Tag Archives: Tunisian music

Artist Profiles: Lamia Bedioui

Lamia Bedioui

Lamia Bedioui was born in Tunis. She studied economics but was gradually attracted by the art of singing. Living in Greece since 1992, she has collaborated with many singers, musicians and performers, such as Savina Yannatou, Nikos Grapsas, Solis Barki and others.

Lamia participated in several albums: The songs of the Mediterranean, Terra Nostra, In Gedeonis Area, Krotala, etc). Since 2002, she participated at the Workshop of Vocal Art under Spyros Sakkas. She frequently appears before the public in musical scenes and venues in Athens and all over Greece, as well as at International Music Festivals (Belgium, Germany, Italy and Tunisia).

In 2006, her first solo album was released with percussionist Solis Barki, with the title Fin’ Amor (Libra Music LM042).  


Fin’Amor ( Libra Music , 2006)

Athamra (2015)


Artist Profiles: Lotfi Bouchnak

Lotfi Bouchnak

Lotfi Bouchnak is a singer, ud player and composer, born in Tunisia to a family of Turkish origin. Bouchnak is a charismatic artist, admired by his exceptional expressive qualities in the Arab community. He performs regularly at the Cairo Opera.

Originally from the district of Halfawine in Tunis, Lotfi Bouchnak was a student of the great maestros Salah al Medhi and Ali Srit. He sings the maluf with exquisite refinement, Tunisian classical music forged around the Otoman and Arab Andalusian traditions. His powerful voice allows for variations and modulations that have returned the luster to this noble art of Tunis. At the live performances, Bouchnak also plays instrumental pieces.

Lotfi Bouchnak is one of the great tenors of the Magreb. Former United Nations president Kofi Anan named Bouchnak Ambassador for World Peace.

Partial discography:

Malouf Tunisien ‎(Inedit, 1993)                   

A Festival Of Amir Khusrau ‎(Times Music, 2001)                 

Live In Berlin ‎(Wergo, 2004)


Artist Profiles: Smadj


Tunisian born, Parisian musician Jean-Pierre Smadja (Smadj) grew up listening to Middle Eastern, Brazilian, funk, soul, and folk music. Entering a jazz school at age 15 due to his intense interest in the guitar, Smadj’s musical development came to be characterized by transforming traditional jazz styles into eclectic sounds. This interest in the mechanics of making music led Smadj to pursue a degree in sound engineering, which led to a fruitful career as a recording & sound engineer for famous classical and folk musicians.

Releasing his first album in 1994, it was not until 2000 that Smadj became recognized on an international scale for his signature blending of acoustic and electronic sounds on Equilibriste, which would ascend on the European World Music Charts to the number 4 position. In 2002, Smadj joined fellow ud magician, French musician Mehdi Haddab, for a special project that would transport the oud to the 21st century in DuOuD. Supporting their triumph of an album with a 2 year world tour, the album also received 2nd place in the Best Album category at the prestigious BBC World Music Awards.

In 2003, Smadj joined master percussionist Burhan Ocal for and the Trakya All Stars featuring Smadj, and in 2005 he stepped behind the scenes to serve as artistic director for Burhan Ocal’s New Dream. Smadj continues making music in the city where east meets west, Istanbul.


Equilibriste ‎(M.E.L.T. 2000, 1999)
New Deal ‎(Electric M.E.L.T., 2000)
Kırklareli İl Sınırı (Doublemoon, 2003)
Take It and Drive (Most Records, 2004)
Smadj Presents SOS (Doublemoon, 2005)
Trakya Dance Party (Doublemoon, 2006)
Selin ‎(MVS Records, 2009)
Hü (MVS Records, 2010)
Fuck The DJ (Smadj Records, 2012)
Spleen ‎(Jazz Village, 2015)
Solotronic ‎(Whirling Wolf, 2017)


Artist Profiles: Amina

Amina Annabi

Amina Annabi was born in Carthage (Tunisia). Her family emigrated to France when she was 12. At home she listened to her mother’s North African songs, Egyptian singer Um Kalthum and Western music like James Brown, French ‘chanson’ and her all-time favorite, Billie Holiday.

Trained as a singer at the Conservatory, she started out as a proto-rapper in 1986, before unleashing her voice on her debut album, Yalil, in 1989, a record produced by Martin Meisonnier, who’d worked with many of the top names in French world music. She hit the spotlight in 1991, when she won the Eurovision Song Contest, representing France. It was a huge breakthrough, both culturally and musically. Amina was the first North African ever picked for France, and the song Le Dernier Qui A Parle, broke away from the bland Eurovision tradition to offer a sound that was both challenging, with its mix of North and West African melodies with Franco-pop, and, in the time of the Gulf War, overly political.

