Orchestre National de Barbés is a piece of North Africa stranded in the heart of Paris. In English, the name means The National Barbés Orchestra, implying that Barbés is a nation unto itself. It is a sentiment that few who visit the neighborhood would dispute.
The band’s story started in Belcourt, a working class section of Algiers, Algeria at the peak of the 1980 baby boom. Youcef Boukella’s older brothers listened to rock and bossa nova, people watched Cairo film classics on TV and tuned to Kabyl folk music on the radio. Outside the Belcourt alleyways, there were street peddlers, muezzins, Gnawa street performers, shaabi concerts, and ghetto blasters playing reggae, funk and raï.
“My style of music goes back to my childhood in Belcourt,” explains Youcef Boukella. In 1985 he was offered a slot playing bass for the first Arabic-language rock group, T34. But when Youcef heard what visiting jazz musician Jeff Gardner was performing, that’s when he decided to leave home. Raï was all the rage when he arrived in Paris. He worked with Cheb Mami and Kabyl native Takfarinas at diaspora parties. Safy Boutella introduced him into underground jazz.
Larbi Dida comes from the town of Sidi bel Abbes and is a founding member of Raïna Raï, the rock-raï group that transformed the Algerian rock scene. Recognized by the Algerian media as a historic breakthrough, this group was the first rock group to use raï in its repertoire. Ever since Larba Dida moved to Paris in 1989, his has been one of the great Arabic voices in the French capital.
Aziz Sehmaoui is another pillar upholding Youcef’s vision. Raised in Marrakesh, Morocco this Sufi artist was nourished on a combination of Gnawa Arab-African beats and British-American pop performed in Morocco with various traditional and electric groups (Association Ziriab, Lemchaheb and others). Like Youcef, Aziz attempts to weld the mystical power of healing rhythms with today’s sounds.
The members of Gnawa Diffusion, who are based in Grenoble in the South East of France, come from a rich mix of musical and cultural backgrounds. Fusing their individual influences into a collective sound, Gnawa Diffusion have woven elements of rap, ragga, jazz, reggae and rai into a vibrant musical patchwork.
The group’s name is a reference to the Gnawa, black Africans who were deported to North Africa in the 16th century by the rulers of Fes and Algiers. While the Gnawa were officially converted to Islam by their new leaders, they continued to worship their own African gods in private.
The way Gnawa Diffusion sees it, this historic tale of people uprooted from their homeland and forced to begin a new life in a foreign land is remarkably similar to the lives of modern-day immigrants growing up in France. Indeed, the group’s lead singer, Amezigh, son of the famous Algerian writer Kateb Yacine, considers himself to be a 20th century version of the Gnawa.
Amezigh, who arrived in France in 1988 at 16, has been closely involved in the struggle to defend immigrants’ rights and abolish racial prejudice. When Amezigh formed Gnawa Diffusion in 1992 he saw the group as an alternative means to get his political message across. Amezigh, Gnawa Diffusion’s lead singer and songwriter, writes his lyrics in three languages, Arabic, French and English.
Gnawa Diffusion started their career in 1993 with the release of a mini 5-track album named “Legitime difference”. Following the release of their CD album the group began to concentrate on their live career, with an extensive tour of France, performing concerts with a host of French stars including FFF, Zebda, Massilia Sound System and Princess Erika.
Gnawa Diffusion’s innovative musical fusion and the hard-hitting lyrics of their protest songs have certainly made them one of the most prominent new groups on the French music scene. The group’s single “Ombre-elle” and their first full album “Algeria” (released in 1997 on GDO) served to increase their popularity – and Gnawa Diffusion’s live shows began to attract an impressive number of fans! When they hit the road for the Chibani tour – Gnawa Diffusion’s personal tribute to the past – the group’s lively on-stage performances attracted huge audiences across the world and led them to play in such places as the Africa Festival in Wurzburg, the Francofolies in la Rochelle, the Berlin Music Fest, Montreux Jazz festival in Switzerland, Reading/Leeds festival in the UK, Pirineos Sur Festival in Spain, Rascimus Beat It in Netherlands, Fete des Cent in Belgium, etc.
