Listening to music in a language one does not comprehend is rather like watching politicians argue; the meaning may be incomprehensible but the experience can still be enjoyable. In the case of SMOD and their international debut album, also entitled SMOD, more than just the music can be enjoyed.
SMOD is an acronym of the names of the four original group members, Sam, Mouzy, Ousco and Donsky, childhood friends now living in France who originally hail from Mali’s capital, Bamako. Since the rap group’s launch Mouzy has dropped out but, as if to help them with their subsequent conundrum, producer Manu Chao is the new M at the controls for this album after meeting Sam while producing his folks Amadou & Mariam‘s breakthrough album Dimanche á Bamako.
Chao’s sound is instantly recognisable in the smooth production; light and airy, it’s familiar down the decades both on Chao’s own multi-milllion selling solo albums and on his assorted production collaborations. He’s even namechecked in Les Jeunes Filles Du Maliba, one of the album’s more propulsive highlights.
Happily the producer has a pleasing variety of material to work with, from Sam’s breezy guitar work to the politically switched on lyrics, and some subtle tempo changes. Combining rap with traditional Malian guitar-based music – SMOD coin it rap-n-folk – the resulting fusion is enjoyable, melodic and at times mildly soulful, with Les Dirigeants Africains coming closest to defining what SMOD are about.
The twangs of Sam’s cyclical acoustic guitar rhythms are soothing, whilst the happy creative process the young men went through transmits through the speakers. The vocals can be enjoyed to a certain extent, although of course the language barrier remains. However, when it comes to the art of rapping, the flow of the words can be enjoyed whatever the language.