Throughout her career, she has continued to push at her limits, to work with new people. 1992’s Wadi ye added Senegal’s Wasis Diop to the production team, and brought a new African element into the mix for tracks like Wadileh. In addition to her own work, Amina guested with others, working with talents raging from Cameroon’s seminal Manu Dibango to Lenny Kravitz, former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm MacLaren to classical violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy.
She also pursued another passion – cinema – acting in several films. But the movies have been an ongoing inspiration for Amina, the source for both Atame (the original Spanish title for Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) and Ederlezi (the original of which first featured in Kusturica’s 1989 Time of the Gypsies).

There was a seven-year gap between Amina’s second and third albums. When she returned in 1999 with Annabi (her real-life last name), it was with a new attitude and plenty of new sounds. Producers like Renegade Soundwave and Mark Saunders entered the fold, and the beats became harder and more creative. Songs like Habibi 2 and Lirrili explored the trance rhythms of her native North Africa, placing them in a modern context. The record was a series of experiments, none more radical than her reworking of the Billie Holiday classic, My Man. The torch song moved to the Magreb, where swooping strings framed Amina’s voice, singing in an Arabic way, but in English, to bring a fresh, startling perspective to a standard. In Dis-Moi Pouquoi she created a slice of ethnic pop that returned her to the charts after a long hiatus.

Nomad, the Best of Amina highlights the power of Amina’s voice, and the way her artistry has developed. It also adds two cuts, which have never appeared on album before, her take on Ederlezi and the brand new Ya Baba, recorded earlier this year with a band comprised of Algerian and Tunisian musicians.


Yalil (Philips, 1989)
Wa Di Yé (Philips, 1992)
Annabi (Mercury, 1999)
Nomad, Best of (Mondo Melodia, 2001)
Unveil, EP (2015)


Artist Profiles: Amine and Hamza M’Raihi

Amine and Hamza M’Raihi

Amine and Hamza M’Raihi are Tunisian brothers, born respectively, in 1986 and 1987. They graduated in Middle Eastern music in 1999 and obtained the first national prize for ud and qanun.

Despite their young ages, Amine and Hamza have already performed at some of most famous stages in the Arab world, such as the Medina Theatre in Beirut, The Opera House in Cairo, and the Medina Festival of Tunis. They have also been invited to various festivals throughout Europe.

Amine and Hamza in 2008

Amine and Hamza play classical pieces of Middle Eastern music as well as their own compositions. Amine and Hamza are developing a new style of playing ud and kanun, mixing the different influences of Middle Eastern music, respecting its meditation and improvisational aspects, but at the same time introducing a dynamic expression and an outstanding way of playing.


Ala Mar Azaman (2003)
Ila Hounak (Laika Records, 2003)
Asfar ‎(Samaa, 2004)
Ilayha wa Ilayh (2006)
Mani Nassi (2007)
Tunifunk (2009)
Perpetual Motion ‎(Network Medien, 2011)
Fertile Paradoxes ‎(ARC Music, 2017)


Artist Profiles: Emel Mathlouthi

Emel Mathlouthi

Emel Mathlouthi is a Tunisian singer-songwriter, composer, and guitarist. Gifted with an outstanding voice, she evokes Joan Baez, Sister Marie Keyruz and the Lebanese diva Fairuz. Her style is lyrical, with powerful rock, North African and trip hop influences.

Emel began her artistic career at the age of 8 performing at the small amphitheater in the Ibn Sina suburb of Tunis where she lived until the age of 25, when she moved to France to pursue her career as a singer.

Her song “Kelmti Horra”, (my word is free) was adopted by the Arab Spring revolutionaries and sung on the streets of Tunis. She has a charismatic presence and a voice that invokes revolution and freedom.


Kelmti Horra (World Village, 2012)
Ensen (2017)


Bargou 08 at the Top of the Transglobal World Music Chart in April 2017

The album Targ by Tunisian act Bargou 08 has reached the top of the Transglobal World Music Chart in April 2017. The band combines Tunisian highland traditional music with electronica and rock.

Band members include Lassaed Bougalmi on gasba, zokra (traditional reed instruments); Imed Rezgui on bendir (frame drum); Nidhal Yahyaoui on vocals, wtar (lute); Sofyan Ben Youssef on synthesizer; and Benjamin Chaval on drums.

To see the complete chart, visit: www.transglobalwmc.com


The Band Beyond Borders, A Remarkable Gathering of World Musicians

Amine & Hamza – The Band Beyond Borders – Fertile Paradoxes (ARC Music EUCD2704, 2017)

A popular comedian recently remarked that President Trump’s planned wall between the United States and Mexico is the sort of thing that will dissuade advanced alien life forms from contacting Earth. “Fertile Paradoxes” provides convincing counterpoint to this argument. Multiple cultures peacefully and productively interact throughout this wonderful release. Meaning no disrespect to the outstanding talents and contributions of any other artists on ARC or any other label, Amine and Hamza M’raihi and Band Beyond Borders are in a different class of world musicians.

