Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Shalabi Effect

Released 2000 on Alien 8
Reviewed by Wildman, 10/06/2003ce

I guess I’ve got too much time on my hands, but I prefer chilling out to the psychedelic bands that focus on creating an atmosphere rather than rocking out.

So I had to get this – a 131-minute double CD – the moment I had read the record label description: “Middle Eastern influenced folk with spacey electronics and really beautiful trippy guitars”.

That’s true, but does not do justice to this meditative, spacey music. It’s better to imagine playing the following at the same time, and that it all starts to mesh together: Tangerine Dream’s Zeit, Queen Elizabeth II, Agitation Free’s Malesch and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Songs drone into life like Zeit, then a spacey electric guitar slides in to add another layer. It moves at Queen Elizabeth pace, but there is a sense of urgency from North Indian percussion and melodies played on an oud (think of a lute played flamenco style and you have a good idea of this Middle Eastern acoustic guitar).

If I am honest, QE II is the better album – more spiritual, more ambient – and Malesch is simply one of those albums that no home should be without. But Shalabi Effect is a great, cinematic album. Play it and picture yourself at a campfire in the desert, looking up at the stars.

It is easy to snigger, because world music has got a bad name. But Middle Eastern and Indian musicians have been playing trippy spacerock music for more than 2,000 years. Western prog dabbled with plinky-plonky sitars for a time, but its white-bread musicians could not get a grip on another culture’s inside-out melodies or cart-on-a-farm-track rhythms. And more lately, any attempt at “fusion” has been just a cynical way to market world music by slapping shiny bass lines and disco beats over everything. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has been a repeat offender in this area – avoid anything of his on the Realworld label, or any track that finishes in under 10 minutes.

Shalabi Effect tracks start and finish, but it all becomes one, so it’s not worth noting individual titles – other than to say those with recognizable structure (Mending Holes in a Wooden Hart and On the Bowery) are hidden away in the middle of each disc. I read that this group records 90 per cent of everything on the first take, mainly improvised, only occasionally overdubbing structure to create these more recognizable tunes.

Play this album and time will disappear. You will get the munchies and need a cup of tea.

But it won’t really be the munchies – you will be hungry because another mealtime has rolled around. Shalabi Effect stole the afternoon.

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