Born on November 30, 1960 in the small town of Ain-Temouchent (Algeria), home of Bellamou, the famous trumpet player and forefather of Rai music, Cheb Nasro was the first son after five girls. At the age of two his uncle bought him a darbuka, a traditional drum, and was entertained nightly by Nasro’s playing and singing.
In the western Algerian town of Oran where he was raised, a famous neighbor named Cheb Zahounie would frequently invite Nasro to accompany him in his performance at neighborhood weddings. The neighbors would encourage Nasro to take the stage and sing. He soon grew passionate about performing live. He managed to find another neighbor who brought him to a local venue to entertain a paying audience for the first time. He was 17 years old and was paid five dollars for his first show. He brought the whole cabaret to their feet and the owner quickly offered him a permanent slot at the cabaret.
Within a year, Nasro was offered his first opportunity to record professionally and began to travel and perform with other noted Rai singers at festivals and concert halls throughout Europe.
Cheb Nasro developed a sentimental style of Rai music, similar to another famous Rai singer, Cheb Hasni. Without ever having met, he and Hasni were quickly established by music producers as competitors and developed a rivalry that would last until one fated night in Paris in 1991. Having been booked in the same hotel, they coincidentally left their rooms at the same time, saw each other and decided to go for a coffee. From that night until Cheb Hasni’s death in 1996, they remained close friends and confidantes.
After Hasni’s death, many Rai artists came out publicly to declare they would no longer sing for fear of being targeted by terrorists who disapproved of their music. Nasro contrarily came out publicly to declare his defiance, stating he would continue to sing and honor the life of his fallen friend. Over the next few years he slept with one eye open, even go so far as switching cars on a regular basis and varying his schedule as to not become and easy target. ”I became very skinny from worry and moved around a lot in those days,” Nasro said.
Nasro was the only Rai artist signed with an American label, Ark21/Mondo Melodia. He is one of Rai’s most prolific artist with more than 100 albums to his credit.
Reviens a Moi (Blue Silver, 1995)
Le Meilleur de Cheb Nasro (Blue Silver, 1998) Departures (Ark21, 2002) Lover’s Rai (Rounder, 2009)
Khélifati Mohamed, known as Cheb Mami, was born July 11, 1966, in Graba-el-Oved, a populous quarter of Saida. Located 1200 kilometers south of Oran, the city of Saida is on the high mesas of southwestern Algeria. Life in Saida exposed Mami to the traditional Berber culture and the bustling urban environment, both of which have affected his musical style.
Like many other rai singers, Mami began his artistic career singing at marriage ceremonies and circumcisions. His soulful voice earned him the nickname Mami, (the mourner).
In 1982, when he was 15, he participated in the Ihan wa chabab contest, a popular radio program. He won second prize. Producers contacted him immediately. This included Boualem, the producer of Disco Maghreb, a label from Oran that had released the most successful names in rai in recent years. Mami began releasing cassettes 1986. Each sold between 100,000 and 200,000 units, one as high as 500,000. The artist saw very little profit.
In 1985, Mami made his first public performance at the Premier Festival of Rai of Oran. At the end of 1985, he embarked for Paris for a tour of Arab clubs. In January 1986 Mami participated in the Rai Festivals of the Villete (Paris) and Bobigny. There he met Michel Levy, who became his manager. In December 1986, Mami appeared at the famous Olympia Theater in Paris.
After he finished two years of military service in Algeria, in May of 1989, Mami returned to the Paris stage at the Olympia, confirming that he was the main hope for the rejuvenation of Rai. He later toured the United States of America, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Scandinavia and the UK.
Mami’s music borrows from an eclectic blend of Mediterranean and Western influences including flamenco, Greek and Turkish music as well as hip-hop, funk, reggae and Latin music. His unique characteristics include a voice tinged with Andalusian accents, an effortless ability to merge the traditional and the contemporary, and a natural grace.
Cheb Mami’s collaboration as a guest singer on Sting’s “Desert Rose” increased his international profile as a pop star. The collaboration with the British pop star was arranged by Sting’s manager, Miles Copeland, who gave Sting a copy of one of Mami’s CDs and he loved it. Sting went to one of the concerts and asked Mami to guest on his CD.
