If you've never regarded the oud - the fretless lute at the core of so much traditional Arabic music - as a rock'n'roll instrument, then you've clearly never heard Speed Caravan or the frenetic and joyous playing of Mehdi Haddab. Once part of Parisian-based global electronica trio Ekova, Mehdi then formed the experimental oud duo DuOud with Jean-Pierre Smadja. Now working as Speed Caravan, Mehdi is joined by bassist Pascal Teillet, former Ekova electronic beat mistress Hermione Frank, and Mohamed Bouamar on percussion and vocals.
Mehdi Haddab is well known as both a virtuoso player of the classical oud, and for his pioneering musical projects, breaking into the rock world armed with an electric oud. With their first album, "Kalshnik Love" (Real World Records), Mehdi and his Speed Caravan have created a "contemporary music caravan" - albeit one that moves at the speed of sound!
Pascal Teillet or "Pasco" had previously worked with King Mensah, Ganoub, Mazaher and jazz star Archie Shepp. Together, Mehdi and Pasco found that his powerful yet sensitive bass playing magnified the grooves and sustained the acrobatic arabesques of Mehdi's oud. Despite their varied musical backgrounds, the two musicians share an obvious sense of adventure - taking their music in the most unexpected directions.
Add to this mix Hermione Frank - a longstanding accomplice from the days of Ekova and a renowned electro musician (and a journalist!). Last to arrive was Moroccan-born Mohamed Bouamar, who trained in the Arab/Andalusian tradition and for many years was percussionist for Natacha Atlas.
Together they laid the foundations of the project, spending three years on the live circuit before going into the recording studio. Building their reputation and fan base at festivals worldwide, including WOMAD Charlton Park 2008, Speed Caravan's electrifying, high-energy stage performance has become their trademark. Support for the band came readily from fellow musicians, who admired their intriguing and adventurous ideas, and who have gone on to guest on "Kalashnik Love".
Speed Caravan create music that references The Cure and The Chemical Brothers alongside Algerian rai and other Arabic influences in a glorious collision of global sounds and styles. To call Mehdi Haddab the Jimi Hendrix of the electric oud would, of course, be a hopeless cliché. But it's not that far from the truth!