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Al-Qasar, Rocking in the Desert

By Stéphane Deschamps |

With their fiery guitars, muscled chords and trance-like rhythms, Thomas Attar Bellier’s band releases a formidable album fusing Arab music and stoner rock. A hypnotic Qobuzissime!

In a previous life, the French musician and producer Thomas Attar Bellier lived in Los Angeles and played in a rock band called Blaak Heat. A stoner meets desert rock gang, those genres, in particular, tend to overheat the guitars and melt the metal. Back in Paris after the end of his band career, Thomas Attar Bellier remembered the desert and his passion for North-African music, which already irrigated Blaak Heat's last records (Shifting Mirrors and The Arabian Fuzz). Then he created Al-Qasar, fusion in the best sense of the word - blended through alchemy rather than surface exoticism. After Miraj in 2020, a first mini-album that revisited the links between rock's psychedelic/surf guitars and Arab music, Al-Qasar is back with Who Are We?. Here they take it back to the basics of stoner rock: muscular chords, trance-like rhythms, and tense songs that oscillate between feelings of oppression and explosive releases of energy. VIP guests on three tracks, the guitarist Lee Ranaldo (ex-Sonic Youth) and the legendary punk singer Jello Biafra (ex-Dead Kennedys) validate the rock side of the album.

Throughout the album, it is especially North African influences that we hear, in the incantatory singing of the Moroccan Jaouad El Garouge, the labyrinthine oud of Mehdi Haddab or in the female guests Alsarah and Hend Elrawy on vocals. The hypnotic and mystical power of Arab music here is multiplied tenfold by the encounter with rock music, which never stops exploring new paths in search of its African roots. This quest is not new; it began more than fifty years ago with the pilgrimages of rock stars to Essaouira, it continued in France with Rachid Taha, it returned to the desert with Tinariwen...

With Who Are We?, Al-Qasar updates the story without pretension, but with impressive efficiency. You don't need a degree in ethnomusicology to appreciate this intense trance-like Qobuzissime album: you just have to like dancing, sweating and forgetting everything while the world around you is falling apart.

LISTEN TO "WHO ARE WE?" BY AL-QASAR ON QOBUZ


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