Speed Caravan’s “Aissa Wah”

Okay, this track is actually pretty cool. It wasn’t the one I planned to post today. I had something a bit more disco and ’70s in mind. And I’ll definitely circle back to that one in due time. But this little bit of world fusion funk easily won the day. It’s called “Aissah Wah,” and it’s by French trio Speed Caravan, which I hear expands to a five-piece when needed.

I’m actually surprised I’ve never heard of these guys before. This track dates way back to 2009, from their debut album “Kalashnik Love.” And I could understand maybe missing this particular track. But that same album features a truly spirited Mid East-styled rendition of the Chemical Brothers “Galvanize,” and a truly funked-up ethnic-infused take on The Cure’s “Killing an Arab.” And that’s definitely a pair of covers that would’ve and should’ve popped up on my radar. But they didn’t … until today.

I should add that there’s a bit of irony in choosing “Killing an Arab” as a cover song, since Speed Caravan’s go-to sound is essentially flavoured by Arabic-infused rhythmic structures and motifs. But it’s a really faithful and spirited version that actually makes sense … as well as adds and expands.

Much of that comes from Algerian musician Medhi Haddab, who’s an experienced oud player, which is an Arab lute to you and me. Haddab’s is electric, which keeps things more skewed in the contemporary setting. But the traditional influences can be felt. And that’s not a stretch. Speed Caravan deliberately adapts and modernizes 14th century Arab-Andalusian pieces in their music. I couldn’t tell you where. But after listening to all of “Kalashnik Love,” it feels of that world and from that era, or at least something old and ancient, even if you don’t understand the reference points.

The rest of the trio is rounded out by Frenchman Pascal Teillet and Hermione Frank. The former sports a spirited funked-up style of bass playing, while the latter programs the electronic percussion with a vintage naturalism, owing to whole genres of electro and disco. There’s a few vocalists who join the ensemble, when called for. But the core trio is where the craft and creation occur.

So back to “Aissa Wah.” This one actually seems to fill some of that ’70s groove I was originally intending to post, so good on that. It’s mainly the bassline, which bounces along a semi-breakbeat-styled wah-wah rhythm, thick and thumpin’ in tightly knit jams. It feels like it could easily slip into a Chemical Brothers set, which I guess should be no surprise, given the aforementioned. But it’s also got this progressive slip and slide to its momentum, boldly rolling forward with one foot in the vocal-intoned past, and the other in a modern electronic motif – one I could only liken to a spy-era theme, a la James Bond, minus the obvious bits. Yeah, that sounds weird, but it’s what comes to mind. And it totally works.

I’m not sure if Speed Caravan is still around fusing past and present into sound. I did see a photo of them from 2017 at a French music festival. So that seems promising. And their Facebook page shows pics of them from last year. But I’ve only found the one album “Kalashnik Love” in their catalogue. I hear they have a second one from 2016 called “Big Blue Desert.” But that one isn’t available on Spotify. So I’ll have to find a different means of checking that one out. Maybe YouTube? Anyway, for now, this one will have to do.

No matter, though. “Kalashnik Love” is a great little one-off gem to explore. And it contains “Aissa Wah,” as well as their interpretations of “Killing an Arab” and “Galvanize.” I’ve included embeds of all three, so that should get you started. Give this trio of tunes from Speed Caravan a spin, and see where their worldly fusion takes you. Enjoy!

“Aissa Wah” from the 2009 album “Kalashnik Love.”

Speed Caravan’s cover of The Cure’s “Killing an Arab” from the 2009 album “Kalashnik Love.”

Speed Caravan’s cover of the Chemical Brothers “Galvanize” from the 2009 album “Kalashnik Love.”