Album Review: ‘Yalla Miku’ – Yalla Miku : Gnawa rhythms, East African roots and post punk dynamism connect on this electric debut.

The Breakdown

A record that gushes with expressive energy, a synergy of post punk and kosmische directness together with powerful gnawa and East African agility. It's an introduction to a collective project that has meaning both musically and in what it represents.
Bongo Joe Records 8.8

Every city has a true face, a side which, as Lydon said ‘the tourists never see” and revealing that real identity is what Yalla Miku are all about. Formed by the founder of Swiss label Bongo Joe, musician Cyril Yeterian and his band mate from the aptly named Cyril Cyril, percussionist Cyril Bondi, Yalla Miku’s intention is to bring together strands of the multi-national underground scene in their own metropolis, Geneva and celebrate its vitality.

This is very much a collective mission. Joining the two Cyrils are Tout Bleu/ Hyperculte electro-pop synthesist, Simone Aubert, and Vincent Bertholet, leader of the mighty Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp, plus Moroccan guembri player Anouar Baouna, Eritrean Samuel Ades on krar and darbouka percussionist Ali Boushaki from Algeria. All regular players at the Bongo Joe shop’s heady hoedowns, it’s that communal spirit which has been captured on the debut Yalla Miku album (available now on the label).

Here’s a record that gushes with expressive energy, everything is put out there from needle drop to arm rise, a synergy of post punk and kosmische directness together with powerful gnawa and East African agility. Opener Premier du Martin immediately lays down this agenda, a tense New Order stomp, with those sharp cracking snare beats, the grumbling bass line and a sense that this is leading somewhere. It’s the introduction to Samuel Ades dynamic voice that twists between the spiritual and down to earth as the thoughts of someone or somewhere distant unwind. This combination of Ades vocal acrobatics and alt rock momentum gets pushed further to 11 in the angular, Battles-like riffing of Suiise. Add in the galloping urgency of Boushaki’s darbouka rhythms for the song’s synth ignited final stretch and you get electric global beats as fresh as those sensational Congotronics International live shows of 2011.

Such sonic connectivity between Eastern and Western starting points on Yalla Miku doesn’t come from attempts to imitate, adopt or assimilate styles. Often the most impactful fusion sounds result from the natural reaction of music from different traditions coming together and this album documents such results. For the songs on this record the base tracks were laid down by the European musicians in the band, leaving room for Ades, Boushaki and Baouna to develop their own constructions within such scaffolding. As Cyril Yeterian recognises: “It was a difficult challenge for them to try and understand and adapt to this music, and in a way it’s like a metaphor for the difficulties they had in their life while settling in Europe”.

So there is a productive tension and personal connection that is integral to Yalla Miku’s music. You can hear it in the gothic toned Etre Astre where Ades yearning incantations are inventively matched Yeterian’s straight talking spoken word and a rustic flute floating within the math – rock jabs. Then there’s Asmazate, a song which once again finds the sand worn Ades vocal leading from the front as the indie romp powers up. Then a twist, a shift to overdrive gnawa style, with a full pelt darbouka/Krakeb percussive sprint that dares the call and response chorus to keep up. It’s a gear change that Yalla Miku cannily reverse on the quivering chiller Hyper Tigre as it snaps from hypnotic Moroccan chant to a machine riffed almost nu-metal conclusion.

It would be wrong to think that Yalla Miku only excel in fast and frenetic delivery. If anything, when the band ease back and give the songs increased room to breath their impression is even more significant. Take the rootsy guembri blues of Toritje, an unfolding reflection on truth and lies that opens out imperceptibly into a tumbling flow of melodic synth and prog-funk momentum. Or lose yourself in the spaced fluidity of Tapis Volant. Urged along by intense hand percussion and chiming guitar line, it’s a tune that bursts out with perfect timing. From spoken memories of faraway home life to the rising swell of the indie-toned hook and onto the joyously melodic closing surge, it’s a stunning summary of Yalla Miku music.

You get the feeling from this album that it’s very much an introduction to a collective project that has sustainability and meaning both musically and in what it represents. Yalla Miku make an electrifying, powerful sound that searches with hope and understanding, real people working together for a different sort of richness.

Get your copy of ‘Yalla Miku’ by Yalla Miku from your local record shop or direct from Bongo Joe HERE

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