04 December 2005

My Algerian Fantazia (CD review)

Say you live in Algeria, on the edge of the Sahara desert, and you open a nightclub. As night falls and the air cools, people slip out of the landscape and into your club, sipping drinks, talking, eating. Later, perhaps much later, a group of eight musicians amble onto the stage. You had your doubts about booking this lot; while half of the musicians are from Algeria, the other half are from (gasp!) the UK. What could they know of the music and rhythms of the North African landscape? But you take a chance. They begin with a song ("Mul Sheshe/The Turbaned One") that opens with flute, atmospheric keyboards, and raw vocals that evoke tradition, then plunges into horn-driven urban funk. And the crowd seems to be right along for the ride, even if they're baffled by the sprinklings of English words. You smile, and think this little club might just work out.

Even listeners without the Saharaoi ambiance will dig this CD, chock full of traditional-modern juxtapositions and catchy phrases. "Moussa" is a slow funeral song in the dheka style, complete with ululating women. "Irgazen L'agnawa" celebrates a Gnawa wedding with deft drumming, fiddling, and celebratory singing. And the short speedy "Sidi Mansour" relates a trip to go see Sheikh Mansour. "Mul Sheshe" takes the listener on a fascinating musical journey from village roots to city sounds, complete with the bittersweet knowledge that there's no going back.

mp3 - Fantazia: "Mul Sheshe"
Fantazia website | Buy CD

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