The Cool Side of the Pillow
brings together singer and sentir player Michy Mano and Oslo DJ Bugge Wesseltoft to create a work of musical fusion that is accomplished, hip, witty, but ultimately less than the sum of its parts. Those partsMoroccan popular styles and Norwegian electronicado not mix as readily as you might suppose.
Start with electronica. Worldly approaches like Wesseltoft's derive texture, variety, even irony from sampling previously recorded performances. The effect is to smooth out differences between, say, a bass line taken from a commercially recorded R&B session from the 1970s and a documentary field recording of a religious ceremony in a remote desert sanctuary. Splicing both samples into the same track treats all of these objets trouvés as equivalent, as sounds on tape. It's disorienting but engaging in a vaguely postmodern way.
The Moroccan music that influences this record is based on performance, not on post-performance collage. Listen to the sentir that ushers in a performance by the Master Musicians of Jajouka: it communicates an attitude and a time signature to the musicians, marking the beat every bit as insistently as Count Basie's piano in the opening measures of "Jumpin' at the Woodside. (Mano introduces "Salla nabi with a mellower sentir prelude.)
Why don't these two styles fit together? Because the Moroccan musical performance that is at the heart of this record is too handmade and live to be flattened into an oversized "sample, while the smooth electronic vibe is too mechanized and monochromatic to hold its own in this setting. Better to (a) have an all-live Moroccan record; or (b) let Wesseltoft do it all himself, choosing any sample he likes.
But either of these solutions is too easy: Mano may be Moroccan by birth and in his musical sensibilities, but he is a Norwegian musician now, and this record is evidence of an attempt to craft an artistic vision in his new home. He and Wesseltoft are to be congratulated for attempting this marriage of styles. Let's hope that they, and other like-minded enthusiasts of mongrel, hybrid aesthetics continue to grapple with the differing world views of Moroccan chaabi and electronica.
In the meantime, we listeners can marvel at the many great moments that pepper this record: Mano's plaintive vocal on "Music is bigger than me ; the juxtaposition of laid-back Franco-Brazilian guitar (if you're familiar with Henri Salvador, you'll know what I mean) and French-language rapping on "Tellement gadjo que je suis gypsy the words are included in the liner notes; and Hassan Shoukat's cool tabla on "Gherbelize it. These joys are no small consolation.
Personnel: Michy Mano: vocals, sentir, loops, keyboards; Bugge Wesseltoft: keyboards, programming, harmonium, organ; Abderrahim Tobi: vocals; Issa Tobi: backing vocals, violin; Oystein Trollsas: ney flute, soprano saxophone; Dozzy Njava: guitar; Paolo Vinaccia: percussion, loops; Hassan Shoukat: tabla; Aleco Bielenberg Ivanovich: vocals, guitar; Nikak Bielenberg Ivanovich: guitar solo; Audun Erlien: electric bass; Bendik Hofseth: tenor saxophone.