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Acid Arab
٣ Bernie Brooks , February 7th, 2023 09:17

Acid Arab drop an album of wall-to-wall heaters in the heart of winter, rousing a hibernating Bernie Brooks from his wintry den

Man, I hate the heat. I hate to sweat.

So, right now, in Michigan, ‘'m in my element. It’s well, well below freezing, snowing a bit. I’m sitting in my kitchen wearing a heavy knit sweater, drinking strong coffee, Deathprod’s iced-over drones on the stereo.

Well, Deathprod’s iced-over drones should be on my stereo. Instead, Crammed Discs have decided to drop a new Acid Arab LP in the heart of winter, which seems... inappropriate to me.

See, Acid Arab’s particular blend of the club and genres endemic to Western Asia and North Africa is summer stuff. Boiling hot and propulsive, it’s a sweaty as hell reminder of that most godforsaken of seasons when my misery will be at its peak. The kind thing would have been to let me hibernate a good while longer. Maybe do me a favour and drop these heaters in June?

Acid Arab’s latest outing is ٣ (Trois), their third proper LP (obviously), and the follow-up to 2019’s fab Jdid. Anyway, it only takes about a minute of opener ‘Leila’, with all its shababeh and clattering percussion and low-end knock, for me to start daydreaming about driving around on a summer’s night with the windows down. Prolonged exposure will have me wanting to go to the beach– and I don’t much like the beach. It’s wildly infectious, this stuff. Proper pop with enough shadow not to cloy. If I weren’t a consummate professional, the ice troll in me would resent it. Big time.

For just a second, let’s set aside my (mostly) unhinged notions of seasonality and address the elephant in the room: Something about the nature of Acid Arab’s founding concept feels a bit off in 2023. Conceived just over a decade ago by two French dudes described by The Guardian as “the Frenchmen to take Middle Eastern music to the rave,” it’s the sort of project that probably wouldn’t fly were it proposed today. Especially with that name. At bare minimum, it would elicit weary groans and side-eyed suspicion.

That said, since day one, the French dudes in question, Guido Minisky and Hervé Carvalho, have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from mere cultural appropriators, and to be fair, their work has never sounded like the product of colonialists shopping the Global Megamart for far-flung influences. This, I think, is down to their penchant for what appears to be true cross-cultural collaboration. In a 2019 tQ Baker’s Dozen with Jeremy Allen, Minisky spoke of how the group realised they needed to eschew the emulation of Arab sounds following their first LP, Musique de France, leaving that element of the project to their collaborators. “All our input is based on techno and house and the occidental part of this music,” said Minisky at the time. As a result, their records are brimming with guests, often heavy hitters, who always feel like a real part of the creative process. These aren’t hired guns. Or at least they don’t seem like it. Their presence doesn’t scan as purely transactional. Instead, one gets the impression of something deeper, more communal going on.

Now a French-Algerian five piece at its core, Acid Arab continue their fruitful string of collaborations on ٣ (Trois), enlisting a slew of players and guest vocalists from North Africa, Syria, and Turkey. And once again, the results are even richer and more rewarding than on their last outing. There are subtle evolutions and tweaks to their tried-and-true formula, sure, but it’s hard to say what makes one Acid Arab record better than the one before it (and, to be sure, this one is their best so far.) I can speculate and chalk it up to something like an accumulation of collaborative experience, as if, with each successive alliance the group grows stronger and more refined – better at collaborating, I suppose – without losing their edge or the adventurousness that made them thrilling in the first place.

As one of the whitest white people alive, I’ve no business being the arbiter of notions as slippery as authenticity and appropriation, and I have no interest in speaking for anyone else, but for me, there’s something about this music that feels true to my lived experience as a member of a diverse community full of immigrants in a city whose population is over 40% of Arab descent. When I say Acid Arab sound like summer, I mean they sound like my summer: a melange of hip-hop and techno and Arabic pop blasting from car stereos, “the station of the nations” bringing the world to Dearborn. It’s one of my favourite things about that time of year, which now that I think about it, might not be as bad as I’ve made it out to be. So, yeah, I’ll have these bangers cued up for the spring thaw. Until then, I’ll be in my ice cave.