Bargou 08 calls their music, a combination traditional Tunisian music and Moog-heavy electronics, "an invitation to trance." I, respectfully and admittedly with Western ears, call it an invitation to bang one's head and flip all the furniture.
Songs start with a plucked outar, a lute-like instrument, or a zokra, the predecessor to the oboe, along with plaintive singing about, say, wishing to be the bird in the bosom of one's lover. They are then transformed by low-end synth to better resemble the heaviest metal/dance hybrid; the result is a fantasia of dubbed-out drops and windmill inducing breakdowns.
Bargou 08 is the brain hild of frontman Nidhal Yahyaoui and producer Sofyan Ben Youssef. Nidhal Yahyaoui grew up in the area of Bargou, nestled between the Tunisian border and the Algerian mountains, and the "08" signifies both area's old dial code and the slang that some in the Tunisian capital use to refer to the region's poverty. Bargou is rarely visited, and the musical tradition is insular. Bargou's manager tells me that "Nidhal stared to work on the repertoire some time ago by collecting songs from the elderly of the village. Traditional songs were passed on through the generations orally, never been transcribed or documented."
Yahyaoui and Youssef took these songs, keeping both lyrics and dialect intact, and combined them with modern dance music trappings to make a sound that—and I don't say this cavalierly—sounds like absolutely nothing else. When I saw the band in Morocco in November, their sheer volume drove some away. But those who stayed were, like me, driven close to tears (and it should be noted that in Tunisia the band is seen as a national treasure). I can see Bargou 08 playing a festival in the desert, enrapturing a wedding or club dancefloor, or opening up for Godflesh.
Whether you see Bargou 08's debut album Targ, out tomorrow on Glitter Beat, as a masterful interweaving of regional folk and electronica or more as one of the heaviest doom albums of the year is up to you. But I will say that the flute-like gasba serving as a lead reminds me an awful lot of the harmonica in Black Sabbath's "The Wizard." Either way, rarely is a labor of love and preserving tradition so thrilling.
Check out the stream of the full album below and purchase it here.
Photo by Ahmed Makhlouf, courtesy of Bargou 08
Zachary Lipez is a writer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter.