- Gilbert Cohen, AKA Gilb'R, recently described Cités Nomades, the 100th release on Versatile Records, as his label's oddest release yet. It's indeed an unusual record, the product of two deep-thinking Frenchmen hunkered down in a Parisian basement, pairing electronic music with Dadaist poetry. But Versatile's other recent transmissions have hardly been straightforward. Take Houran & Shamaleh, a project headed by Cohen and Shadi Khries.
The pair met in Paris during recording sessions for the Versatile-signed outfit Acid Arab. This is where they had an idea to record "local music styles on the verge of disappearing." So for 15 days Cohen and Khries travelled through Jordan, recording local musicians in two principle locations: a Bedouin camp in the Wadi Rum desert and a friend's house in Amman. The record's key contributor is Abu Sayah, an exiled Syrian musician who plays the arghul, a double-pipe instrument fixed together with beeswax that simultaneously emits a drone and a melody. This sound heralds the start of opening track "Houran," and it continues unhurriedly for almost nine minutes, the only embellishments coming from Etienne Jaumet's pulsing synth work. On the next tune, "Shamaleh," the arghul's sound is transformed from languid to urgent. Cohen balances this mood with a sluggish kick drum hovering around 100 BPM, which moves further into the foreground (along with some vocals) on the dub version.
I:Cube and DJ Sotofett both remix "Houran." I:Cube's version buries the arghul in churning bass that advances and retreats like a tide. DJ Sotofett has a thing for turning in monumental remixes, and he pushes the boat out on his version, calling in a new vocalist, credited here as Ghinwa Abou Najm, and pairing her with some lovely hand-played percussion. It goes for 12 minutes and, in both its scope and its execution, is a remix befitting of such an adventurous record.
A1 Houran (Gilb'R Simple Tone Mix)
A2 Shamaleh (Gilb'R Main Mix)
B1 Nasser (Interlude)
B2 Shamaleh (Dub Version)
C1 Houran (I:Cube Remix)
C2 Houran feat. Ghinwa Najm (DJ Sotofett Versatile Mix)