Cheb Mami’s Meli Meli album featured French rappers, Imhotep and Kamel, a beur (an Algerian born in France).
In June of 2001 Mami released an album entitled “Dellali” (The Loved One). He explored international sounds and added Flamenco, reggae and dance sounds to his native Rai.
A tour of the United States of America was planned for April of 2002, but it was canceled due to the aftermath of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks.
Prince of Rai (USA: Shanachie, 1989) or Let Me Rai (Totem-Virgin, 1990)
Fatma Fatma (Melodie)
Saida (Totem-Virgin 8 40680 2, 1994/USA: Tinder, 1997) Let Me Rai (1995)
Douni El Bladi (BSI &Virgin, 1996) 100% Arabica, Cheb Khaled & Cheb Mami Meli Meli (Totem-Virgin 7243 8454842 1, 1998/USA: Ark21 850 007, 1999) Dellali (Virgin/Ark21 850 025, 2001)
Lazrag Saani (USA: Ark 21 850 064, 2002) Du Sud au Nord (EMI, 2004)
Live au Grand Rex 2004 (Virgin, 2004) Layali (2006)
Cheb i Sabbah was a world renowned artist, composer and producer. Born Haim Sérge El Baaz, Cheb i Sabbah left his native Algeria in the 1960s, and made a career out of blending music from all over the world into kaleidoscopic, dance-floor mixes ever since.
The Algerian-born musical mystic got his start spinning American soul in mid-1960s Paris as a scrubby 17-year-old. But his outernational obsession didn’t really take hold until 1980, when he launched a Parisian monthly club featuring Brazilian, North African, and Indian sounds, along with accompanying dancers and visuals.
His approach to music reflects a passion for bringing people together. ”Dance music can only grow bigger, because it’s one way all people [can] have some sort of communion that’s not present in Western society.”
Cheb i Sabbah’s interest in audience interaction stems from his late-’60s experience with the Living Theater, an experimental performance group that explored innovative ways to involve the audience – including taking LSD and getting naked. When Cheb i Sabbah moved to San Francisco in 1986 to raise his two children, he became involved with the similarly minded Tribal Warning Theater. While there, he began exploring new musical avenues as a DJ, splicing together disparate musical parts for the theater’s soundtracks.
He continued to inject theater into music – and vice versa – with his now-defunct world music series “1002 Nights.” Aiming to expand San Francisco’s internationalist reputation, Cheb i Sabbah invited artists such as the late Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, London’s bhangra son Bally Sagoo, and Indian sarangi stylist Sultan Khan to perform. He organized these nights thematically, so that the music, video collages, decor, and food all reflected the performer’s home country. His goal was to create a world the audience could feel and inhabit, if only for a night. ”There was a period of six or seven years where I put on 41 concerts,” he said. When reminded that our tally shows 961 nights to go, he laughs. ”The expenses are so high that not many people take chances,” he said. “I took 41 chances with a credit card.”
Nonetheless, Cheb i Sabbah’s largest innovations came through music alone, inside both the club and the studio. At “Africa/India/Arabia” and his other frequent gigs, the DJ mixes traditional Indian ragas with the work of British artists Asian Dub Foundation and Nitin Sawhney, fellow Algerian Rachid Taha, Senegalese pop star Baaba Maal, and Egyptian-styled singer Natacha Atlas, whom Cheb i Sabbah first broke on the club scene. Despite the variety of his source material, his vision ran distinctly counter to that of other sample-happy DJs who grab freely from the multicultural pickle jar. ”I play an actual song,” Cheb i Sabbah explained. ”It has a story: a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
His first three albums for Six Degrees Records, Shri Durga (1999), Maha Maya: Shri Durga ReMixed (2000), and Krishna Lila (2002), are cult classics in which India’s time-honored traditions merge with the universe of possibilities afforded by contemporary recording technology. This trilogy established him as a unique artist who creates bridges between cultures with a deeply moving sound drawn from DJ wizardry and world music aesthetics.
His fourth release was a continuous DJ mix titled As Far As, on which the traditions of Asia, Arabia and Africa, Sabbah’s main sources of inspiration, are all represented as if the listener were attending one of his renowned live sets. From here he turned his attention to North Africa with La Kahena.