In January 1999, Gnawa Diffusion returned to the studio to work on their second album “Bab El Oued-Kingston” (which was released in May). The album featured the band’s usual fusion sound, but this time Gnawa Diffusion also began experimenting with traditional music, recording their own innovative version of “Chara’Allah” – a three hundred years old song. Following the release of the album, Gnawa Diffusion went on the road again, kicking off an extensive tour in Toulouse. Before the end of the year, music fans flocked to see the group playing concerts all over Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Gnawa Diffusion also performed at various music festivals throughout the summer of 1999.
Gnawa Diffusion rocketed back into the music news in June 2000 with a new album entitled Bab El Oued 2. At the end of the year the group also headed out to perform a tour in Algeria and flew back there again in 2001 for a mini-series of four dates. Renowned for their energetic live performances, the group returned to the festival circuit in the summer and traveled to such countries as Yemen, Syria, Jordania and Sudan.
After their Algerian tour, following the murderous confrontations in Kabylia, the band released a double live album titled Live DZ – the first live album ever recorded during a tour in Algeria.
in June 2003, the band came back with a new album, Souk System. Sung in French, Arabic and English, the lyrics were more political than in the previous albums. They referred to international news, denouncing as well as satirizing the events. As for the music, it consisted in the usual mixture of reggae and raga muffin, chaabi and Gnawa music. They began another worldwide tour from France to Canada and from Europe to North Africa.
Tawassol, the album released by French band Gabacho Maroc is the number one album at the Transglobal World Music Chart in March 2018. The band performs a captivating fusion of North African traditions, jazz and trance music.
Current band members include Hamid Moumen on vocals and guembri; Aziz Fayet on vocals, ud and percussion; Frédéric Faure on African percussion, ngoni and backing vocals; Illyes Ferfera on tenor saxophone and backing vocals; Pierre Cherbero on keyboards and backing vocals; Eric Oxandaburu on bass; and Vincent Thomas on drums.
The album also features Jean-Philippe Rykiel on keyboards; Pascuala Ilabaca on vocals; Ermanno Panta on flute; and Mixel Ducau on alboka and tin whistle.
The rest of the chart:
2. TootArd – Laissez Passer – Glitterbeat
3. El Naán – La Danza de las Semillas – El Naán
4. 3MA: Ballaké Sissoko, Driss El Maloumi, Rajery – Anarouz – Six Degrees
5. Samurai Accordion – Te – Visage Music
6. Monsieur Doumani – Angathin – Monsieur Doumani
7. Boubacar Traoré – Dounia Tabolo – Lusafrica
8. Júlio Pereira – Praça do Comércio – Tradisom
9. Okra Playground – Ääneni Yli Vesien – Nordic Notes
10. Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband – Es:Sensual – Otá
11. Elena Ledda – Làntias – S’ard Music
12. Gaiteiros de Lisboa – A História – Uguru
13. Sara Tavares – Fitxadu – Sony Music Portugal
14. Malagasy Guitar Masters – Volo Hazo – Buda Musique
15. Maya Youssef – Syrian Dreams – Harmonia Mundi
16. L’Alba – A Parulluccia – L’Alba
17. Efrén López, Stelios Petrakis, Bijan Chemirani – Taos – Buda Musique
18. Sinan Cem Eroğlu & Muhlis Berberoğlu – Hemdem – Ahenk Müzik
19. Son Palenque – Kutu Prieta pa Saranguiá – Palenque
20. Toto Bona Lokua – Bondeko – Nø Førmat!
Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa is descended from an acclaimed family of artists. His father, Boubker Guinéa, is considered as one of Morocco’s greatest of all maâlems. Guinéa began playing the guimbri at age 12, and became a full maâlem and master musician at age 16.
Together with with his band, Nasse Ejadba, he quickly developed his own musical style, somewhere between traditional and modern Gnawa, which he calls “Fusion Trance.” As well as guimbri, Guinéa plays guitar, banjo and mandolin and has continued the progression of his music by introducing Western sounds into the mix, building a musical bridge between different musical styles.
In 2012, Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa released http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008XFE85C?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B008XFE85C&linkCode=xm2&tag=musidelmund-20 | Fangnawa, a collaboration with French Afrobeat group Fanga. The collaboration had its roots in 2011, when the Détours du Monde festival in Montpelier (France) presented Fanga and maâlem Abdallah Guinéa.
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.