Hasna el Becharia is a female Gnawa multi-instrumentalist. She was born in 1951 in Béchar (formerly known as Colomb-Béchar, a garrison town during the time of the French colonization). This town in southwestern Algeria is a fertile musical ground, with styles such as Diwan, Foundou and the popular Haddawi repertoire to celebrate Arab-Berber weddings of this sub-region.
The daughter and grand-daughter of Gnawa musicians, she plays popular Saharan traditional songs and personal compositions. In 1972, she began to play by herself. With three friends of hers, including Zorah and Kheira who are still singing by her side, singing and playing drums and tambourines. Hasna played traditional desert tunes on the acoustic guitar. They became successful very quickly, playing at weddings, banquets, etc. Everybody wanted to hear Hasna and her pals. During their performance, people sang along all the songs. It was so noisy that Hasna began to play the electric guitar to be heard. At that moment, she became really famous. Beyond the little town of Bechar, her name was known all over the south of Algeria. Algerian producers tried to make her record some tunes on a tape recorder, but she refused because she didn’t trust them.
In less than 4 years, Hasna and her band built their own legend. In 1976, they were the guest stars of a great concert in Bechar, organized by the Union of Algerian Women, in front of a female audience.
She arrived in France in January 1999 when she was invited to a festival called “Women of Algeria. She was one of the two new-comers who emerged from this festival. Fascinated by her music, the organizers of the festival decided to put her on stage every night, although it was originally planned that she would only play one evening. Quickly, rumors spread throughout Paris about this incredible female guitar player from the desert. Journalists and producers showed up and the prestigious French newspaper Libération published an article about her.
Hasna decided to stay in Paris because her situation was too difficult in Algeria. In spite of singing about the Prophet, she did not conform with tradition. She is too free and does not accept the old fashioned patriarchal customs that still rule in her country.
The guimbri and karkabas (two instruments masterfully played by Hasna) are the pillars of North African black music. Hasna creates a powerful and rough guimbri sound and she has an astonishing sense of rhythm.
Like numerous Algerian Gnawa musicians, Hasna takes her roots in the popular wedding repertoire. In addition to guimbri and karkabas, she plays electric guitar, ud, darbuka, bendir and even banjo. At the age of 51, Hasna recorded her first album. She composed the majority of her songs in France. By no means corrupted by stage or studio performance, she took advantage of these new experiences to explore the sound of guitars, vocal timbres on different tonalities, to improvise and make new encounters. In order to make her recording, the producers brought together great musicians from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Niger.
Hamid Baroudi grew up with music in Algeria and took to the stage at the early age of 15. In Algeria, music is more than mere entertainment, it can represent hope in the face of oppression, a feeling of solidarity, spirituality, trance, even medicine. Music accompanied Hamid to France, where, after a long stay, he hitched further and landed in Germany, studying art in Kassel, home of the Pocumenta exhibition. There followed six exciting years as front-man of world beat band Dissidenten, an important step in his musical career.
After touring worldwide and the release of 4 albums, Hamid Baroudi left Dissidenten with whom he’d become the vanguard of Global pop, and dedicated himself to his own solo career. He worked for 2 years on “City” No* Mad”. Groove forms the focal point of “City* No* Mad”, the rhythms of Maghreb coupled with Anglo-American rock.
Musical honors and accolades accumulated thenceforth around Baroudi, the “political animal”. He collected praise and prizes for his musical work; three tours for Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festival organization took him to England, Spain and Japan. He won the “Award for Culture” in his chosen home town of Kassel and topped the European World Music charts in August 1994. Besides all this, he appeared in Bonn in front of 200.000 at an Anti-Gulf-War festival. His performances and engagement as a forward-thinking “child of Islam” achieve a complete opposite to the uncompromising fundamentalism of some of his brethren.
1996 seemed only to underline the fact that Hamid Baroudi’s goal was to bring together cultural worlds that seem to the outsider unalignable. City No Mad successfully fused African music and Anglo-American rock and pop. With the Mad C.T. Mix, Hamid went all experimental. Except for one song. His previous album was completely remixed. Drum & & Bass, Techno, House and Dub; they were all “in there.”
Hamid’s second solo album 5 contains singing in 5 different languages: Arabic, English, French, Spanish and the West African tongue of Wolof. Apart from that, the number 5 itself had well-known mystical properties, especially among the Arabs. In North Africa it’s a fact that the “Hand of Fatima” is simply called 5. Add to this the 5 continents, the 5 senses and the “5 Pillars of lslam.”
City No Mad (Vielklang, 1995)
Salama (Vielklang, 1995) Five (1997) Sidi (Vielklang 03231-2, 2001)
Mad C.T. Mix (Barraka, 2003)
TamTam a Tam (2012)
For Habib and Hassina Guerroumi, Arab Andalusian music is more than a cultural heritage. Their musical approach to this art is pure and modest. It is the inner feeling, that with a touch of a doctor (Habib’s profession) revives the spiritual link to Ziriab’s legacy.
Habib Guerroumi studied music in Algeria with Ahmed Seri, one of the most important masters of Arab Andalusian music. Ahmed Seri was a member of the Moussilia, a music association of the city of Algiers. The young Guerroumi became Seri’s student for almost 20 years. With time, Habib inherited the whole repertoire of Ahmed Seri, his master.
