Group Doueh

Group Doueh
Exclaim! went all the way to Western Sahara (via email ― our travel budget's kind of tight) to pose some questions to Baamar Salmou, aka Doueh, the leader of desert rockers Group Doueh. Their music is an incredible band of Hendrixian flash, lo-tech keyboards and hypnotic, hand-drummed rhythms. After years of turning away offers from foreign record companies, he struck an alliance with Seattle-based Sublime Frequencies who have just released their second international album, Treeg Salaam. This disc ought to capitalize on the Group's highly successful summertime tour of Europe with Syrian party-starter and labelmate Omar Souleyman. With very little knowledge about what it takes to make music in Western Sahara, Exclaim! posed questions to Salmou about his inspirations, challenges and opportunities.

I understand that you've been playing guitar since you were a child, are there a lot of guitarists where you live, or are you one of the few?
I live in Dakhla. There are other groups in the area, but Group Doueh is the main group for this area. We are the most in demand group for weddings and parties.

You have described your American influences as ranging from Jimi Hendrix to James Brown, does their music appeal to you because it sounds like some of the music of West Africa, or because they do such amazing, original music with sounds you'd never hear anywhere else?
I like the music of both of those artists because it is a universal music. It is a music that moves the soul. The power of Jimi Hendrix's guitar is something that is inspirational on so many levels. The groove of James Brown and his various bands has always been a sound I enjoy.

How does your band work? Your wife and friend both sing, but is there a permanent or regular lineup of percussionists? Or is it more casual?
The main group is myself on guitar and tinidit. My wife Halima and friend Bashiri are the vocalists. My son Jamal is the keyboardist. There are also many percussionists that play with us from time to time. Also other singers will perform with us depending on who is available for certain weddings or parties.

How do you record your music? Has the recording process changed over the years?
For many years, most of our material was recorded on cassette. I have had many cassette recorders, some two-track, four-track and eight-track models. Now I am able to record digitally to a 16-track model. I am always experimenting to get the best situation. We always record at home and we record all of our performances.

Is playing music your main profession in life? Can you make a living doing it?
Yes, I am professional musician. I have been fortunate to be able to support myself and family with this line of work.

Please describe a typical performance. Do you usually play in a club, in a restaurant, or in a less formal setting?
Most of our performances are for weddings and private parties. We have been doing more festivals in recent years and we were able to do a big UK/Europe tour with Sublime Frequencies this summer.

Do you have a set list of songs, or do you go with what the audience wants?
It depends on the situation. Weddings have a certain repertoire, parties a certain set of songs, and for festivals it differs from time to time.

How long will a show last?
Some performances can last up to four or five hours for weddings, some are shorter depending on what is required by the host or venue.

You use effects like wah pedals while you play, is it difficult to maintain your equipment and get replacement parts in Western Sahara?
I use a wah and phaser and equalizer pedals. Yes it is difficult to find equipment where I live, but I am able to travel to other places and find what I need. I also am able to fix much of my own equipment.

Is there much of a music industry where you live with radio stations, recording studios and people who are music entrepreneurs?
Well there really is no industry. I am an industry unto myself. I record music and have two shops that sell music to the community. Most of the recordings are done at home in makeshift studios, and cassettes or CDs are sold throughout the region.

How do people become well known for their music?
There is a network of Saharoui (people of Western Sahara) musicians. There are many opportunities in Mauritania with TV stations broadcasting performances of music. Musicians here play for a long time and reputation spreads about the best of the groups, the guitarists and singers like Dimi have built tremendous popularity all over the world for their music.

Are you familiar with Tinariwen? What's your impression of their music and their success throughout the world ― is that something you desire?
I have heard Tinariwen. I like their sound and music. I am very happy about their success. We are proud of them and wish them continued success. They are Tuareg and we are Saharoui. We are both communicating the struggles of our people and trying to make music that informs people of our culture and happy nature as well. Yes we would like for many people to hear our music. We hope that will be the case soon.

You have refused to let other companies release your music, why? Why did you decide to work with Sublime Frequencies?
We have had offers in the past and did not trust who was coming and going. When Hisham Mayet came to my house with his cassette, and he told me how far he had traveled to find me and my music, and after meeting such a sincere man who had such passion for this music, I decided to do this with his company.

What was the European tour like?
We had a wonderful time in Britain and Europe. The hospitality and generosity of the people was wonderful to experience. The land, the trees, and rain were wonderful things to be able to experience.

Did you find it strange to be touring with a Syrian singer who plays very different music than you?
We are very happy to meet Omar Souleyman and his group. We think our music complements each other. We became very good friends with them and hope to make another tour with them.

Now that you are better known in the United States and Europe, are you going to consider touring more?
We want to do whatever it takes to promote our music and would welcome all opportunities to do so.