I once lived with a guy who played sitar. One of my other friends came over and was incredibly taken by his sitar skills. She exhorted him, “You should start a band with that! That would be so cool! Why has no one thought of that before?”
Calmly, he responded, “Well, I think it was called the 1970s.”
It was pretty awesome. That’s my best memory of the instrument, right ahead of the time that guy taught me to play it But I think that Al-Yaman‘s Insanyya might qualify as my third favorite sitar experience, as Al-Yaman features sitar prominently in their Middle Eastern/Indian dance music. They also feature distorted guitars, rock drumming and dance beats. This is not your standard folk music. It also sounds nothing like the 1970s (sorry, Matt).
To start off with, every one of Al-Yaman’s ten songs on this album is over four minutes. The average is six minutes, as the album clocks in at almost exactly an hour. The band gives you plenty of time to adjust to the grooves and then hit the dance floor. And that’s really what they do best; they turn Arabic/Indian folk music into a techno-like experience. This is especially true on the standout “Samra,” which features clapping, slinky bass, the aforementioned sitar, very hip-hop drums, pulsing synths, and stabbing guitar. It’s like a post-punk band eating a sitar-heavy traditional folk band. The female singer weaves her Arabic melodies and language around the tunes, creating an incredibly unique dance music experience.
The production is top-notch, lending the sound even more power and clarity. From the slow jamz (!!) of “Omnia” to the traditional drums and herky-jerky vibe of “Kamelulu” to the frantic club-pleaser (I am not kidding) “Ethnic Session,” Al-Yaman fleshes out their unique vision of creating traditionally-influenced dance music to incredible results.
This is some of the tightest dance music I’ve heard this year; it flies directly in the face of the current DJ trends, which mandate cranking out glitchy and disjointed rhythmic pieces instead of letting the melodies jam. Insanyaa lets the melodies fly, and the result is an incredibly good album. This album makes the two disparate genres of dance and Arabic music sound not only like they belong together, but like they’ve been together for years and years. Insanyaa is straight-up amazing. Highly recommended to fans of dance music. You will not be disappointed.