Category Archives: Artist Profiles

Artist Profiles: Souad Massi

Souad Massi
Souad Massi

Souad Massi is a Paris-based Algerian singer-songwriter. With a beautiful voice and a large palette of influences to draw from, Souad Massi is one of the most interesting new singers to come from Algeria. Influenced equally by shaabi music, French chanson, flamenco, 1960s American folk and a variety of African traditional music, this Algerian guitarist and singer makes music that is at once exotic and familiar.

Souad Massi was born August 23, 1972 in Bab en Oued, Algeria, a poor, multi-ethnic neighborhood in the hills above Algiers. Her family had come from Kabylia, the mountainous home of the Berber people, a culturally estranged population in modern Algeria. It is tempting to link Souad’s career to those of socially conscious Kabyl singer/songwriters like Matoub Lounes and Ait Mengeullet. But despite great affection for her Berber roots, Souad has always felt at peace with her blended identity, part Berber, part Arab, part Turkish and Persian-in short, Algerian. Her struggle for identity has centered on her vocation as a musician, not her ethnicity.

Souad’s father was a chartered accountant, who enjoyed chaabi music-urban street pop. Her mother preferred Arabic classical music, but also bent her ear to James Brown and Aretha Franklin. For Souad, films inspired an early passion for music. A self-described “tom boy,” she loved Westerns, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at the top of the list. These films led to her to discover country and folk music, Kenny Rogers and Emmy Lou Harris, Loudon Wainwright III, and later Tracy Chapman. Her uncle played flamenco guitar, and Souad also developed a passion for that style, finding its rough, evocative vocal style an intriguing departure from the more genteel Arabic vocal music she grew up with.

When Souad succumbed to depression as a teenager, her musical brother Hassan nurtured her with music, enrolling her in guitar lessons and coaching her at home. She began writing poetry in the tradition of Arabic love poets, and soon put the two together, performing her songs informally for friends.

School took Souad out of Algiers for awhile, first to Taghit, at the edge of the Sahara, where she studied architecture, then to Tizi Ouzou, in Kabylia. Bored without the stimulation of the big city, she returned to Algiers to study at the Institute of Public Works. In the late 90s, she took a job as town planner, and played music at night. She began with a flamenco-oriented group called Trianas d’Alger, but soon left to indulge a newfound passion for hardcore rock music.

She joined a rock band called Atakor and recorded her debut cassette, Souad, with them in 1997. The cassette’s success led to radio and TV appearances. But with fame came danger. Rock groups faced fundamentalist protests and sometimes violence at festivals. At a time when musicians were being targeted for assassination, she was afraid to press her career forward. At the same time, the more she discovered her own voice as a musician, the more the broadcast media became wary of her, and began to censor her simply by neglecting her. Caught between a fearful military government and scornful fundamentalists, Souad felt trapped.

Subsequently, the fateful invitation arrived for Souad Massi to perform a concert in Paris. TV producer Aziz Smati, himself a victim of a fundamentalist shooting, had escaped to France as a paraplegic, and teamed up with radio broadcaster Mohammed Allalou to organize a festival of Algerian women at the Cabaret Sauvage. Once in France, energized in the aftermath of that life-changing debut, Souad recorded her debut CD, Raoui (Island/Wrasse), a set of stylistically adventurous and highly personal songs inspired by a tempestuous, ill-fated love affair. The songs were frankly confessional, and cast an unflinching eye on the darkness she had experienced in her life.

She mostly sang in Arabic, showcasing a voice with stark emotional power and arresting subtlety, but she also sang in French, as on “J’ai Pas du Temps,” a languid rock ballad in which she laments, “It was said to me that life was beautiful/But I find these times cruel/The black smoke took the place of the sky.” Raoui sold over 100,000 copies, and although she was still an unknown in the Middle East and North Africa, Souad Massi quickly became an Arab music pop star in Europe.

Her 2001 WOMEX appearance was a revelation, propelling Raoui (Storyteller) onto plenty of best of lists, and garnering her a nomination in the Radio 3 World Music Awards.

Souad’s unique road to success has left her free to make her own stylistic choices, rather than conform to the established genres for Algerian singers: rai, chaabi, Arab-Andalusian or classical music. On her album Deb (Island/Wrasse), Souad continues her impressive musical evolution embracing flamenco, gypsy rumba, and even Congolese music, while maintaining her identity as a highly personal songwriter. Now based in Paris, Souad Massi has had the time to let her musical sensibility mature, meet other artists and tour extensively.

