Backstories don’t get much better than Saâda Bonaire’s. The band was founded in Bremen in 1982, the brainchild of DJ Ralf Behrendt. The outfit orbited around two vocalists, Stefanie Lange and Claudia Hossfeld, but the pair was augmented by a group of attendees at the immigration centre at which Behrendt worked. The band signed to EMI shortly after their inception, and quickly cut “You Could Be More As You Are” with Dennis Bovell. The track was intended to be their breakthrough hit. Two years later, with the release of the single impending, Saâda Bonaire’s A&R was ignominiously sacked. The track was released quietly, and the band was dropped shortly thereafter.
“You Could Be More As You Are” opens this retrospective, and it is clear from the outset why it was thought that it had the power to break the band. It is an intricately constructed patchwork of disco, reggae-inflected bass, and Middle Eastern plucked top lines, bringing to mind the outer limits of the Prelude catalogue played through a smoky, box-room fug. The focal point, though, is the vocal; almost atonal, it alternates between semi-spoken word and deadpan half-sung incantation. “You could be more as you are. Can’t you see? You could be anything. You could be free,” the vocalist sings in the chorus, her voice rough hewn and dread-ridden.
Indeed that counterpointing of dubbed out disco and flatly menacing vocal delivery is the record’s most prominent feature. On “More Women” the vocals are at their lushest, sitting against a combination of staccato guitar and the same sashaying bass that underpins each of Saâda Bonaire’s 13 tracks. But even here the vocals are oddly threatening, a sense imparted by a delivery that seems to owe as much to post-punk as it does to disco.
The incorporation of Eastern instrumentation is another of Saâda Bonaire’s signal qualities. Their use is most explicit on “Give Me A Call”, on which the band’s post-punk tendencies are best realised. High attack bass cuts through what sounds like a ney, while metallic synthesised percussion gradually builds to a clipped, thudding climax. “Give Me A Call” is perhaps the point at which Saâda Bonaire sounds at its most modern, combining what sounds like a very contemporary take on post-punk with a palette of influences of dizzying geographic breadth.
Saâda Bonaire is the perfect example of a lost record, and a complete denunciation of the major label system. This band really should, by rights, have been world-conqueringly huge, and yet these songs have languished for three decades, saved only by the nous of Captured Tracks. This is a startlingly good record, the only downside of which is its brevity.
A1. You Could Be More As You Are
A3. Little Sister
B1. More Women
B2. I Am So Curious
B3. Second Face
C1. Heart Over Head
C2. Shut The Door
C3. The Facts
C4. Give Me A Call
D1. Wake Up City
D3. Your Touch