This month: Moroccan reggae, a proof of youth on the move in Morocco, as elsewhere, and who feels the need of self expression; the OST of the documentary “Nûba d’or et de lumière” (Nuba of gold and light), about the Arabo-Andalusian music in Morocco, by the Moroccan filmmaker Izza Genini, who already made many films about the music of Morocco; a “pick of the bunch” of the Egyptian Sayyed Darwish, whose songs many of you know by heart; an album of rural Tunisian songs, the sound of the village in your home; Putumayo’s album “Italia”, a selection of sweet ballads which talk about the dolce vita; and last but not least Boya’s first album, Boya being a Franco-Bulgarian group of talented young musicians, who revisit Balkan music and wrap it up in their personality. Initiatives with very little media coverage but surely to be encouraged! So spread the word…
Babelmed’s personal favourite
WACHM’N HIT - Reggae music from Morocco, AB Sawt
The Arab and Maghrebi musical scene is being extraordinarily active, and is producing great bands and artists and new musical expressions, but in Europe, or even in the neighbouring countries, we hear very little or actually nothing about it. This is because these new bands, often talented and about which we keep you up to date in this section when we are informed about them, often find it very hard to exist and to make themselves heard in their country - and all the more abroad. Self-produced, produced by local record companies which do not have the same advertising and marketing power as the international ones, or having all the difficulties in the world to make themselves heard even just on a discrete stage or on the local radios, this underground scene manages to exist thanks to the internet and myspace, and sometimes they manage to earn some popularity thanks to a summer festival or an audacious radio animator. Another reason, which also undoubtedly explains this situation: with religious and social conservatism which persists in all Muslim countries, these bands which use electric guitars, drums, electric sounds, and play rock, pop, jazz or rap, are seen in the eyes of religious conservatives as “western” music bands, or even “satanic” ones… (A consolation: The Beatles were also accused of “Satanism” by the American conservatives, because not everyone values the liberty of rock). And, to make matters worse, these young Arabo-Maghrebi artists often have fiery texts, denouncing all the flaws of their society, when speaking out is still often not permitted in their country. This is why we must hail the excellent first album of the Moroccan reggae band Wachm’nt hit. First of all we must say that, even not understanding spoken Moroccan, we loved their album on listening to it for the first time: some good reggae, which adventures itself in all musical fields where our seven young musicians would like to venture, without losing its identity; die-hard musicians, a very convincing electric guitar, with a sound that reminds us more of the Sahara than Jamaica (reminds us of Tinariwen); and a very energetic drum beat, willingly including Gnaoua rhythms, African rhythms which fit very well here. “Wachm’n hit” in spoken Moroccan means “which hit are you talking about?”, and the song-title denounces all the difficulties of the musical Moroccan “movida” to exist. However, in “La tloumouna”, the band mocks those who are against this new music (these new “hits”), wanting to rip in the bud this trend, and the song affirms that the band will continue to play “Moroccan reggae”, whatever the risks... Some of course denigrate these new artists, but a special kind of public, a young one, is behind them. Wachm’n hit thus won the contest in the Boulevard music festival in Casablanca, in the Fusion Category, and is now attracting a young crowd which is after a collective and joyful way of expression, when performing in festivals or in concerts in Essaouira, Rabat or Casablanca, celebrations which of course do not propose meetings in places of worship. Stirrer songs, about very young girls who go out with older men, about the situation of education in Morocco, about the evils of witchcraft in the country, or about the political stasis of leaders: “Wachm’n hit chante la voix du peuple” (Wachm’n hit sings the voice of the people), declares the booklet. Luckily, thanks to Virgin or Fnac who distribute these CDs, you may now order them directly from the artists, or from websites such as