Discography:

Raoui [Storyteller] (Island – Universal, 2001)
Deb (AZ – Universal & Wrasse Records Wrass 096, 2003)
Mesk Elil (Wrasse Records, 2005)
Live acoustique (2007)
Ô Houria (2010)
El Mutakallimun (Wrasse Records, 2015)

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Artist Profiles: Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha
Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha has been fusing the music of his native Algeria with the sounds of the West. Born in 1958 in Oran, Algeria, Rachid grew up in France in the poverty-stricken, working-class immigrant community that had sprung up in Lyons.

From an early age, music was his lifeline against the hopelessness of immigrant life. He sang, and also DJ’d in clubs, spinning an international blend of sounds that would presage his career. “I played a real patchwork,” he recalled, “Arabic, salsa, rap, funk, anything you could dance to.”

But the records didn’t say what was in his heart, the conflict of being an outsider, his Algerian roots pulling against the tug of European culture. So in the mid-’80s he formed a band, Carte de Sejour (Green Card). Their music burned with the fire of a young immigrant generation, exploding with the anger of punk on their best-known track, an ironic, politically-charged cover of the patriotic “Douce France.” After three years the band split up, and Rachid traveled to Los Angeles to work with producer Don Was (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt) on his solo debut. Barbes, the result of their collaboration, appeared internationally in 1991, at the height of Gulf War fever. In spite of glowing reviews, the subtle prejudice against all things Arabic at the time left it to sink without trace.

Older, wiser, but even more adventurous, Rachid returned in 1996 with Ole Ole, where massive club beats powered Arabic song, from the raw desert blues of rai to the kick of the Egyptian street pop shaabi, a unique, pan-North African vision melded with the programmed power of the First World.

With Diwan, in 1998, Rachid moved to a more subtle tack. The songs on the record came from his youth, work that had inspired his own music, from the pens of such greats as Dahmane El Harrachi and Nass El Ghiwane. It was, he explained, “my version of John Lennon’s Rock’n’Roll album.” Unlike the late Beatle, Rachid’s versions brought the classics very much into the modern age. Beat and samples pulsed alongside string sections and traditional instruments for an album that was a quiet musical revolution. Aided by Steve Hillage’s sympathetic and knowledgeable production, it was a masterpiece that both paid homage to the past and paved the way for the future.

On Made in Medina, his debut album for Mondo Melodia, Taha combined powerful rock with melodies of North Africa. The voice of Afrobeat star Femi Kuti, whose duet with Rachid on “Ala Jalkourn,” brings together North, and West Africa in a seamless blend of unity where voices transcend geographic borders. The album was recorded in Paris, London, and New Orleans, and was produced by veteran musician Steve Hillage.

The 2004 album, Tekitoi, was recorded in Paris, London and Cairo. Some of the themes are war, racism and corruption.

Discography:

Rhorhomanie (1984)

Deux et Demi (1986)

Barbès (Universal/Barclay, 1990)

Rachid Taha (Universal/Barclay, 1993)

Ole Ole (Mango, 1995)

Carte Blanche – Best of (1997)

Diwan (Wrasse Records, 1998)

Made in Medina (Universal Music/USA: Mondo Melodia, 2000)

Live (Ark, 2002)

Tekitoi (Wrasse Records WRASS126X, 2004)

Diwan 2 (Wrasse Records, 2006)

Rock el Casbah: The Best of Rachid Taha (Wrasse Records, 2007)

Rock N Raï (Shock / Barclay, 2008)

Bonjour (Knitting Factory Records, 2009)

Rock N Raï 2 (Shock / Barclay, 2010)

Zoom (Naive/Wrasse Records, 2013)

Web site: www.rachidtaha.com

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Artist Profiles: Pierre Bensusan

Pierre Bensusan
Pierre Bensusan

Born in Oran, Algeria, in 1957, Pierre Bensusan’s family moved to Paris when he was four years old. He began formal studies on classical piano at the age of seven and at eleven decided to teach himself guitar. Influenced in those early days by the folk revival blooming in Great Britain, France and North America, Bensusan began first to explore his own diverse musical heritage and then moved to the horizons beyond.

