Recorded at a 31 strong musical gathering.
Martin Longley 2007-10-11
In the autumn of 2006, a four-strong team of Honest Jon's sound recordists (including main man Damon Albarn) headed out to Algiers, at the invitation of Safinez Bousbia. She's an Irish-Algerian filmmaker who's currently preparing a documentary, El Gusto: The Good Mood, for 2008 release. It will tell the story of Algerian chaabi , its emergence as a popular musical style, and its survival during the 1990s, when civil war drove the the whole form underground.
It has to be mentioned, I'm afraid, but this tale of musicians coming together after decades, and being reunited in their post WWII formation, is definitely reminiscent of the Buena Vista Social Club story. There are now younger players involved, too, and a reunion with old Jewish colleagues has transpired since the recording of this album, at gigs in Marseille and London.
The Honest Jon's crew encamped in the Conservatoire D'Algiers, placing their microphones around a 31-strong gathering, including four singers, and a host of string players and percussionists. Pianist and musical director Abdel Hadi Halo is the son of modern chaabi pioneer Hadj El Anka, and his instrumentation includes oud, qanun (zither), bendir (frame drum) and derbouka (goblet drum), along
with piano, violins, flute and accordion. It's a very equal spread, with several groupings often articulating what would normally be a 'solo'.
There are six lengthy songs, each concerned with love, in either its deepest subjective manifestation, or in an outward-reaching relationship to the wider judgement of Allah. The call-and-response lines are suitably poetic, traversing the heights and depths of extreme emotional states. The classical and popular styles are merged, or at least this is the way it sounds to the European ear, accustomed to the rattling extremity of Algerian rai music. The first five tracks are powerful enough, but the epic climax of "Mal Djifni" ascends to an even higher point. Its development is beautifully arched over an intense 19 minutes, its words tragic and desperate, with almost conversational declamations delivered by the very passionate Ahmed Bernaoui.