NÛBA D’OR ET DE LUMIÈRE (Nuba of gold and light) - Arabo-Andalusian Moroccan music, Buda Musique/Distr. Universal
Izza Genini was born in 1942 to a Jewish Moroccan family; she followed her family to France in 1960 where she pursued her studies, and set about rediscovering her native country. As a lover of cinema and music, on returning to her country she discovered the extreme richness, and above all the persistence, of Moroccan musical heritage, from the most popular to the most intellectual, always lively: “What I was discovering whilst rediscovering Morocco, was that this heritage was so alive: around me, in houses, during private evenings, everyone knew how to sing, dance, play the drum, recite a malhun qasida…me no”, she explained in an interview given to the Moroccan media (http://www.yabiladi.net/) on the 28th January 2005. She therefore launched herself, about twenty years ago, into the creation of a series of musical films, mostly documentaries, shot all around the country. The documentary series “Maroc corps et âme” (Morocco body and soul) includes the films “Voix du Maroc” (Voice of Morocco), “Rythmes de Marrakech” (Rhythms of Marrakech), or “Cantiques brodés” (Ornamented chants), the latter illustrating the “matrouz” (ornamented) tradition, which are the chants in Arab and Hebrew, sung in the film by Abdelsadek Chekara and the Rabbi Haïm Louk. One of the key messages which Izza defends in her films is the tolerance between the different communities who lived in Morocco in the past, and who exchanged their musical traditions. “Nûba d’or et de lumière” is the OST of her latest film, with the same name - also for sale in DVD format, and which traces the history and diversity of this musical form - the nuba, or suite - which represents the essence of Arabo-Andalusian classical music. A large variety of artists and types of ensembles illustrate the vitality of this tradition which dates back to the Andalusian Spain: from the orchestra of the Conservatoire of Tétouan, to the musicians of the Hanafa café in Tanger. The musical pieces are sometimes serious and melancholic, sometimes joyful and lively and punctuated with the typical you-you sounds of wedding ceremonies and other celebrations; others still are recited poems, in the malhun tradition. We were particularly touched by the fabulous interpretation of Françoise Atlan, a Moroccan of Jewish faith like Izza Genini, who studied at the conservatoires of Saint-Etienne and Aix-en-Provence, obtaining in 1984 a diploma in piano and chamber music, and who chose to sing the Andalusian classical repertoire. She offers us here, amongst others, one of the Cantigas de Santa Maria (Songs to the Virgin Mary), composed by a team of poets and Muslim, Jewish and Christian musicians (some texts count 26 artists involved in this work), during the reign of Alfonso X, king of Castile (1252-1284). And we are glad that the booklet of the CD includes a translation of the poems which constitute the lyrics of these musical pieces traditionally sung for 1400 years in academic conservatoires as well as in popular cafés. Such as the text of one of the sung pieces of Nûba el-Oshaq, or Nuba of Desire:
brandit sa bannière
chatoyante de couleurs.
L’aube entre en scène.
Telle un fier guerrier,
elle tire son épée du fourreau
Soudain mon bien-aimé tressaille,
son coeur s’enflamme.
Les amants rayonnent,
dans un parfum de paradis.
Ô mon bien-aimé, verse encore
des coupes de ce nectar.
Prodigieuse matinée !
avant que les oiseaux ne quittent
Que le ‘ûd et le rebab
fassent vibrer notre âme !
(The morning / waves its banner / in shimmering colours. / Dawn enters the scene. / Like a proud warrior, / it draws out its sword from the richly ornamented / sheath. / Suddenly my loved one stirs, / his heart fills with passion. / Lovers shimmer, / they bathe in a paradisiacal perfume. / (...) / O my loved one, pour more / cups of this nectar. / Prodigious morning! / Let us keep it from disappearing / before birds leave / their nest. / Let the oud and rebab / pulsate in our soul!)
That goes to show that those who, in the name of Islam and tradition, want to impose severity, excessive moral censure, and prohibit all profane music, have not read their history books very well…and are not so well-informed! Some versions say that Islam prohibits the presence of musical instruments in mosques: but it has never prohibited musical instruments in general and love songs, which do not hurt anyone, as some wanted to make us believe....