For La Kahena, Cheb i Sabbah returned to the roots of his native North Africa where he gathered some of the most distinctive female singers from the Magreb in a studio in Morocco. With tracks by vocalists from many different traditions of North Africa, La Kahena compellingly illustrates the diversity of this region. Sabbah then added his own “dj Science” or modern aural magic to these performances.
Just as MahaMaya transformed the music on Shri Durga, La Ghriba (2006) put a new spin on La Kahena. La Kahena was a global adventure and a personal journey for Sabbah, but when it came to remixing, he wanted fresh ears involved in the project. ”When you make a record like La Kahena,” he said, ”there’s no way you could say, ‘i want to make one track that’s drum-and-bass, then I’m going to make one dub thing, one trance thing, one hip hop thing.’ I don’t think like that. I just do the songs, and the way they come out, that’s what they are. So if you want go to the next step, if you ask eleven different people, you’re going to get eleven different creative vibes. The idea of remixes is to push it, make it more club-oriented, usually with less lyrics, and more emphasis on the beats and on the dance, rather than the original song.”
Sabbah began by calling people he knew, both the famous and the not-so-famous. Sandeep Kumar, whose cool, clubby remix of the hook-laden “Toura Toura” leads off, is a young bhangra DJ living in Southern California. Kumar had opened up club shows for Sabbah, who “liked his energy.” Kumar’s first full-blown remix is the picture of simplicity. For Sabbah the track is a great example of the maxim he heard often from his mentor, Don Cherry: “Simplicity is very hard to achieve.”
Sabbah recorded source material for La Kahena in Morocco, and while in Marrakesh his rapper son, Elijah Opium, befriended a local rap group called Fnai’re. It didn’t take long to learn that Fnaire was one of the most happening rap acts in the country. Fnaire shared the stage with Sabbah at the 2005 Gnawa Festival in Essawira, and on La Ghriba they remixed the song “Sadats” with deep swing and spiritual, chant-like rapping.
Two other Moroccan acts contribute to La Ghriba as well. Tahar and Farid from the London-based Moroccan group MoMo offer a completely different take on “Sadats: The Sufi Sonic Mix.” This time, a roots feeling pervades with Tahar adding his own, thrumming guimbri track. Veterans of modern Moroccan music, Adberrahim Akkaoui and Pat Jabbar surprised Sabbah by picking what he considered one of the most difficult tracks on La Kahena to tackle. Currently billed as Dar Beida 04, Akkaoui and Jabbar spin out a dizzying fury of percussion on “Alia Al ‘Hbab: The Hydrophobia Mix.”
Sabbah brought Japan into the mix when he reached out to Makyo a “zen dub” DJ who’s been spinning since 1993. Sabbah had long corresponded and exchanged music with Makyo a.k.a. Gio. Makyo layers a funky 4/4 groove with a synth-bass line in 6/8, recasting the African music’s polyrhythms in techno-space before slotting in rich acoustic sounds: women ululating and singing, and a deep-toned nay (flute).
Sabbah called on another old friend via cyberspace, Yossi Fine, bassist, producer and mastermind of Ex-Centric Sound System, a group that threads together African music from all over the world with techno-beats and electronica. The two finally met face to face last year and Sabbah gave Fine a copy of La Kahena. The result is “Jarat Fil Hub: The Chalice Remix,” which artfully interweaves elements from “Toura Toura,” while alternating between driving, club trance, and ephemeral passages of riffing violin.
Temple of Sound was the brainchild of TransGlobal Underground veterans Neil Sparkes and Count Dubulah. On “Esh ‘Dani, Alash Mshit: Ray of Light Club Mix” they created a slow build to ecstasy featuring the incendiary voice of rai legend Cheba Zahouania. Temple of Sound particularly impressed Sabbah by creating not one but four remixes of the song, one of which appears on the Six Degrees annual compilation Traveler ’06. On the Temple of Sound remix, Zahouania’s chant “Algerie, San Francisco,” actually hints at Sabbah’s own biography, as the DJ-maestro has spent a good deal of time in California.
