Algerian folk music goes global

6th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

MARSEILLE, France, Sept 6, 2007 (AFP) - Singing tales of love and exile to the trill of mandolins and the heady beat of an Arab percussion, 40 masters of Algerian Chaabi, a century-old folk music tradition, are to be reunited after decades for a four-nation tour starting on Thursday.

MARSEILLE, France, Sept 6, 2007 (AFP) - Singing tales of love and exile to the trill of mandolins and the heady beat of an Arab percussion, 40 masters of Algerian Chaabi, a century-old folk music tradition, are to be reunited after decades for a four-nation tour starting on Thursday.

Dubbed "El Gusto" -- slang for high spirits -- the tour is to be followed with an album in October produced by Damon Albarn, frontman of British rock band Blur and long-standing fan of world music, and a film next spring.

*image2It was first dreamt up by Safinez Bousbia, a young Irish-Algerian woman, after she was introduced to the genre three years ago by a musician in a Casbah in the Algerian capital Algiers.

Seized with curiosity about the musical tradition, which saw its heyday in Algiers in the 1940s and 1960s, 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 said 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 kicks off Thursday in the Mediterranean port of Marseille before heading to Paris, London, Berlin and New York, are now in their seventies.

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," said the singer Luc Cherki, who was recently reunited with old friends and fellow musicians Ahmed Bernaoui, Rene Perez, Abdelkader Chercham and Maurice El Medioni.

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

A typical song features mournful, Arabic vocals, 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 set 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," said El Hadi Halo, the show's conductor and son of the pioneering Chaabi musician Hadj M'Hamed El Anka.

"Even though it doesn't get a lot of media attention, it is everywhere: weddings, circumcision ceremonies, religious festivals," said Halo, who teaches a younger 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 star 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 El Arachi, who died in 1980.

Organisers 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

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article