Bab L' Bluz to bring their fiery brand of gnawa and rock to Womad Festival in UK

The Moroccan-French band have been crowd favourites throughout the live music season in Europe

Lead singer Yousra Mansour says the band are best enjoyed live, owing to the 'powerful' indigenous instruments they use. Photo: Bab L' Bluz / Instagram
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It can be tough to make an impression at the Womad Festival.

While the popular gathering attracts an adventurous and sympathetic crowd, such is the sheer amount of top tier eclectic international acts on offer, it's challenging for a little-known Moroccan-French band to be heard above the pack.

Then again, Bab L' Bluz have been converting the uninitiated throughout the summer with their fiery take on gnawa music and psychedelic rock.

By the time they hit the Womad stage on Saturday they will be a well-oiled machine, having played to enthusiastic crowds at Brosella Festival in Belgium, Globaltica in Poland and a particularly raucous show at Jazzablanca in Morocco this month.

It was during the latter event where The National met the group’s co-founders, Moroccan singer Yousra Mansour and French guitarist and producer Brice Bottin.

Both agree its live on stage where the quartet are in their element.

“The music we are working on has a lot of energy and it's only when we are performing live that we can transmit it in a way that's better and purer than headphones or a music video,” Mansour says.

“This is a reason why we get a lot of new people, you can call them fans, after they see us perform. This is why we need to be on the road and performing everywhere and coming to Womad has been a big goal on our minds.”

The UK performance will be a homecoming of sorts for Bab L' Bluz, Mansour explains, as it will be the first time they will physically meet the team facilitating their debut album Nadya!

Released during the pandemic in 2020, the record already achieved a measure of notoriety due to its release under Real World Records, a leading world music label founded by Womad and Peter Gabriel — the original singer of British progressive rock band Genesis.

While the extra profile helped, Nadya!'s heady mix of intense gnawa hoedowns — best exemplified in barrelling opener Gnawa Beat and more traditional Berber and Mauritanian griot folk music propelled the group to becoming a must-see festival act.

“The goal is to create a melange between the electrified sounds of artists like Jimmy Hendrix, whom we love and respect, and mix it with traditional instruments from Morocco,” says Bottin. “But we do that within a rock framework with verses and choruses.”

Intriguingly, it is the indigenous instruments responsible for the psychedelic rock kick informing the sound of Bab L' Bluz.

The album is built upon the rhythmic foundation of the Bottin's gimbri (a three-stringed lute emanating a fuzzy and earthy bass tone) and the unrelenting clanging of the qraqeb (iron castanets) from percussionist and flautist Jerome Bartholomew.

However, it is reverberating sounds of the awisha (a smaller version of the gimbri and with a higher tone) elevating the works towards a trippy psychedelic realm, such as in the woozy Ila Mata and spiky El Gamra.

“It's an instrument that brings the trance part to the music because it keeps ringing in your ears,” Mansour explains.

“It's powerful but not heavy, it has the ability for the notes to just float around.”

Bab L' Bluz looks forward to taking the Womad audience along for the ride, while making a stand towards certain sections of the music community back home.

“In Morocco and certain parts of the Arab world there is still this culture of the forbidden that has stopped many women from performing and embracing the arts,” Mansour says.

“This is changing, especially in the gnawa scene, where women are encouraged to learn, practice and play.

“We just want to play our part in making it easier for them to do that and showing you can do it with pride and enjoying it as well.”

Bab L' Bluz perform at Womad, Charlton Park, London on Saturday. The festival runs until Sunday. More information about the event and line-up is available on womad.co.uk

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Updated: July 30, 2022, 5:55 AM
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