At seventeen he signed his first recording contract, and one year later his first album Pres de Paris (1976) won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque upon his debut at the Montreux Festival in Switzerland. Working exclusively in the unusual DADGAD tuning, Pierre has developed a bitter-sweet melodic approach that incorporates Celtic lines with Latin and North African rhythms and wordless vocals in the jazz scat tradition. International tours, innovative recordings and publications like The Guitar Book (1984) have established him as a reputable musician.

Bensusan has established himself as a compelling concert performer and a stellar contributor to festivals of folk, jazz and Celtic music, including Montreux, Cambridge, Montreal, Vancouver, Mariposa, Printemps de Bourges, Rotterdam, Vienna and Lorient. Nice Feeling is a retrospective collection from his extraordinary career so far.

Other notable activities in the current season include: invitations to major guitar festivals in Cordoba (Spain), Belfast (Northern Ireland) and Brighton (England); compositional commissions for choir and instrumental ensemble for the French cities of Poitiers and Boulogne Sur Mer; release of the “Pierre Bensusan Signature” Lowden guitar model; and a new solo album for Zebra/Warner.

With his family, Bensusan now bases himself in the French countryside, near Paris.

Discography:

Solilai (Rounder Select, 1982)

Spices (Rounder Select, 1987)

Pres De Paris (Rounder Select, 1991)

Pres De Paris/P.B. 2 (Rounder Select, 1992)

Musiques (Rounder Select, 1993)

Wu Wei (Rounder Select, 1995)

Live in Paris (Zebra Records/WEA, 1998)

Nice Feeling (Zebra Records/WEA, 1999)

Musique (BMG, 2000)

Intuite (Favored Nations, 2001)

Anthology (Dadgad Music, 2003)

An Evening With International Guitar Night (2004)

Altiplanos (Favored Nations, 2005)

Vividly (Dadgad Music, 2010)

Encore (Dadgad Music, 2013), triple album of live recordings

Website: www.pierrebensusan.com

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Artist Profiles: Naziha Azzouz

Naziha Azzouz - Photo by Laure Abouaf
Naziha Azzouz – Photo by Laure Abouaf

Naziha Azzouz was born in Algeria and moved to France at the age of 12. She started singing ancient Arab Andalusian music at a very early age and performed in Algeria, France, Morocco, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

In 1998 Naziha first met Palestinian ‘ud player Adel Salameh to study Arabic music, i.e. the music of the Middle East. Since that time, Naziha and Adel have worked together and recorded 2 CDs, Nuzhu & Kanza.

Naziha formed the Trio Al Andalussiyat featuring Naziha Azzouz on vocals, bendir and riq; Imène Sahir on violin; and Sofia Lampropoulou on kanun.

Discography:

Nuzha (Arion ARN 64500, 2000)

Kanza (Enja Records CD 9137-2, 2002)

Hafla (Enja Records CD 9153-2)

Rissala (Enja Records CD 9177)

Website: www.nazihaazzouz.com

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Artist Profiles: Mona Boutchebak

Mona Boutchebak
Mona Boutchebak

Born in Algeria in 1978, Mona Boutchebak lived in the famous district of Algiers, Bab-El-Oued. When she was 5, she began to learn classical music at the Conservatory of Algiers (piano, violin) and she studied Arab Andalusian music from 1989 to 2003 in three prestigious schools El mossilia, Es Sendousia, and El inchirah. She discovered with enthusiasm the methods of this music.

Mona studied the complex ways of Arab Andalusian music, the nubas, the poems. She quickly became a soloist and musician (she plays kuitra and lute). She was 15 when she took part in cultural events, in France and abroad. She became a soloist for the Tlemcen Orchestra and participated in different national events in Constantine, Sidi Bal Abbas, Blida. She continued her studies and obtained an English degree. She was also featured with Algerian rap groups.

For the promotion of the MBS album (Algerian Rap group) in 1998, on an Algerian Radio station, the host, charmed by her voice, proposed that Mona participate in the station in order to present musical shows. This gave her the opportunity to meet Marseilles-based Barrio Chino.

The group was preparing an homage to Algerian Music hall from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. However, they didn’t have a singer so Mona was introduced to them by Farid Toualbi, director of the radio station.

