Some Key Figures
Artists from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
Hassan Hakmoun - Aicha Redouane - Aisha Kandisha- Nass Marrakech -El Hadj Abdelkrim Raïs - Nass El Ghiwane - El Hadj Houcine Toulali - Amina Alaoui- Master Musicians of Jajouka - Hmaoui Abd El Hamid - Mustapha Baqbou - Gnawa- Cheb Mimoun - Jil Jilala - Najat Aatabou - H-Kayne- Hoba Hoba Spirit - Idir- Cheb Mami- Faudel- Rachid Taha- Intik - MBS - Chebba Zahouania - Houria Aïchi- Seba - ZenZila- Amar El Achab - Abdel Ali Slimani- Abdelli - Enrico Macias- Cheikha Remitti- Aït Menguellet- Safy Boutella - Takfarinas- Marguerite Taos Amrouche- Khaled- Cheb Hasni- Toraia Orchestra of Algiers- Matoub Lounes -Iness Mezel- Steve Shehan- Cheb Sarhaoui and Cheba Fadela - Moh Alileche- Chorale Tiddukla- Carte de Sejour- Raï - Markunda Aures-Djur Djura- Jimmy Oihid - Alliance Ethnik - K-Mel -Lotfi Bouchnak- Amina - Orchestre National de Barbes -Gnawa Diffusion-Zebda- Ibn Baya Ensemble
Hassan Hakmoun comes from a family of Gnawa musicians, but he now resides in New York. His music maintains traditional connections, but incorporates the best of western music as well. In fact, on his records he is accompanied by some great Jazz musicians. His voice has been praised by Peter Gabriel in the pages of Rolling Stone Magazine, with good reason. Like AKJE, this is great dance music that also stands up to repeated listening. In fact, be careful you don't become entranced.
Classical Arab Music sung by one of Morcco's great vocalists.
This is fascinating, exciting music. Traditional rhythms and instruments from Marrakech (Gnawa et. al.) meet the music and instruments of funk, soul and rock. The result is infectious party music that will make you very critical of what you hear at the disco the next time around. This music is great party/dance music that doesn't fall apart when you really sit and listen. Their early music really suffers from poor production, but Shabeesation sees all this remedied. Check it out!
This is great stuff! The basis is pure Gnawa, i.e. music brought to North African by sub-Saharan Africans who came as slaves, soldiers, traders and such, for which cities like Marrakech are famous (hence the name), but these musicians are also trained in jazz and the album reveals that influence. It also revels other global influences, bringing in musicians from Spain and Japan. Here, again, is music that makes great dance music to just move to, but which also reveals great subtlety when one sits down and gives it a considered listening. Well worth checking out.
The roots of Andalusian music date back to the the days of Muslim rule in Spain and the expulsion of the Muslims and Jews, many of whom fled to North Africa. Abdelkrim Raïs was one of the masters of this music until he retired in 1996. This two CD set is his last recording. The music is wonderful, the poetry sung with it beautiful and the liner notes very comprehensive.
This group is one of Morocco's most famous exports!
Melhun is a traditional Moroccan musical form in which Arabic poems are set to music. Toulali, who died in 1998 at the age of 74, is a master of the genre and set up a school to ensure its continuity. To read more about Melhun, click here.
Various Artists: Morocco: Crossroads of Time
I am not quite sure about this CD. On the one hand it is a interesting and varied sampling of Moroccan music, including wonderful recording of dances and chants, to contemporary Arabic music. It also comes with a beautiful booklet that gives artist biographies and includes lots of well-composed photographs, but to my mind the problem is that it treats the music as an anthropological document rather than as music. Two tracks on the disc are nothing but street sounds, and the accompanying booklet also includes recipes and the like. Cultural texts in the booklet lean toward the Paul Bowles school of apprehending Morocco, something I consider problematic. Even the title rubs me the wrong way--perhaps a bit too Orientalist form my taste. Still, there are some beautiful photos and informative artist biographies in the book, and the CD is good listening.
This is the music which dates back to the days of Islam in Spain. It is the classical music of the Maghreb, and one of the high points in the history of Arabic music.