“Fertile Paradoxes” essentially narrates a global musical ecosystem rather than demonstrating any one culture’s interaction with the rest of the world. One cannot listen to this release and pinpoint the artists’ place of origin (Tunisia, though they currently reside in Switzerland), so versed and versatile are they with the rhythms, tunings and instrumentations of diverse ethnic forms.

Perhaps the real paradox on the release is that there is no conflict where one would expect to find it. Instruments from cultures with no common borders or in historical conflict blend beautifully here. To quote the label’s press release, “kanun meets saxophone, cajón meets cello and musical borders are thrown to an adventurous wind, the south Indian kanjira frame drum and percussive Nigerian water jug ‘udu’ blend with accordion, and The Band Beyond Borders is joined by a full chamber orchestra on ‘Spleen’ and the sparky ‘Lullaby for Leo.’”

The players on this record represent a gifted and perceptive inner circle that was early to recognize the M’raihis’ vision and contribute their own talents and quirks to its development and, now, presentation to the rest of us.

“Fertile Paradoxes” will be equally at home in private music collections and public and independent radio station playlists, and the best musicians’ listening queues. This is an exciting treasure of a world music release, setting the bar higher for the entire field and providing a subtle, lovely, joyous example of creative interaction for us all.

Buy Fertile Paradoxes in the Americas and rest of the world

Buy Fertile Paradoxes in Europe


Breaking the Ground a Little More

The very names of the CDs I’m reviewing here (some, anyway) indicate that they’re looking to go to places that haven’t yet been fully explored musically. Ever-eager to hear new trails mapped out in the world of world music, I couldn’t be happier.


The Band Beyond Borders – Fertile Paradoxes


Tunisian Amine Mraihi is a wizard of the oud (Arabic lute). His brother Hamza has equally mastered the kanun (Arabic zither). Together they head up an impressive ensemble called The Band Beyond Borders and are looking to demonstrate as much on Fertile Paradoxes (ARC Music, 2017). You might think you have cause for concern about an opening track entitled “Spleen,” but have no fear. It’s as perfect a mood-setter as you could hope for, with Amine’s pensive riffing joined in due time by Hamza’s complimentary swirl, plus tabla, violin and classical Indian vocals. A meditative air soon jumps headlong into a stops-out jam featuring a chamber orchestra, layered percussion and solos galore, including saxophone, before settling back into the establishing calm.



The remainder of the pieces (shortest among them sporting a seven-and-a-half-minute running time) similarly blend serenity and thunder, tossing in a zesty accordion at one turn and a klezmer-like clarinet, flamenco flair or an abrupt jazz fusion passage the next. It would sound like a mess were it not for how precisely all the players are attuned to every nuanced change and how expertly they execute them. Whether it’s the evocative side or the supercharged moments that grab you most (or maybe the bridges between them), the sheer “wow” factor of this music makes it a must.


Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues – Different Voices


If the title doesn’t say it all, as in the case of Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues’ album Different Voices (Dawnserly Records, 2016), it might be necessary to add an explanation like “Blues Harmonica and Classical String Quartet,” which this one does on the front cover. Siegel’s blues harp is certainly the first thing heard, in the form of a mournful wail that ushers in violins, viola, cello and the saxophone of guest Ernie Watts on the cheeky drag of “Missing Persons Blues.” That one’s a head-bobber, and nothing that follows breaks the flow, be it the vocal contributions of Matthew Santos (who also does some handy beatboxing), blues vet Sam Lay or Marcy Levy (reinvigorating that old warhorse “Lay Down Sally,” which she co-wrote with Eric Clapton).

High marks also for the aching gospel tinges of Chicago folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong on “I’ll Fly Away” and subtle counterpunch of the tabla that adds a groove dimension throughout. The interwoven tones of harmonica and strings bring forward the roots of their respective traditions while keeping the blues undertow intact and allowing for experimentation such as the Central Asian-flavored “Galloping Horses,” a track which ends too soon. It all wraps up beautifully with “The Sky Will Fall,” a most heed-worthy lament; although I think music of this caliber can keep both sky and earth intact.


Amelia Romano – New Perspectives


A different sort of blue and a different sort of harp (think stringed) lead the way on New Perspectives (independent release, 2017) by Amelia Romano. This San Franciscan gal has been playing the harp from a very young age, presently favoring the cobalt blue electric model. And yes, some of the delicately refined tones affiliated with the harp are heard on this disc. But Romano has an ear and a vision well beyond the expected (her time teaching music in a South African township is one reason for that) and she takes the harp in Latin, blues, flamenco, jazz and singer/songwriter directions without missing a pluck.

