Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Algerian Chaabi

Interesting AFP story about Algerian chaabi, undergoing a kind of revival. I got this from the Daily Star. I'm glad to see that Damon Albarn is involved in promoting this. I met briefly him in 2003 through Anglo-Algerian d.j./producer U-Cef, and it seems that Damon is seriously interested in Arab and especially North African music.

One important dimension of chaabi that the article below fails to discuss is the importance of Algerian Jewish musicians. Luc Cherki, Rene Perez, and Maurice El Medioni, are all Algerian Jews, and are all terrific. Read on!

"Love, loss and mandolins: Algerian folk music goes global"
By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Friday, September 07, 2007

MARSEILLE: Singing tales of love and exile to the trill of mandolins and the beat of Arab percussion, 40 masters of Algerian chaabi, a century-old folk music tradition, have been reunited after decades for a four-nation tour that started on Thursday. Dubbed "El Gusto" - slang for high spirits - the tour is to be followed with an album in October produced by Damon Albarn, lead singer of the British pop band Blur and a long-standing fan of world music, and a film to be released next spring.

It was first dreamt up by Safinez Bousbia, an Irish-Algerian woman, after she was introduced to the genre three years ago by a musician in the Casbah in the Algerian capital Algiers.

Seized with curiosity about the musical tradition, which saw its heyday in Algiers in the 1940s and 1950s, she decided to set out in search of the artists who made it famous.

"I just wanted to put them back in touch. The idea of the film and the album came later," Bousbia says of her project - a North African version of Ry Cooder's mission to reunite the members of Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club.

As with the Cuban adventure, most of the artists involved in the chaabi tour, which kicked off Thursday in the Mediterranean port of Marseille before heading to Paris, London, Berlin and New York, are now in their 70s.

Many of the musicians who flew in from Algiers and Paris for the Marseille concert parted ways four decades ago.

"The greatest pleasure is simply to meet again. It's going to be extraordinary to make music together," says the singer Luc Cherki, who was recently reunited with old friends and fellow musicians Ahmad Bernaoui, Rene Perez, Abdelkader Chercham and Maurice al-Medioni.

Chaabi - which means "popular" in Arabic - first appeared in the late 19th-century, inspired by vocal traditions of Arab Andalusia, the home of Flamenco music.

A typical song features mournful vocals in Arabic set against an orchestral backdrop of a dozen musicians, with violins and mandolins swelling and falling to a piano melody and the clap of percussion beats.

While it shares many themes with flamenco - love, loss, exile, friendship and betrayal - chaabi is part of a deeply conservative tradition, its lyrics often carrying a strong moral message.

"This music is part of the culture of Algiers, it cannot be separated from everyday life there," says Al-Hadi Halo, the show's conductor and son of the pioneering chaabi musician Hadj Mohammad al-Anka.

"Even though it doesn't get a lot of media attention, it is everywhere: weddings, circumcision ceremonies, religious festivals," says Halo, who teaches a new generation of chaabi musicians at the Algiers conservatory.

In recent years, chaabi has been largely overtaken at home by rai, a spicy North African brand of pop music with often explicit references to sex.

The genres overlapped in 1998, when rai superstar Rachid Taha scored a hit at home and abroad with a cover version of "Ya Rayah," a 1970s song about exile by chaabi artist Dahmane al-Arachi, who died in 1980.

Organizers hope the tour will help introduce Algerian chaabi to a wider audience, as "El Gusto" travels from Marseille to Paris on September 29, followed by London on October 10, Berlin on October 31 and New York next year. - AFP

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