Every album has a story. Some are good, some are convoluted, some are long and others short. Others happen in a flash, and some are tirelessly drawn out over a prolonged period of time. ‘Fleuves de l'Âme’ has been a long coming. Like the music, which takes its time to make its point, percussionist Houeid Hedfi seemed to be in no rush to get her debut album finished. And it shows. The songs have a confidence that seldom albums to. They aren’t showy or brash, but there is a swagger to them.
The story goes Hedfi got her first drum kit aged 27. Her day job was in economic and mathematics. She joined a stambeli group playing Afro-Arab sufi trance music, but she felt the need for melody, not just rhythm, and started making music on her own. Hedfi started working with Radhi Chaouli, a Tunisian violinist, and Jala Nader, a Palestinian bouzouk player with The Knife’s Olof Dreijer producing. Hedfi met The Knife’s Olof Dreijer in 2011 when he was in Tunisia working on a compilation of female Tunisian artists. Dreijer produced Hedfi’s contribution to that album. Over the next nine-years the pair worked on ‘Fleuves de l'Âme’ in France, Tunisia, and Germany.
The results speak for themselves as ‘Fleuves de l'Âme’ is a glorious piece of music that is confounding as it is sensational. ‘Souffles du Nil’ opens ‘Fleuves de l'Âme’ with wonderful melodies, cascading rhythms and a sense of completeness that is seldom found. There is a deep melancholy.
If this is all Hedfi has released it would have been enough and I would have been happy. However, there are another seven songs after it. Each of them is their own thing. ‘Namami Gange’ with its stuttering vocals, ‘Envol du Mekong’ with its minimal classical motifs and heart-breaking melodies, but they all tap into the same thing. Listening to ‘Envol du Mekong’ there is a yearning for something. Hedfi ever quite lets us know what that is, but when the piano kicks in we’re filled with hope. It reminds me of looking out of the window in the summer holidays and seeing the rain lash the windowpanes. At that moment I know I’m a prisoner inside until the rain stops. I feel a sense of annoyance and anger. “But it’s the holidays. I want to be outside with my friends, not cooped up inside,” but in the distance I can see brighter skies which gives me a weird sense of peace, and relief. Of course, it’s been a long time since I’ve been at school but that feeling of being trapped momentary is encapsulated by Hedfi beautifully. Lead single ‘Appel du Danube’ is just flawless. The main piano melody is delicate but has a resilience that is beguiling. Then the violin kicks in and that whole song goes into another gear.
The album ends with the 18-minute ‘Cheminement du Tiger’. Nader’s playing here draws you in, while Hedfi’s percussion is given room to be as abstract as anything previously heard. Under this synths drone, and groan, giving ‘Fleuves de l'Âme’ a wonderful mixture of traditional and contemporary styles and is a fitting end to an immersive and rewarding listen.
At its heart ‘Fleuves de l'Âme’ is an album about movement. It never stays still for long. Something is always happening. After a first listen it feels like too much is going on, and if Hedfi took a couple of things out, ‘Fleuves de l'Âme’ might initially be a more rewarding listen. Then you play ‘Fleuves de l'Âme’ a few more times and you start to understand the complexity and you wouldn’t change a thing. Once you realise that every track is named after a river it all starts to make more sense. The songs have their own natural rhythm and undulate at their own accord. Sometimes the current is fast, others its more of a babble, but it’s constantly on the move. As was Hedfi during its creation. What ‘Fleuves de l'Âme’ shows are that some albums are worth the wait as ‘Fleuves de l'Âme’ shows a delicate balance of killer melodies, tradition playing and contemporary electronica. Hedfi feels like she has a bright future ahead of her. She might not be the most prolific, but when she’s ready, she’s worth the wait.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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