. Izza Genini’s website:
ISSA GHANDOUR AND THE MADINA BAND, Darwish, Forward Music (Liban)/Distr. DOM
Sayyed Darwish (1892-1923) is considered to be the father of Egyptian popular music, and his songs have become “hits”, and by now classics known by everyone, young and old, and sung during all family celebrations, meetings with friends, on buses or trains. Just like the popularity of the songs which today seem to be eternal such as “L’amant de St Jean” or “Le temps des cerises” - and even more sung and well-known than the latter in France, because in Arab countries people still sing very much. The Lebanese Issa Ghandour, and the excellent Lebanese record company Forward Music, offer us here a selection of some of the most popular songs of the great Egyptian composer. Sayyed Darwish was born in a poor neighbourhood in Alexandria and started singing in cafés without much success. He then left for Cairo where he started composing operettas, which was a very popular genre at the time, and which had to develop later in the form of the famous Egyptian musical films. He also composed about twenty muwashahats, classical compositions, and in 1979 Egypt adopted his song “Biladi, biladi, biladi” (My country) as the national anthem. “Sayyed Darwish became an icon symbolising progress, modernity and the passage of “Oriental Music”, an elitist type of music made for the Pashas (...) to “Egyptian music”, the first singular expression of a nation’s soul and its aspirations”, explained musicologist Frédéric Lagrange in the booklet of the anthological CD edited in 1994 by the label AAA (Artistes arabes associés, non-existent today), and which proposed the original recordings by the master. Sayyed Darwish, who was born in a popular milieu, and in the eminently cosmopolitan city that colonial Alexandria was, was exposed since his childhood to Italian, Greek, European classical music etc., which were more present in the city than Arab classical music and could only be listened to in private concerts. Most of his compositions may be transcribed for the piano, point out the specialists, in other words, besides a few voice parts where oriental ornaments are used, the musical writing is considerably simplified, when compared to the subtle quarter tones of Arab classical music. Moreover, whilst the latter gives much room to improvisation, Darwish aligns himself with European standards by eliminating the possibilities for improvisation, and by writing all the details of expression: even the legendary sighs “Aaah... Aaah...” which are used in Arab songs, and which Om Kalthoum made known to the whole world, are written on the score! In his operettas and operas, Darwish uses a western type of orchestra, conducted by his friend Il Signore Casio, and not the traditional “takht”, a small ensemble of Arab music, in this way opening the path of opportunities to the great Egyptian orchestras which make use of instruments from both traditions, and which still exist today (Youssou N’Dour recorded his album “Egypte” with one of them). Finally Darwish will be the first to make two singers sing two different melodies, like a dialogue in an Italian opera, historically breaking away from the unison singing of Arab music. You will therefore find here the great classics - which you might have already sung or heard a thousand times - “Zourouni”, “Teleat ya mahla noura” (ya shams, ya shammoussa....), or even “Salma ya salama”, which became famous in France when it was sung by Dalida, who was born in Alexandria to an Italian family... Good to note: behind their outside appearance of easy songs, the lyrics of these songs contain social and political messages, in times of struggle for independence. Enjoy yourselves finding, here and there, “short phrases” such as “Ni l’Europe ni l’Amérique: il n’y a pas plus beau que mon pays” (Neither Europe, nor America, there is no country more beautiful than mine) or even “les Européens ne dorment jamais, et ils ont oublié comment prier” (Europeans never sleep, and they have forgotten how to pray), an allusion to the partying and excesses of many expatriates in these cities of pleasure as were colonial Alexandria or Cairo. These pleasures were not despised by Darwish, who was inseparable from his lyricist Badii Khairi, and who died at 31 years of age from an overdose of morphine...
CHANSONS POPULAIRES TUNISIENNES, Vol.2, Samaka Fen, Distr. DOM
For some explainable reason, there are only a few CDs of Tunisian music presented in France. This collection of popular songs, mostly rural, will be loved by those who were born or who lived in Tunisian villages. This album was edited by a small record company situated in the Parisian region, Samaka Fen, and from the CD booklet we know that this company was “Founded in 1970 by M. Majdoub, tél: 01 43 55 00 07”. The instruments used are the gasba, the Arabic flute whose sound reminds us of the Breton bombard, and a few percussion instruments. The rhythms are simple and repetitive, being music mostly intended for collective celebrations, where everybody sings together, sometimes answering a singer. There are songs for engagement festivities (“Yamma lasmar douni” - O my mother they gave me a handsome dark-haired man); others celebrate pomegranate harvest (“Ya Roummana”); others still are clearly meant for the wedding night - which is only the last night of numerous evenings traditionally organised to celebrate a wedding (“Ah Ya lila”), during which it is women who sing, and utter the youyou cries (“Ah what a wonderful night... with many “Aaahs” of ecstasy!...). Some songs, probably coming from the South of Tunisia, evolve towards trance music, as one may find in the Algerian or Moroccan Sahara. This document will be of interest to the ethnomusicologists, since it is very rare to find musical recordings of this country.
