Written by Suds Lakhani
Earlier this week I had a conversation with Sofyann Ben Yousef, the producer and keys player from an up-and-coming band called Bargou08. They boasts a wonderful blend of traditional Tunisian music and a more modern musical style. There’s an impenetrable groove that’s not going anywhere; certain to get your head nodding
My name is Sofyann, I’m 37 years’ old and I play in Bargou08 and I’m from Tunisia.
Q: What can you tell us about Bargou08?
S: “It’s a project that is in some way defending a type of music from Tunisia with a popular expression. It started a few years ago, about 3 years now, in North-West Tunisia with a singer called Nidhal Yahyaoui. Nidhal is from that region in Tunisia which is called Bargou, which is where the band name came from; inspired by the mountain and the village”
“Nidhal wanted to work with the music from his native area and he asked me to join him. So we went there and spent time there and worked with the local musicians. He spent years collecting songs but this music is an aural tradition, so there aren’t really any recordings of this repertoire; the music has not been recorded, there isn’t an archive.”
“The only way to learn the songs is to talk to people to try and get the songs from the old generation. It was a big field experience where we merged with the village and its culture. We tried to translate all that into this project which is Bargou08.”
“After the changes that happened in Tunisia, there was a huge identity crisis and we felt, a little bit as artists, a responsibility to react to that in a way that looks for unity and also reconnecting with our roots and culture.”
Q: You’ve released a song called Mamchout, which definitely conveys the traditional aspect that you’ve mentioned. But, there are also a number of different styles and sounds that come into play. So, what are the influences in this project?
S: “The core of the sound is traditional, but we live in an era where all sorts of things are mixed and all sorts of things are accessible. We can’t find bands anymore that aren’t accessible from a global level. So it wasn’t a need for modernisation because I think music does not need any modernisation.”
“It was more research, on a production level at least, to find a way to make the music more intelligible in a way for younger generations and to create that bridge between the older and younger generations. Also, to create that bridge to people from other countries that don’t necessarily understand the language but do understand the rhythm and the pulse which we tried to place in the front of the arrangements.”
“We have the same problem that everybody has in other countries; the young generation do not listen to traditional music anymore. They listen to global rock or pop or whatever, but in our point of view there is no contradiction in listening to traditional beats. Sometimes you just need to find a more intelligible way, that makes listening become a comprehensive experience. You don’t necessarily on the first listen take to but on a second listen you may take to. As we say; rhythm is universal.”
Q: Did you have any formal music education?
S: “I studied musicology in Tunisia and I have a diploma in Arabic music. Nidhal, the Singer mainly learnt music aurally. Most of the band in fact learnt music from an aural tradition.”
Q: It says on your bio that you set up a mobile studio, what was that like? What did you do?
S: “We were a live band for a long time, nearly 2 years, and we reached a point where we felt we needed to make an album. It was difficult to agree on how to do it but it was certainly easier when we didn’t have a lot of money to make it.”
“The solution to problems had to be something we liked but also something that didn’t cost a lot of money. Everything went in the direction of recording the album in Tunisia. We felt it was the right place, to come back to the village where it all started. So we came back to the house of Nidhal’s ancestors, it’s a super old house in the village, probably 300 years old. It’s next to the mountain so the vibe was great so we decided to record there. It also made sense because we wanted to feature the local musicians in the area.”
“When it came to the idea of the acoustics, we thought it would be a good idea to work with natural materials. So, we used blocks of hay… 2 trucks full of hay… we stuck the hay together to act as insulation, or acoustic treatment. This is where the super dry sound of the album comes from.”
“We set up the control room in the kitchen, another room was the recording room, another room was where we would all sleep. It was super cold so we all had to sleep in one room and use the one heater that we had… it was kind of sketchy but it was cool.”
“We wanted to communicate a very clear message to young musicians from Tunisia, or anywhere in the world, that you can do any project and make a really great album wherever you are. Even in a mountain where electricity shuts down regularly and you don’t have a studio; you can just make your own. You just find whatever you can and make great music.”
“We wanted to place the place, the people and the culture at the front rather than thinking of being in a super studio and being super equipped; all of this is not relevant anymore, as long as you have a strong idea behind the music.”
Q: Let’s talk about Mamchout again, what was the idea behind the song and what does it mean?
S: “All of the songs we sing are 200-300 years old so it’s impossible to find the origins. As in every aural tradition, songs were often composed instantly, sometimes not, and it was a way to communicate. There were songs that made it through time where the music was passed from generation to generation. That’s what we sing and play are those songs that have survived.”
“It’s a song about a situation where a man talks about this beautiful lady that he is in love with, having beautiful hair and so on. The translation isn’t a poetic but in the song the man uses all sorts of examples from nature to describe her beauty and let her know he is love with her. So it’s a love song. It’s interesting because it gives us an insight into love and taboo back then.”
Q: You’ve got an album coming out called Targ next month?
S: “Yes the album will be out February 17th on Glitterbeat Records”
Q: So let’s talk about Glitterbeat Records, how did you get involved with them?
S: “Our manager got introduced to Glitterbeat Records after the album was made. So we started the album totally independent. We didn’t look at any labels to start with but after the album was made and put together, we got the input from Glitterbeat.”
“It’s one of those labels that are super interesting with their approach to artists. They have a very high level of communication that was very pleasant. It explains a lot about the success of Glitterbeat. I think it’s a lot about the passion they have about music and the communication they have with their artists.”
Q: You’re going on a European tour soon?
S: “Yes we are, there are already a few dates announced, many more to come.”
Q: What’s the set up for the tour? How many musicians have you got and what will they be doing?
S: “On tour, we are always five musicians. I play a Moog playing the bass and there maybe will be a few additions to that, we are working on it. We have a drums and percussions, a flute… there are two types of flute, one’s a flute and one’s more like a Zorna. There is also the singer who also plays a traditional string instrument.”
Q: What kind of thing can we expect in the album? Is the sound similar to Mamchout?
S: “I would say that the album is some progression. One half of the album is with the flute that you hear in Mamchout. The other half of the album is made with the other traditional flute which has a super powerful sound. As the album goes on the sound and rhythm changes… it becomes super Trance-y. I wouldn’t be surprised if DJs start mixing some of the tracks.”
“That was also one of the approaches; to find a balance between acoustic sounds and the synthesiser. The synthesiser is usually used for metronomical music; we have this association with synths things like Electronic music which has a very regular tempo. So for once, A synthesiser is played live. Every note is pressed on keys, all the filtering is done live all and played with live drums rather than working off a metronome.”
Q: What’s your plan after the tour?
S: “We are working on a clip to be released in the coming month. We will be coming back in May for several dates in Europe, and for summer festivals, hopefully we will have a gig London. For 2018, we are preparing for a North American tour.”
Bargou08 and this type of sound is definitely on the rise again. From listening to Mamchout, the sound of the band adds to the sounds of other musicians like Acid Arab.
I personally can’t wait for the release of Targ, it sounds like it’s going to be a musical experience to say the very least.
You can check out their single Mamchout below alongside their Facebook.
Keep an eye out, we’ve been informed that they will be coming our way for a gig or two in the near future.