Marc Hollander's Aksak Maboul have released one of the albums of the year and his Crammed Discs label have consistently provided a wide-ranging soundtrack to the globe. He guides David McKenna through favourite albums in this week's Baker's Dozen.
A couple of minutes into the interview with Crammed Discs and Aksak Maboul founder Marc Hollander, the fan in his computer whirs into life. For the rest of the time it sounds like I'm speaking to someone on a remote, windblown seashore.
"Well I haven't left home for about two months, it's not easy. I'm in Brussels, doing everything via Skype – my two colleagues are back in the office now but I'm old, I'm in the at-risk group!" He's been busy though – preparing for the release of the quite brilliant new Aksak Maboul album Figures (I'm inclined to agree with Sean Kitching in his review for tQ that this is their finest work) and other new Crammed releases, and writing the next album: "See!" he says, gesturing to his left at the array of equipment laid out under a protective cover. "I'm sort of half-way through the tracks but it's going to be something quite different."
This opening of the floodgates is all the more heartening given how long Aksak Maboul lay dormant. But, as Hollander tells it, the issue was much more to do with the burgeoning success of Crammed Discs, his richly eclectic and ground-breaking label, than any creative block.
Crammed is the logical extension of the ideas that had started to cohere with Aksak Maboul - 'world' (or 'fourth world') music before its time. It sought not only to connect diverse global influences but to imagine hitherto unsuspected pathways between them. The Crammed catalogue covers Franco-Congolese soundclash Zazou/Bikaye/CY1 and Congolese phenomenon Konono No1, the rousing Romany music of Taraf de Haidouks, US techno, Yasmine Hamdan's Lebanese alt-pop, home-grown acts like Hoquets and more recent French signings like Aquaserge and Acid Arab - and that's barely scratching the surface. The approach was summed up by an earlier Crammed project, the potent Israeli post-punk band Minimal Compact: "we wanna go much higher, we want to build you Babylonian tower" they sang, in reference to the biblical myth of a human society speaking a common tongue before being plunged into confusion by a typically OTT Old Testament God. As with Crammed, this poetic vision is ambiguous – although Babel's monoculture in a sense represents a prelapsarian utopia, the story can be seen as a celebration of the profuse variety (and even, to a degree, the misunderstandings) that were unleashed.
"This multiplicity of sources is a function of growing up in the sort of no man's land that was Brussels, a place situated at a crossroads between several mentalities, languages and atmospheres, but with no dominant culture to hang on to, or to be overpowered by. When you're not immersed in a national culture which heavily colours your vision - as is the case with the English, the French and the Americans - and you have a curious mind, you are driven to look around, to explore music from all genres and places and build your own pantheon, create your own musical mythology, your own tradition."