"The Master Musicians of Jajouka," led by Bachir Attar, are a folk group from the North of Morocco "discovered" by the beat generation and propelled to stardom as a "4000 year old Rock and Roll band." I don't know about all of that. Their music is percussive and rhythmic, but for my part, it is not my favorite Moroccan music, but listen to it and decide for yourself.
This is beautiful music played by a master. Traditional Arab melodies and instrumentation.
Gnawa is "trance" music from certain Sufi cults which have their origins among slave brought from the what is today Senegal and its environs. They have devotees all over North Africa, but are strongest in the south. Their music is, also, popular all over the world due to it fascinating rhythms. Indeed, The Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco was recorded by the Jazz great Randy Weston. You have to hear this.
Hailing from Khemmisset in the Atlas mountains of central Morocco, Aatabou left a
conservative family to begin recording in Casablanca. Her music, although more traditional in its influences, is also very rebellious, not unlike Raï, celebrating many taboo subjects and seeming very libertine. It is exciting stuff.
Perhaps one of Moroccos’s most successful musical festivals is the recently launched
Youth Boulevard or Boulevard des Jeunes as it is known in Morocco. This festival takes place every June in Casablanca. Unlike other Moroccan festivals, this one is completely devoted to “urban” music in all its forms from the most local forms of musical expression to the most modern and new age sounds.
H-Kayne, meaning “What’s going on?” Or “what’s up?” is a new musical group that set itself apart by its strong denunciation of society’s wrongs and criticism of those in power. They are also defenders of Rap as a music beyond the lyrics and the messages it carries.
H-Kayne, as a band, have been around for at least six years and have become famous for songs such outspoken songs as ‘Baraka.’ The Boulevard des Jeunes festival in Casablanca has certainly contributed to their fame throughout the country.
The group was launched by friends, and people say co-workers, Réda Allali, Saad Bouidi , Oubiz, Adil Hanine, and Anouar Zehouani in 1998 and went on to become a national musical phenomenon. Hoba Hoba Spirit’s music thrives on a mix of Moroccan and Euro-American sounds that range from Gnawa beats to the latest Reggae and Hip-Hop sounds. They call their sound Haiha Music which can be loosely translated as Wild Partying Music. In fact a song bearing the same title has become their semi official anthem and is usually played at the end of each of their concerts. Challenging all labels from Funk to Ayta, they opt for the appellation Haiha for their musical style.
Call it african folk
Call it gnawa blues
It is just haiha music
Coming from deep of our soul
Call chaabi funk
Call it ayta jazz
It is just haiha music
Coming from deep of our soul
Haiha music wo yoyooooo
Idir is one of the most important figures in the Amazigh (Berber) Cultural Renaissance in Algeria. His music is pure poetry accompanied by his melodic voice. It is largely acoustic guitar based. "Vava Inouva", from the CD by the same name, is one of the most beautifully simple tunes ever recorded in any language. His newest album, Identités, is a kind of tribute, including many of Idir's best songs (including some from early in his career that were not available on CD) in duets with artists like Orchestre National de Barbes, Zebda, Gnawa Diffusion and a number of other French, Celtic and African artists. In the same vein, Idir has also recorded a new version of his song Azwaw in a duet with Cheb Mami.
Mami is one of the biggest stars in Arabic music today. His voice is melodic and supple, probably the smoothest and most melodic in Raï music. He was also one of the earliest artists to gain an international reputation. He has lived in France since 1985. Definitely worth a listen! Start by checking out Meli Meli and
especially "Azwaw 2," duet with . Soon a more international audience will discover his talent. He does a stint as guest vocalist on Sting's new album, Brand New Day in a performance that has finally brought him major international attention. Idir
His new much anticipated album, Dellali , is due out on June 11.
Faudel: Samra, Baida, 1,2,3 Soleils (With Rachid Taha and Khaled)
Faudel's has one of the most beautiful voices to come out of the vibrant Rai tradition. His style is an incredible homage to the great masters of North African music. On his newest album, Samra, Faudel has matured somewhat musically. On one track, Salsa Raï, he even joins the Latino Music Revolution with a track called "Salsa Raï," a Spanish/Arabic duet with Yuri Buenaventura. It is worth checking out. Don't miss the Raï vibrations!