There are other California connections here as well. On “Alkher Ilia Doffor: The Bassnectar Remix,” San Francisco Bay Area producer Bassnectar-a.k.a. Lorin Ashton- pushes the rhythm hard to match the energy of the bhangra, raga, and dub that are his stock in trade.
The Chakadoons, Marc Cazoria and Alex Stiff who work as remixers for Quincy Jones were intrigued by Cheb i Sabbah’s artistry which initiated their reworking of “Toura Toura.” This track incorporates Chakadoons’ own performances on guitar, bass, and Fender Rhodes, while leaving the song’s slinky, Gnawa groove largely intact.
The set ends with work from two of Sabbah’s old friends, both seasoned veterans of world music electronica. Bassist, producer and label owner Bill Laswell is a virtual dean of the movement. He gives “Esh ‘Dani, Alash Mshit” a subtle treatment here, beginning with elemental sounds-wind and water-and driving the bass hard behind Zahouania’s extraordinary vocal. “Bill is so cool, man,” said Sabbah, “So low-key. He sent it and I asked if he had a name for it. He said, ‘You give it a name.’”
For the final track, “Im Ninalou” Sabbah taps Gaurav Raina of the MIDIval PunditZ, also part of the Six Degrees family. Raina’s mix is grand and dramatic with weighty bass, snapping percussion and ambient electronica.
Cheb i Sabbah returned to India for Devotion (2007), his seventh album on Six Degrees Records. India, a country Cheb i Sabbah visited several times, had been a theme with Cheb i Sabbah before, on the previous CDs Shri Durga (1999) and Krishna Lila (2002). He worked on Devotion for several years.
The CD includes an impressive cast of guests. Jai Bhavani (Praise to Bhavani, another form of Durga), features Anup Jalota, the pre-eminent singer of Hindu kirtans and bhajans in India. Koi Bole Ram Ram, (Some Say Rama Rama) is sung by Rana Singh, a reputed Sikh gurbani singer. Kinna Sohna (How Beautiful Did God Make You?), is a Sufi tune written by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and sung here by Punjabi Master Saleem. Qalanderi, another Sufi track features the vocals of Riffat Sultana, daughter of the late, great Pakistani classical singer Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. Haun Vaari Haun Varaney, is sung by Harnam Singh Morey Pya Bassey, features Indian classical singer Shubha Mudgal.
Cheb i Sabbah died on Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 of cancer.
Shri Durga (Six Degrees, 1999)
Maha Maya: Shri Durga ReMixed (Six Degrees, 2000) Krishna Lila (Six Degrees, 2002)
As Far As (Six Degrees, 2003) La Kahena (Six Degrees, 2005)
La Ghriba (Six Degrees, 2006) Devotion (Six Degrees, 2007)
Beihdja Rahal grew up in Algiers (Algeria) in a family who played Arab-Andalusian music every day. She studied song with the grand master Mohamed Khaznadji and also learned to play a type of lute called kuitra. Most of Beihdja Rahal’s recordings are dedicated to the Arab-andalusian form known as nuba.
In 1993 she started her own orchestra El Beihdja in Paris, and continues to give many concerts all over the world. Her success has earned her the title in Algeria of ‘the golden-voiced diva.’
Ali Slimani was born and raised in El Anasser, a quiet and neatly respectable suburb of the Algerian capital Algiers which is home to the huge football stadium where the young Slimani used to power the chants on the terraces with his darbuka. Although his parents wanted him to become a doctor or lawyer, Ali Slimani developed a passion for music and the sounds of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Alpha Blondy, Boney M and the Bee Gees.
He also inherited a deep love for the heroes of the popular traditional music of Algiers, which is called chaabi (also known as shaabi), men like Dahmane El Harrachi and Mohammed El Hadj El Anka. Then of course there was rai. Like every other Algerian teenager Ali fell under the spell of the plain speaking, tough living heroes of rai music from Oran: Cheb Khaled, Cheb Hamid, Cheikha Remitti and Cheb Abdelhak etc. ”The words were so important,” Slimani explains. “With rai you can sing about what you want, problems, women, love, no job. For my family the words were very bad and out of respect I couldn’t listen to rai music at home at that time. We used to go off with my friends to the beach to listen to it instead.”