Hassina Guerroumi was born in a musical family and in a very early age she learned the inner secrets of the Andalusian rhythms. Like her husband Habib, Hassina is willing to keep the tradition alive and both are working together to what seems to develop into their life work.
The harmony and the mutual understanding between the two musicians is one of the ingredients for their high artistic and quality level. Every word, sentence or note has a deep emotional value. The balance between the darbuka and the ud is natural and Habib’s modest singing is meditative. The Nuba, performed by Habib and Hassina, are true emotional, physical and musical experience.
Cheikha Rimitti was one of the most influential singers in the development of the popular Algerian music style known as Rai.
She was born in 1923 near Sidi Bel-Abbas, in French-controlled Algeria. She became an orphan at a young age and had a hard and dissolute life.
When she was twenty years old, she became close to a troop of musicians, the Hamdachis, with whom she shared a troubadour’s life, singing in many cabarets and often dancing until her feet could not bear her anymore. In those times, dreadful epidemics spread through the country and put the emphasis on the daily sordid difficulties.
Rimitti drew her inspiration from those desolation scenes and improvised her first verses: her repertoire is mainly based on that which has been lived. ”It’s misfortune that has educated me, words sing silent in my head until I sing them loud, no need to take neither a pencil nor a notebook.”
From those days, she preferred to keep memories of celebrations: ”I celebrated the Saints in Relizane, Oran and Algiers? Celebrations longed a week and people came from all over the country. We invited the greatest singers, like Umm Kulthum and Cheikha Fadela The Great Not only was I singing, but I also was riding horses during the fantasia, with a rifle in each hand, and I was shooting to the sky. Soldiers clapped their hands and the prefect himself congratulated me a few times?”
Her first recording was made in 1952, when Pathe Marconi released a single including the famous “Er-Ra? Er-Ra?”, but it was in 1954 that Rimitti became an absolute reference with her song “Charrak Gatt?”: her contemporaries heard in this song an attack against the taboo of virginity (”he crushes, whips and beats me. I say that I’m going away but I still spend the night / pitiful me, I’ve taken bad habits?”).
Rimitti was ahead of her times, singing in the 1940’s about how hard it was to be a woman and introducing the notion of a sexual pleasure. But her themes went far beyond that: she explored all forms of love, celebrated friendship, tried to explain what it was to become an alcoholic, regretted the obligation to migrate and scolded the moralists. She, who dared singing an ode to the Emir Abdelkader in the Jewish coffee shops, in the middle of the Liberation War, was going to suffer from great accusations, flying from the censors of the National Liberation Front.
Her poetry forced her out of the country in the 1960’s. Since those times, she has written more than 200 songs, constituting a real “sing tank” for her successors, including Cheb Khaled whom has covered “The Camel”, for instance.
She was revered by most Rai musicians. Rachid Taha dedicated her a song, “Rimitti”. Re-discovered a few years ago by the new generation, Rimitti’s songs connected to the reality of 1990’s bloody Algeria, the decade of all dangers (especially for women).
She was awarded the Great Prize of Disc of the Charles Cros Academy, in 2000. But she claimed no title but the one of “Cheikha” (the Senior).
She collaborated with Robert Fripp and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the Sidi Mansour album in 1994, and that inaugurated a new electric form of Rai.
In 2000 she released Nouar. Her most recent recording was N’Ta Goudami (Because Music, 2006).
She died May 15th of 2006 in Paris of a heart attack. She was 83.
Cheikh Salim Fergani is a maestro of Maluf music. Fergani was born in 1953 in Constantine (Algeria), in a family of musicians and artisans, embroiderers, since the Beys (Otoman princes) period. He is the eldest of hadj Mohamed Tahar Fergani’s sons, the leader of Music in Constantine and the grandson of sheikh Hamou Fergani (1884-1912), the famous hawzi singer and the Sufi Aissaoua group.
From this strong musical familiar surroundings, he had a gift for music, since he was young. His father taught him Arab Andalusian music. His uncle, Mohamed Seddik Fergani (1913-1995), named Zouaoui, introduced him to the techniques and the art of the ud (Arabic lute).
Since 1968, he started his professional carrier with his father Hadj Mohamed Tahar Fergani in recordings. At the same time, despite of his father’s presence, Cheikh Salim Fergani interacted with other sheikhs of Constantine who taught him more about Maluf, Mahdjuz, Hawzi, Arubi, Quadriates and Zadjel.
He has excellent memory, which allows him to assimilate information easily. Like his father, he devoted himself exclusively to music, to improve his knowledge, learning from cheikh Abdelkader Toumi (1906-2005), a remarkable encyclopedia. After long years, this relationship has played a key role in Salim Fergani’s life and in the music of Constantine.
Salim Fergani improved his skills, close his father, as a member in the family orchestra. He also performs as a musician and singer with his own group.
He has performed concerts, made recordings and has been featured on TV, letting the public discover an artist with talent and knowledge of the music of Constantine during the 1970?s.
Since the 1980’s, he’s had brilliant international career that led him to Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States of America. His control on the musical repertory and the ud, his understanding of communication, his rigor and human qualities made him an artist particularly demanded by international cultural institutions.
Written and translated by Benderbal Hichem. Edited by World Music Central.
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.