Cheb I Sabbah – La Kahena (Six Degrees Records 657036111127, 2005)
You don’t need to know how to speak the language to understand that the songs on this CD are powerful. The rich texture of the music and the strong voices really do honor the 7th century female North African leader for which this CD is named. Sabbah wanted to make a statement with this CD about Arab/North African women. They have been portrayed as timid women whose lives are regulated by the men in their society. With this CD he shows these women as the strong and powerful individuals that they are.
The eight songs are from eight regions in North Africa. One of the regions from which he recorded music is Algeria, where Cheb i Sabbah was born and lived until the 60’ when he moved with his family to Paris, France. This CD seems to be heavily influenced by the Persian, Arabic and Andalusian music of his youth.
The fascinating thing about the way in which DJ Sabbah mixes tracks is that he does not just sample music. He goes out and records the music or songs himself and then comes back to his studio and magically blends it all into an original work of art. He recorded the artists on this CD in studios in Marrakesh, San Francisco, New York and New Delhi.
The traditional artists that he ferreted out for this CD are used to performing in peoples homes for wedding and other ceremonies and celebrations. Unfortunately, there just aren’t many people out there vying to study this music and preserving it for future generations. Thanks to Sabbah we now have a novel way to introduce new people to this music and at the same time preserve some of this rich cultural heritage.
The North African artists featured on this CD are Cheba Zahouania and Khadija Othmani from Algeria; Ouled Ben Aguida of Berber origin; The Haddarates, Nadia and B’net Marrakech from Morocco; Brahim Elbelkani, and Michal Cohen. Other artists included on this CD are Bill Laswell, Richard Horowitz, Karsh Kale, Mercan Dede, Bouchaib Abdelhadi, Gaurav Raina and Rufus Cappadocia.
Sabbah has often been said to take a traditional music form that may be hard for a westerner to understand and blend it with a dance rhythm that can be easily digested. He manages to do this I think in a way that still remains very true to the original music.
It is not often that I can say this about a CD but I honestly love every track on this CD. Without a doubt my favorite track on this CD is Sandya with it’s “Toura Toura” refrain. This track features Brahim Elbelkani and an all female chorus. The combination of this traditional spiritual song combined with a very modern dance beat is simply beautiful. The entire CD makes it almost impossible to sit and listen without having an overwhelming urge to get up and dance. La Kahena is a must for any world music collection!