One of the strangest records of the year so far, but also one of the best.
Chris White 2008
There's few bands anywhere quite like Antwerp's Think Of One. For a decade now, this collective of disparate musicians, led by guitarist David Bovee, has travelled the world in a convoy of dilapidated trucks and caravans, performing their own unique brand of global fusion wherever they go.
Throughout their career, Think Of One have collaborated with artists as diverse as Afro-Brazilian percussionists and Inuit throat singers, but it’s to their most frequent recording destination of Morocco that the troupe return for Camping Shaabi, their eighth album. Named after a traditional form of Berber music and featuring a stellar cast of North African performers, the influence of the Mahgreb is immediately apparent on opening track J'etais Jetee's intoxicating rhythms and soaring houariyat voices, but that’s only the beginning of the journey for a record that proceeds to blend different sounds and genres at a bewildering pace.
Whether it's woozy jazz funk on Fantome, strident hip-hop on Oppressor, the mellow Latin American acoustic strum of Ou Tu Vas or Hamdushi Five's homage to Death In Vegas’s late 90s electro-goth, Camping Shaabi is consistently inventive and surprising. Despite the dizzying variety on show, certain elements, notably the vintage keyboards and Balkan-style brass section, are present throughout, underpinning the experimentation going on all around. Sung in a dizzying mixture of Flemish, French, Arabic and English, the band's lyrics also intrigue, ranging from the seriously political (Trap het af's denunciation of racism) to the whimsical and absurd, and a catchy melody is never far away.
Far too eccentric to ever expand beyond cult status, you’d nevertheless be well advised to stop what you’re doing and enjoy the party should Think Of One's festival on wheels ever pull up in your town. One of the strangest records of the year so far, but also one of the best.