morocco and the West Sahara.

What gets you excited when you hear a band for the first time?

The energy of the music, the location of the music.

What qualities are you looking for?

I’m always looking for the ecstatic.

When does a musical output from a certain place and time become a ‘music scene’ that is worthy of your attention and a possible record deal?

I’ve always just followed my sense of intuition in regards. Most of what I record and release exists before or outside the formation or idea of a ‘music scene’ in any particular area. It’s been part of the community in various ways and existed before in multiple evolving mutations.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

Group Doueh will play Friday, Sept. 29 at (le) poisson rouge in New York City; their concert is presented by World Music Institute. Click here for more information and tickets.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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