It was the morning after the first night of La Mercè and I felt like I had just woken up at the gates of Hades. With the entire town filled with free music (if there’s a heaven on earth, this must be it) I was already defeated, con una resaca de mierda and angry at myself. But, hey, if I’m dying, I might as well be doing it to a nice soundtrack, right?
Within half an hour of arriving at Fabra i Coats I came across a group called Ifriqiyya Electrique doing a sound check. Two figures, a man and a woman clad head to toe in black leather reminiscent of 70s rock legends, stood against a dark blue background shredding ferociously on their guitar and bass when three men suddenly join, stepping out from the dark between them. One is banging a drum, the other two are playing large metal Maghrebi percussive instruments called krakebs, and all are singing in Arabic. The surreal contrast between the men in the middle and the leather duo on the side made me think that this might be more performance than concert, but then their strange blend of music began, unlike anything I’d heard before. It was loud, mesmerizing, spooky and hilarious all at the same time. I felt electrified, and the concert hadn’t even begun yet.
Ifriqiyya Electrique was initially a personal research project led by Gianna Greco (bass, computer, video) and François R. Cambuzat (guitar, computer, video) dedicated to the music of elevation and, at first at least, with no intention of any mainstream distribution through capitalist channels. After being told about a healing Sufi adorcist ritual (the opposite of exorcism i.e. inviting spirits to come in and possess you rather than expelling them) in the deep desert of Djerid, Tunisia, Gianna and François traveled there to met the Banga community performing said rituals. To learn, record and film. They rearranged the music in collaboration with the locals, creating what was to become Ifriqiyya Electrique, a self-defined ‘Adorcist and Industrial Ritual’ meant to reveal humanity’s need “to help and cure, to forget oneself and to rise” through universal expressions that are “identical from the nightclubs of Ibiza to Moscow’s rock clubs all the way back to the Djerid dessert”, as François explains.
Ifriqiyya is far from a typical “world music” group, many of which are “like a fancy postcard, a clean and edited version of reality showing only people that are happy, simple, free, inviting you for couscous. Real life,” they affirm, “is absolutely NOT like this”. Tired of hearing talented musicians but learning nothing about who they are, where they come from, which difficulties they face or how those difficulties are expressed through their music, Ifriqiyya decided to accompany their concerts with educational video.
And this is where Ifriqiyya really hooked me. As if music that made me, a hung-over and tired mess, rifle feverishly through my best dance moves wasn’t enough, the whole concert was backed by shots of people absorbed in ritual trance, yellow-tinted Maghrebi horizons and lonely grey roads. The entrancing imagery climaxed with portraits of Trump, Putin and company, with laser beams shooting out of their eyes and a message reading, “Strangers! Foreigners! Don’t leave us alone with this kind of inhuman beings!” Boom.
With a few simple images Ifriqiyya turned the discourse upside down. Instead of the usual liberal rhetoric of openness, tolerance and acceptance, they present the immigrant as savior. Indeed, the lucrative fable about the ‘alien’ coming from foreign lands to destroy our ‘enlightened’ values has become so widely accepted that we have failed to notice that those actually putting our values at risk live right among us, and are not “strangers.” In fact, they’re the ones who lead and represent us.
While we are fed stories about money-grubbing leeches, referring to that popular concept of the economic migrant, our governments happily make deals with their governments. And because we don’t want to deal with the backlash of wars we have helped bring about, we outsource our issues and responsibilities and sign agreements to stop migratory flows with other states, many of which are serious human rights violators. Out of sight, out of mind. And there goes our morality as well. Across the sea, across a continent. In the end, if we’re protecting anything from supposed ‘invasions of strangers’ it’s the criminals with laser beams shooting out of their eyes.