It all came together suddenly and Les Orientales were born. This show charmed everybody (Les Docks des sud in Marseilles, Magador Theatre in Paris) for 3 years. The public and press described this show as fabulous and Mona’s voice as bewitching.

Furthermore, her voice gave her the opportunity to be considered a veritable discovery in France as a talented soloist during UNESCO’s year of Algeria.

With her friends of Barrio Chino, Mona recorded Le diwan de Mona, where she mixed the Arab Andalusian tradition with modernity, using drum set and electric guitar.

Discography:

Le diwan de Mona
Les Orientales, Hommage au Music-Hall D’algerie (MK2/Night & day)

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Artist Profiles: Moh Alileche

Moh Alileche
Moh Alileche

Mohamed Alileche, known as Moh in the United States of America, was born in Kabylia, a mountainous region of Algeria, in 1959. At that time the Algerian war of independence against France was still being fought. The colonial government executed Alileche’s father so he grew up as an orphan.

The first instrument that Moh used was a homemade lute with one string. He later learned how to play the Spanish guitar. He is now a leading performer on the mandola, a 10-silk stringed musical instrument of North African origin. Moh plays traditional folk music of Kabylia, and his lyrics present his social commentary on the plight of the Amazigh (Berber) culture of North Africa. Moh’s songs are written and sung in Kabyl.

In 1990, Moh Alileche moved to the United States of America, settling in the West Coast. Since then he has been a regular at world music festivals, promoting Kabyl culture. Two percussionists normally accompany him, Henni Hached on darbuka and Sadek Haddadou on bendir.

Discography

Tawaghit [Tragedy] (Flag of Freedom Productions, 1998)

Source of Water (Flag of Freedom Productions, 2002)

North Africa’s Destiny (Flag of Freedom Productions, 2005)

In Memory of a Hero (Flag of Freedom Records, 2009)

When the Dust Settles/Tamdit b’Wass (2013)

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Artist Profiles: Maurice El Medioni

Maurice el Medioni, Ljubljana, 28.11.2005 - Photo by Nada Zgank
Maurice el Medioni, Ljubljana, 28.11.2005 – Photo by Nada Zgank

Born in the Algerian port of Oran into a Jewish family in 1928, Maurice El Medioni has led a remarkable life crammed full of music. He played Jewish Andalusian music at weddings, boogie and rumba in bars, introduced the piano into early Rai music, and became a cabaret star in the Paris of the 1960s.

At the age of 77 he played Middle Eastern nostalgic notes on his piano to the opening track of Khaled’s celebrated latest release. His unique piano style never fails to charm. His left hand boogies on the rhythms of the New World, his right hand paints the alluring melodies of the Old. The result is an evocative cocktail of Cuban rhythms, French cabaret chic and Middle Eastern sounds. The swinging melodies rekindle the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Oran of the past, when it was a sparkling melting pot of religions and cultures.

Today he lives in Marseilles and international recognition of his unequaled style is still growing. His music still evokes the cosmopolitan era of Oran in the 1940’s but Maurice El Medioni is also looking forward, fulfilling a dream, on the critically acclaimed Descarga Oriental album with Roberto Rodriguez, of a Cuban interpretation of his music.

Discography

Cafe Oran (Piranha, 1999)
Descarga Oriental (Piranha, 2006)
Samai Andalou (Magda, 2006)
Pianoriental (Buda Musique, 2009)
Oran-Oran Live in Paris (Buda Musique, 2014)

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Artist Profiles: Mad Sheer Khan

Mad Sheer Khan
Mad Sheer Khan

Mad Sheer Khan was born Mahamad Hadi, in Algiers (Algeria) in 1955, of mixed Persian and Arabic origin. He studied in France, where he now lives. His experience of being steeped in three different cultures has enabled him to develop fruitful relations between these varied influences. His oriental roots are apparent everywhere in the rhythms, colors, scales and sources of inspiration of his music.

His aim is to go beyond the worn-out image of the ‘exotic East’, and in order to achieve this he constantly seeks points of contact between a western-inspired oriental culture and its counterpart, an oriental-inspired western culture. Mad Sheer Khan strives to give his music a wide range by juxtaposing ideas from both classical and folk music, developing them in compositions in which classically urban and rural styles exist side by side. His sound is characterized by the powerful blow of the dilruba, an Indian violin that he performs in an unique style.