Rachid Taha: Made in Medina, Diwan, Barbes, Ole,
Ole, 1,2,3 Soleils (With Khaled and Faudel)
Rachid Taha was born in Oran, but moved to France in 1968. He was a founding member of the group Carte de Sejour and released his first solo album Barbes (the Arab/African quarter of Paris) in 1991. Since then he has produced a wide variety of albums stretching his musical horizons into various pop sounds. With Diwan, Taha returned to Arab music, recording songs by artist from throughout the Arab world from Morocco's Nass El Ghiwane to Egypt's Oum Khaltoum.
After that he collaborated with Khaled and Faudel on the 1,2,3 Soleils concert album. The orchestrations on this were incredible, something Taha is said to have played a large part in. His latest project, Made in Medina, is yet another disc that displays his artistic innovation. The "medina" (city) of this album is truly global, taking Taha to New Orleans, Marrakesh, Nigeria, and of course Paris for some incredible collaborations!
Check out the debut CD from these guys and you won't be sorry you did. A collection of hard hitting rap songs in both French and Arabic, this group pulls few punches, especially in denouncing the violence that shakes Algeria today and has left far too many senselessly slaughtered in bomb blasts and massacres.
Their lyrics cite artists such as the American rap and hip-hop groups Public Enemy and NWA as influences, but reggae, raggamuffin, raï and a great deal of other influences are evident, as well. This is good stuff.
MBS stands for Micro Brise le Silence, and breaking the silence is just what these guys set out to do on their record. Like Intik this group raps in French and Arabic and is proving a big success in France. Their lyrics deal with the awful violence currently ripping apart their homeland, but also with the crisis in education, corruption, etc. Musically it is an interesting CD as well. Among other highlights, their is a vocalist with a beautiful voice, who sings on "Li Yaaraf Issir" and some interesting sampling from DjurDjura. This is an Awesome CD.
Chebba Zahouania (also spelled Zehwaniyya) has one of the greatest voices in the Raï tradition. It is no surprise as she is considered the direct of heiress of another great female singer and one the founders of Raï, Cheikha Rimitti. Zehwaniyya’s songs cover a wide range of themes appealing to younger generations of North Africans, mostly from Algeria and Morocco. In fact Zehwaniyya is somewhat idolized as a result of her outspoken lyrics on questions of gender relations, freedom and romantic involvement. Her straightforward lyrics create quite an uproar among conservative audiences, in turn endearing her even more to her fans. For a true diva of Rai check out Zehwaniyya’s albums “Lalla Mahlak Ou Maghla ” and “Rabi Rabi ”.
Wow! This woman is an incredible talent. Her vocals are rich and emotional, the rhythms exciting and the instrumentation fascinating. She makes particularly effective use of something the CD booklet calls a "gasba flute," a traditional North African flute that produces a beautiful sound. The music and texts are traditional, written in both Arabic and Tamazight (the Berber language). They include lullabies, love songs and epic poetry, and have been adapted for these recording by Houria Aïchi. Not to be missed!
This is a family band descendent from five generations of musicians in Western Algeria. Now residing in France, this group distributed its first album in the Arab markets of Paris. (See the cover to the right!) It was a big hit, and deservedly so. Entertaining and melodic, these songs, in both Arabic and French, are definitely worth a listen. This is song craftsmanship at its best! Great vocals!
The album is called "Le melange sans appel" and that about sums it up. Some songs are in French, some in Arabic, but most are in a mixture of both. The music, too, is a mixture of melodies rhythms and harmonies, from Algeria, France, the US, etc. What this eclectic mix makes for is high energy mix with a rock and roll flavor, yet far to be rich to be so easily categorized. In the end, the best way to describe this CD is with adjectives like original and innovative. Interesting lyrics, too!
Chaabi is a genre of popular music form Algeria and Amar El Achab is one of its masters. He is also a mandolin virtuoso. This CD is a recording of concert organized by the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. The recording is impeccable and the music marvelous. Read more about him here (in French).
Abdel Ali Slimani: Mraya
This album came out on Peter Gabriel's Real World Label, so it benefits from some real production skills and some powerful talent. For example, on the title track Sinead O'Connor sings back up and her harmonies are haunting. Aside from this the album is a great illustration of Algerian pop, or Raï.