If you like Paolo Conte, then you will like this CD, which presents some of the Italian singers and bands who, like him, are influenced by the jazz of the 50s and 60s, lovers of sweet songs, ballads which can be listened to or hummed on a bright sunny morning, and which best illustrate the famous Italian dolce vita and far niente… Here you will not just find Paolo Conte, who is very famous outside Italy, but also… his brother, Giorgio Conte, in a register so similar to Paolo’s, that sometimes, if it weren’t for the voice, we would have our doubts as to which of the two is singing… Gianmaria Testa, Simone Lo Porto, Allessandro Pitoni, Marco Calliari, and many others, offer us tender or funny songs, with the rhythms of swing, blues chords on the piano, or on the gypsy guitar. We had quite a good laugh with the song “Gina” by Lu Colombo & Maurizio Geri Swingtet:
Gina, one day blond and the other brunette (…) you know that life is like a swing, one day it goes up the other day it goes down, if you want to get away from existential boredom try mineral water, if you want to flee from the ordinary try coffee…
And the CD also includes old Italian songs, such as “La Piccola Inglesina” (The Little Englishwoman), interpreted by Lino Straulino, who for twenty years has been collecting old songs from the elderly people in his region, the Friuli. And all this to understand the continuity of the “folk” song (meaning popular), from yesterday to today..."
BOYA, Ispaïtché, L'Autre distribution
Last month we presented to you the last album of the band from Strasbourg, Maliétès, which recreates Turkish and Greek music. And for you this month, from the same group of artists from Strasbourg “L’assoce piquante”, Boya’s first album, a variable trio (in this CD they asked other musicians to join), recreating music from Bulgaria and the Balkans. Dimitar Gougov, who plays the gadulka, a Bulgarian violin which resembles the medieval rebec, carried out his musical studies in Sofia, namely under the tuition of the master of the gadulka, Atanas Vultchev, before arriving in France in 2000, and following a course of choir conducting at the Conservatoire of Strasbourg. Nathalie Tavernier, pianist and accordionist (and “noiseist” she insists!), qualified from the Conservatoire of Grenoble in piano and chamber music, pursued her studies at the “Centre de formation du musicien intervenant” of Sélestat, in the region, and carries out educational activities in schools. Etienne Gruel is specialised in oriental percussion instruments - daf, darbuka, reck, zarb,... - has travelled extensively, and is also the percussionist for Maliétès. Boya, who have already performed in numerous prestigious festivals, such as Musiques métisses or Les Suds in Arles, and whose concert agenda is already fully booked for this autumn, offers us here another album with a particular ambiance, very far from folklore, but very close to travel. All the themes are traditional, except for two compositions by Dimitar Gougov. Some musical pieces such as “Sediankata’i na razvala”, use traditional songs but, by playing with silences for example, or with the orchestration, they “stage them”, and therefore make them sound very contemporary. Other tracks revisit the tradition of Bulgarian choirs, making them more dynamic with the use of percussion for example. Some pieces at the piano, such as “Dor doritule”, emit a dreamlike atmosphere, far off from popular music. As a whole this is an inspired album, where one can hear all the passion which animates these young artists, and which will make you discover an unknown heritage, the popular repertoire sung in Bulgarian, which does not lack humour. For example, in “Dedo odi na pazar”:
Si tu savais maman, quel bel homme
J’ai vu dans la petite ruelle !
Son cheval volait comme un oiseau,
Sa tunique brillait comme le feu,
Son visage rayonnait comme le soleil !
Suis-le maman et demande-lui s’il est marié.
S’il est marié, donne-lui des herbes qui séparent,
S’il est célibataire, passe-lui le bonjour de ma part.
(If you only knew mother, what a handsome man / I’ve seen along the path! / His horse flew like a bird, / his tunic glowed like fire, / his face gleamed like the sun! / Follow him mother and ask him whether he is married. / If he’s married, give him herbs which part, / If he’s single, say good morning to him from me.)
Translated by Juliet Lopez