While the personal touch of the relationship tale “Smile” opens the album on an inviting note that shows Romano to be a fine singer as well, it’s her versatility on the harp that really makes the whole thing a gem. South-of-the-border familiarities abound with “Bésame Mucho” and “Joropo Ortiz” reminding us that the harp is as much a Latin folkloric instrument as anything else, and in her own compositions Romano works the harp strings like heartstrings, whether laying back for an emotionally ambient passage or skillfully jamming inventive arrangements including the title track. Joined by varying, mainly acoustic combinations of bass, percussion, curator, guitar, viola, cello and reeds, Romano never comes across indulgent or showy. Instead she wields her chosen instrument with a combination of finesse and fire that’s unbeatable.


Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang – Build Music


Build Music (Luaka Bop, 2017) is the latest by Brooklyn-based Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang, and the music they’ve built is based on the ancient sound of Sierra Leone’s bubu horns, bamboo instruments used to accompany Ramadan processions. The bubu tones are recreated on keyboards and applied to modern Afropop arrangements topped with Nabay’s dryly infectious vocals. Lively, catchy and danceable though the results are, the programmed instrumentation that dominates gets a bit annoying after a while. It’s good, but it could have and should have been better. Recommended for those who prefer electronic over organic by a wide margin.


The Nile Project – Jinja


The musician’s collective it represents is appreciably larger, but on Jinja (Zambaleta, 2016), The Nile Project is comprised of 13 players and singers from seven nations (Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda) that are among those spanned by the world’s longest river. The project’s first album was a live set from their 2013 debut concert, and this, their second (named for the Ugandan city in which the collective most recently gathered), is an assemblage of recordings from both proper and impromptu studios. In the end it matters little whether the music was laid down on or off the fly, because it’s seamless and brilliant.



The basics are easily described: melodies provided by the oud, krar and adungu (Arabic, Ethiopian and Ugandan lutes respectively); ample support from bass, saxophone and qawala (Egyptian flute); vocals traded between countries and genders; galloping percussion from across the spectrum and once in a while a specific element like the ikebme (lamellaphone) arising prominently. Musically, it’s tougher to find descriptive words.

Anyone familiar with Egyptian raks sharki or the increasingly well-known strains of Ethio-jazz will find common ground goodness here, as will those who can appreciate combined Egyptian and Sudanese love song sentiments, the embellishing of an Ethiopian Christian hymn with sounds straight out of the Muslim world, multilingual singing with shared passion as an unbreakable link, the beauty of acoustic instruments bursting forth unencumbered by overproduction or the way the whole disc comes across as how you’d imagine the perfect soundtrack accompanying a visit to the Nile’s 4000-plus miles would sound. And I’m barely marring the surface in relating the many pleasures to be heard.


Marcel Khalife – Andalusia of Love


If combining oud and kanun (see above) with piano isn’t entirely new, it’s still not the sort of combination you hear every day. And what some might find truly radical about Andalusia of Love (Nagam Records, 2016) is the fact that Marcel Khalife, a Lebanese Christian, sets to music the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008), a Palestinian who championed the cause of peace between Palestine and Israel.



The elder Khalife (on oud and vocals) is joined by his sons Rami (piano) and Bachar (percussion) and Gilbert Yammine (kanun). The foursome work together with an energy that builds and separates much like the nuances of poetry: musical passages correspond to the rising and falling of sung stanzas supported by variations in tone, feel and speed to emphasize what I can only assume are changes in mood, intent and subject matter.

One need not understand the language to appreciate the unity-espousing feel of music that ranges from traditional to experimental. The savory concluding track “Achikain,” which tapers to a trickle after a flood of inspired group dynamics, is a fitting end to a wonderfully rendered cycle of music.

headline photo: The Band Beyond Borders


Tunisian Sensation Emel Mathlouthi to Perform in New York

Influential Tunisian vocalist Emel Mathlouthi is set to perform February 24th, 2017 at Joe’s Pub in New York City. Emel Mathlouthi is well-known for her role as a leading artist in the Arab Spring.

Born in Tunis, she was avoided by her country’s official radio stations but gained popularity through social media. She released her acclaimed first album, Kelmti Horra (My Word is Free) in 2012. Emel’s style is characterized by her commanding vocals along with a fusion of North African rhythms and modern electronic beats.

Her new album, Ensen, is scheduled for release February 24, 2017.

Joe’s Pub
425 Lafayette St, New York
Doors at 9:00 p.m., Show at 9:30 p.m.