The international group Yalla Miku’s debut album blasts us with sharp rhythms that make our heads swim. But this is a risk well worth taking, otherwise we’d miss out on the chance to hear the multicultural sound of today’s Geneva.
Yalla Miku’s frenetic and uplifting debut album is a genre twister, with musicians from North and East Africa coming together with various musical alchemists from Geneva’s burgeoning and experimentally minded, global music scene. It’s a thrilling mix of Moroccan gnawa, haunting guembri melodies and krar riffs with shoots of house and electronica and krautrock grooves and ultimately a testament to the community led, punk approach that many creatives from the Bongo Joe Record label, and beyond, adhere to.
With its sparkling buildings and luxury boutiques, Geneva is a place that exudes wealth. As the host of some of the world’s most powerful financial institutions, the Swiss city is celebrated for its multiculturalism — mostly the “multiculturalism” of English-speaking expats, of the rich and privately educated. But just beneath this polished exterior lies Geneva’s true soul, one that pulsates in the city’s historical squats, in its North African eateries, and in the venues where artists, musicians, and activists meet. This is the Geneva both fostered and uncovered by Bongo Joe through their label, record store, and café, a community-oriented and welcoming space overlooking the River Rhône.
Yalla Miku perfectly encapsulates this ideal and translate it into a borderless, syncretic sound. Yeterian (banjo, electric guitar, voice) and Cyril Cyril bandmate Cyril Bondi (drums and voice) founded the group with the idea of bringing together the different facets of Geneva’s music scene, so they teamed up with post-disco electro pop duo Hyperculte, composed of Simone Aubert of Tout Bleu and Massicot (on synths, guitar, and vocals) and Orchester Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp founder Vincent Bertholet (on bass and vocals), and invited three immigrant musicians they had gotten to know through their events at the Bongo Joe store and cafè: Moroccan guembri player Anouar Baouna, Eritrean krar player Samuel Ades and Algerian darbouka player Ali Bouchaki.
A torrent of information
The idea however was not to follow the tired and sometimes clichèd ways of “fusion” music by appropriating non-Western styles and collaborating with foreign artists to create a seamlessly blended sound. Quite the opposite: Yalla Miku honor this meeting of cultures by specifically drawing attention to those points of contrast between different traditions, voices, and instruments, creating a lively, polyphonic conversation that gives each musician the freedom to improvise and tell their own story.
The Western-born musicians composed the base for each track, and the three non-Western artists built on it through the prism of their own musical heritage. “It was a difficult challenge for them to try and understand and adapt to this music, and in a way it’s like a metaphor for the difficulties they had in their life while settling in Europe” explains Yeterian.
Borrowing as much from gnawa and Eritrean folklore as it does from krautrock and electro-trance, Yalla Miku’s militant debut album dissolves sonic borders and imagines a world without geographical ones, where people are free to move without peril.
Bongo Joe and NMR (photo: press Yalla Miku)