In the summer of 2011, in the early hours of a moonlit night deep in the wilds of Dorset, the sound of mysterious passionate wailing and a ceaseless clattering rhythm was blasting from the shelter of a near by North African tea tent, catching the ear of a passing band of groove adventurers called Soundspecies. They were collectively captivated.
Thus began the story of Electric Jalaba.
That sound was the sound of Moroccan gnawa master musician Simo Lagnawi, the leading UK player of the Guembri; a traditional lute-like stringed instrument made from camel skin. With a mesmeric voice and dance moves to match he is a charismatic and engaging performer, swiftly gathering fans since his move from Morocco to the UK.
The majority of the band is a family affair. With literally decades of playing experience together, the natural musical connection of the Keen brothers gives Electric Jalaba an extra tightness and fluidity on stage. Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Barnaby Keen has been gathering acclaim for his self-produced releases under the name ‘Flying Ibex’, with support from BBC Radio 6 DJ Tom Robinson. Nathaniel Keen is a respected and in demand guitarist in his own right. As well as backing up Barnaby in Flying Ibex, he is currently performing internationally with electronic soul singer Andreya Triana (Ninja Tunes). Older brothers Henry and Oliver are better known by their electronic production alias Soundspecies. They have performed and DJ'd internationally at numerous festivals and venues, whilst their 2009 self-titled debut album (Burntprogress records) was celebrated and praised by the likes of BBC Radio 1 DJs Mary Ann Hobbs and Gilles Peterson.
The 2011 Soundspecies ‘Bamana project’ release (Round In Motion records) was a departure from their more electronic sound, featuring interpretations of Malian bass and guitar riffs picked up by Oliver during his travels in West Africa. The performing talents of the younger brothers were brought in at this point, along with drummer and friend Dave De Rose, and the nucleus of what was to become Electric Jalaba was formed.
Dave De Rose is a highly experienced and sought after session drummer. He has performed internationally with a whole host of acclaimed artists including Moloko, Mark Ronson, Jamie Cullum, Rokia Traore, Mulatu Astatke and more, as well as being a one-man hub of musical activity in Londons creative music scene. It was whilst performing the Bamana project material at the aforementioned festival in Dorset, the band met Simo. Back in London, after getting together for a handful of jam sessions over the following month and a traditional gnawa Lila ceremony to bless the project, without ever having performed together in public, they booked two days in a studio to document their space-age-gnawa experimentations. From the music created that weekend - available on CD and download, entitled ‘Introducing Electric Jalaba’ - it was clear that they were on to something special, not just a one-off collaboration. It formed the basis of an electrifying live set that over the course of a year has propelled Electric Jalaba to become one of London’s in demand live acts. They completed a run of UK festival dates and a tour to Cyprus, while their self-produced videos have gathered over 30000 YouTube hits.
They are deepening their explorations into gnawa music and beyond, have developed and matured their writing process and have another album on the way, due for release in April 2015.