Whilst busking near Sacre Coeur in Paris during a summer holiday in the early 1980s, Ali Slimani got chatting to an English girl who inspired him to go to London and after a two year stretch of military service in the Algerian infantry, he finally made it to the English capital. It was a very strange choice of destination for a young Algerian at that time.
Life was hard at first, with menial jobs and language problems, but eventually Slimani started to make himself an envious reputation as a rai DJ, with regular slots at the HQ in Camden and the Orange Club in west Kensington as well as plenty of work in the North African wedding party circuit.
As his notoriety grew he was asked to audition for Jah Wobble’s Invaders Of The Heart, who were looking for a percussionist and singer to replace Natasha Atlas. Percussion wasn’t a problem but Slimani had never thought of himself as a singer. But something clicked and Jah Wobble was seduced by his skills and easygoing manner.
For four headlong years, Ali Slimani became part of the epoch making Invaders of the Heart, touring the globe, taking globally flavored dub inspiration to the corners of the earth and eventually recording of Mraya, a landmark of modern rai-dub in which the whole Invaders of the heart crew: Jah Wobble, Sinead O’Connor, Justin Adams et al played their part. In the wake of the album’s success, Ali Slimani was asked to contribute vocals to Sinead O’Connor’s hit ‘Fire On Babylon’ and even appeared on Top of The Pops with the baldhead Irish diva, the first Arabic singer ever to penetrate this bastion of British Pop.
The real test of Ali Slimani’s mettle as a musician came when he went solo after The Invaders of the Heart. There’s no denying that times were tough and that Slimani needed all the survival instinct in his bones to keep carrying on. But all those years of hard work, hard touring and hard searching paid off with the release of Espoir. ”I think it’s better that I waited,” says Slimani. “I found the right people to work with and that’s important. When I met the producer Veronica Ferraro I said, ‘Ok, we’re going to do this album and we’ll do songs in nearly all the different styles from Algeria so it’ll be for everybody! That way it’ll be nicer.” Sure enough, Espoir features a myriad of different styles from Algeria, all of which have been given an modern and unashamedly electronic makeover.
Most of the material on the album was composed by Ali Slimani himself in partnership with other long-time musical collaborators like fellow Algerian Yazid Fentazi from the group Fantazia, a multi-instrumentalist, music obsessive and all round creative genius or the guitarist and producer Justin Adams, who is currently a cornerstone of Robert Plant’s new band. There are songs rooted in the urban chaabi tradition of Algiers like ‘Lirah’ and ‘Oulah Manansak’. There’s a song called ‘Elho’ from the Berber region of Kabylia, arranged by Slimani and Fentazi who is a Kabyl himself. ‘Sur La Route de Tamanrasset’ is inspired by Saharawi music from the deepest Sahara but was recorded in deepest Hackney, London. ‘Moi et Toi’ is a rai song about cultural conflicts in man-woman relationships. ‘El Arabia’ is an Arabic dub song co-written with Slimani’s long time friend Rootsman from Bradford.
Peace, hope and cooperation…these aren’t joke words, especially if you come from Algeria. Ali Slimani has brought together some of the greatest talents in North African music -Natacha Atlas, rapper Clotaire K, Yazid Fentazi, and singer Selma, whose husband was a victim of Algeria’s civil violence- to help him make an album that celebrates hope for a brighter future and for basic human understanding, rare commodities in these darkening times. ”When I look at Algeria in the last ten years, if you wanna know the truth, I feel bad,” he says. ”I cry, cry for my country. But hopefully it will get better, because it’s God’s will. Algeria will come back.”
[Edited from an original text by Andy Morgan. Courtesy of Nadia Chaouchi, Manager for Ali Slimani Abdelati.
Akim El Sikameya was born in Oran, Algeria. He is the youngest son in a family of six, born to a Justice Civil Servant father.
At the age of eight, Akim joined Nassim el Andalous, the well-known Arab-Andalusian music school whose teachings he followed for the next fourteen years. Meanwhile, he studied at Montesquieu Secondary school and joined the school band (the headmistress being a great music admirer). Akim’s childhood and teen years are rooted in Arab-Andalusian music.
At the time, Oran was waking up to a different style of music, Rai, which is becoming the most famous Arabic music in the West. The Algerian youth was set on free by Khaled, Cheba, Fadela and Cheb Mami, and their irresistible talent.