Mad Sheer Khan formed his first group in 1975. In 1981, he formed a duo and adopted an image that was quite rare for the time: he spent the 1980s swathed in a turban, deliberately going against what was then the normal practice. His unconventional appearance did not deter the critics, who responded enthusiastically to his playing in 1982 the well-known English magazine New Musical Express listed him among the ten best guitarists in the world. During this period Mad was in fact living in London, where he worked with Velvet Underground’s muse, Nico, on the albums Drama of Exile 1 & 2, and was acclaimed for his virtuosity.

On his return to France, still under the influence of his London experiences. Mad Sheer Khan wrote pieces with a harder edge than any he had composed before and formed the group Harem, with which he performed a mixture of electronic and acoustic music. In 1994 he went solo again, returning to a more ethnic style of acoustic music.

The album Demoncracy (2008) was a new step in Mad Sheer Khan’s pacifist development, in line with the musician rebels of the 1970s whose views he used to share. The album features a tribute to The Velvet Underground’s muse, Nico, with whom he recorded in 1981 “Orly Flight”, a hymn to illegal aliens. The other tribute is devoted to Edwin Star and his so popular “War”, transposed from former Vietnam to present Iraq.

He has appeared with many other musicians, including Nina Hagen, Michael Hutchence, Keziah Jones, Jean Louis Aubert and Sting.

Discography;

Rahmann (Polydor Records)
1001 Nights (Erato-Detour 27319 /Atlantic Records, 1999)
Chai Machine (Flying Rhino)
Mahjuba (Origins)
Talisman
Samarkand Hôtel (2002)
Demoncracy (2008)
Far Oued (2012)

Web Site: www.madsheerkhan.com

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Artist Profiles: Khalida Azzouza

Khalida Azzouza
Khalida Azzouza

Cradled in tribal rhythms of her father’s Southern Sahara and the Arab Andalusian music of her mother’s Mediterranean coast, Khalida’s very personal oriental jazz approach brings to her listener to a unique experience beyond regular performance. After her shows, she is has often been told by a members of the audience that her songs are like prayers.

From Algiers to Montreal, where she now lives, she has now renewed with her music in a world where her life is no longer threatened by death threats coming from religious extremist. Her unique voice carries a high level of emotions. She surrounds herself with top jazz musicians that are able to improvised with her in new cross-cultural directions.

Khalida studied for four years Arab Andalusian music and singing with professor and composer Rabah Kadem at the Djamiaa Nagham of which she was a lead singer in Algiers.

Her Arabic adaptation of Leo Ferre “Avec le temps” – “Ma Zamane” and her Arabic-English adaptation of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah have been broadcasted worldwide on Radio-Canada International.

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Artist Profiles: Khaled Habib

Khaled Habib
Khaled Habib
El-Kebich composes and performs a type of rai that is both traditional and modern. He has developed a personal musical mix in which he blends different musical styles as well as music from all over the world and creates an exciting and unique musical style which is both innovative and captivating. His music could be described as having influences of funk, jazz, reggae, blues, Latin rhythms as well as folk tunes from various corners of the world. The same applies to the mix of instruments with everything ranging from traditional drums to electric guitar.

The fact that his style has its roots in rai music mixed with a variety of different musical directions, is partly because he is originally from Algeria and partly because he has written and performed music for a number of bands of different ethnic background, such as Down By Law in Italy, New Phases in South Africa, Aquarius in France, Hada Raïna in Sweden, and others.

Khaled Habib presents his musical style with great energy and charm, especially in his live performances. He performs with a number of musicians from different ethnic backgrounds, and on occasion also with two dancers, one flamenco and one oriental.

He has also participated at major northern European festivals such as: Falun Folk Musik Festival, Roskilde Festival, ArtGenda Festival, Stockholm Water Festival, Re:Orient Festival, Folk o Folk Festival, Verlden i Norden Festival, and others.

Khaled Habib’s artistic field extends into the domains of performing and directing his shows, as well as composing music for film and theatre, such as the play Celestina set up at the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre ( Dramaten ) under the direction of Robert Lepage (1997-98), and the film Nattbok by Karl Henrik Svenstedt.

Discography:

Ultima Jam (2003)
Nostalgia (Raimix Music, 2004)
La Celestina
Leila (Raimix Music)
Khaled Habib Live (2005)
Ultima Jam (2007)

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