But the leaders of the developing Algerian nation have uniquely bet on the Arab-Muslim identity to build up the country’s cultural future, forgetting its historical human and religious melting pot and promoting Arab-Andalusian music to a status of national classical music so much that the overfed younger generations chose to turn their backs on it.
It was no easy trick for Akim to convince his friends of the beauty of this sophisticated age-old art. In 1990, he nevertheless succeeded in founding a band with whom he adapted and modernized Arab-Andalusian nubas, adding Flamenco guitar and piano to compose songs. In the meantime, he studied at the university to become an electronics engineer.
Four years later, in 1994, Akim left Oran for Marseilles (France) where he followed a marketing master course, while still continuing his progress in music.
Then, he chose, to his family’s surprise, to become a professional singer under the name of Akim El Sikameya, sika and meya being two of the most often played Arab-Andalusian nubas. He entered the music profession, giving concerts and was noticed for his soft and fine head voice which expresses so well deepness and alegria (happiness).
In 1999 he recorded his first album Atifa – Oumi (Night and Day). Following the release of the album he went on a world tour and was the opening act for such stars as Khaled, Cheb Mami, Willy De Ville, Les Negresses Vertes, Natacha Atlas, Cesaria Evora, and Noa, to name just a few. He gained more and more confidence on stage.
He was applauded at the Womad Festival in Las Palmas, Madrid, Reading and Singapore and was invited to a world tour.
Ahmed el Salam was born in Oued Souf, in the Algerian Sahara, where he learned to play the flute. Later he moved to Algiers, the capital of Algeria, where he discovered the guitar. He now lives in France and his music embraces the sounds of his life, combining a sublime combination of strings (guitar, ud, violin) his voice speaks from the heart.
In Ahmed’s music, you can hear a plurality of cultural influences – echoes of chaabi with other music styles of North Africa and the Middle East, alongside Arab-Andalusian music, flamenco, the blues, Santana and Jimi Hendrix.
Ahmed el Salam has performed extensively in France, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Turkey and elsewhere.
Aidan O’Rourke is a fiddle player and composer from Oban on the West Coast of Scotland. He has toured extensively in Europe and North America from the age of 15 and has made his name as one of Scotland’s most expressive and dynamic musicians.
At 19, Aidan formed Tabache with Claire Mann and went on to record the internationally acclaimed album Waves of Rush. Aidan now performs with the hugely successful Blazin’ Fiddles (Live Act of the Year 2004) and is a much sought after session musician, having performed on over dozens of albums ranging from Runrig to Michael McGoldrick and Karen Matheson.
Commissions have included a piece titled Mantra Alba which welcomed the Dalai Lama to Scotland.
Sirius is his first solo album which evolved from a commission by Celtic Connections in 2003.
Are You Willing?, with Tabache (1996)
Waves of Rush, with Tabache (1999)
Live in Scotland, with The Unusual Suspects (2005) Sirius (2006)
Lightweights and Gentlemen, with Lau (2007) Live, with Lau (2008) Arc Light, with Lau (2009) An Tobar (Navigator Records, 2011)
Big Like This, with The Unusual Suspects (2011) Race the Loser, with Lau (2012)
Hotline (2013) The Bell That Never Rang, with Lau (2015) Sleeper, with Kan (2015)
Aicha Mint Chighaly was born in 1963 in Kaedi, Mauritania. Her father, Yuba Al-Mokhtar ould Chighaly, was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.
In 1982, the family Chighaly moved from the Senegal border area to the Mauritanian capital, Nuakchott.
Aicha became a singer and ardin (Mauritanian harp-lute) player. In 1996, she started her international career. She released her first CD for the Inedit collection of the Maison Des Cultures du Monde in Paris.
Born in Egypt to an Eritrean father, Ahmed took his first steps in music at a Nubian music institute in downtown Cairo. He started with singing, playing the guitar, and eventually moving on to his current instrument, the bass guitar, which he plays for leading Egyptian bands such as Senet, El Dor El Awal, Beshir, and Wust El Balad.
Ahmed has also organized the Afri-Cairo Music Festival and is a partner and manager at the Wust El Balad recording studio.