Abdelli: New Moon
Abderrahmane Abdelli is from the Kabyle. According to the liner notes on this album, he improvises his lyrics and songs in accordance with the Kabylie tradition. These songs are sung in Tamazight, but the instruments used are both electric and traditional--not only from the Kabyle, but also from South America and Central Europe. According the CD notes, this recording is the result of a serious of fortunate accidents which led to Abdelli being "discovered", accidents for which the listener should also be grateful.
This star of French song was born into a Jewish family in Algeria, and began his musical career playing "malouf" songs in a Constantine Orchestra. For 40 years after leaving Algeria, Macias ceased performing Arabic songs publicly, but on this CD he returns to his roots. Recorded live, the CD includes 5 Arabic song cycles and a duet with Cheb Mami on a remake of "Koum Tara."
Being a Raï singer can be a dangerous occupation in Algeria today. Criticized by Muslim radicals for what they see as the immoral content of their songs, Raï artist are sometimes the target of violence. Cheikha Remitti, a woman, is often referred to as the grandmother of Raï music. She began here career in the forties and has had a very prodigious output, although much of it is difficult to find today. Her lyrics celebrate wine, sex and men in a way that would make a lot of Western singers blush.
In the mood for poetry? Listen to Ait Meguellet because he is one of Algeria's most respected Kabylie poets. Books have been written on this one poet's contribution to the North African repertoire of poetry in Tamazight. Any album by Ait Menguellet is an absolute gem!!
If you have seen a North African film in recent years, you may well have heard the music of Safy Boutella. He has composed the scores for many such movies. Trained in Europe, his music defies classification. It is heavily influenced by Jazz, western Classical music and, of course, the Arabo-Islamic world. He is a true musician, however, so vocals are minimal and when included they are part of the music and not the central focus. That is, of course, except for Kutchè, his collaboration with Khaled (then still Cheb Khaled), which is fascinating and exciting record. I anxiously await his next album!
Takfarinas is often nicknamed the "Prince of Kabyle music." His name is borrowed from a Numidian King who fought long battles against the Roman presence in ancient North Africa. Takfarinas succeeds in marrying great party music with meaningful lyrics.
Khaled, or Cheb Khaled as he was once called, is undoubtedly the Maghreb's best known artist and perhaps the best selling living Arab singer. Khaled began his career in a band that did covers of songs from the Moroccan groups Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, and has said that he turned to music as an escape from his turbulent youth. He became a star with his song "Didi" from the album Khaled, and his song "Aicha," from the album Sahra, even spent several months at the top of the French charts. No other artist has played such a great role in popularizing Raï music as a genre.
Cheb Hasni was assassinated by religious extremists because of his music, yet it is probably hard for those who do not share such radical viewpoints to understand what about him could upset anyone to such and extent. His music is about love, celebration, drinking and good times. Well worth checking out.
It is hard to imagine a more powerful cultural symbol for any group then Matoub Lounes was for the Imazighen (Berbers) of the Kabyle and throughout North Africa. Lounes is a distinctive vocalist who was wounded by government bullets and kidnapped by Islamist radicals, before he was finally assassinated by the latter at a road block in 1998. Lounes wrote songs which openly challenged both the Islamist and the government, asserting the linguistic and cultural rights of the Kabylies. Kenza takes its title from a song written for the young daughter of the assassinated writer Tahar Djaout, and Lettre Ouverte... was only about to be released when Lounes was killed. Clearly, Matoub Lounes sets the standard for social involvement on the part of the artist. It is great music, too.
The title kind of says it all. These two women harmonize beautifully on upbeat, exciting, and always beautiful lyrics.
This is guaranteed to get your toe tapping.
Various Artists: Planete Kabyle, La Fichta Kabyle
Two interesting compilations of music from this mountainous region on the Northern coast of Algeria. Both are fine samplings of music by the biggest names.
Steve Shehan and Baly Othmani: Assarouf
This is a CD of Tuareg songs by Baly Mebarek Othmani who, according to the liner notes, was born "under a plam tree" in Djanet, Algeria. While studying to be a surgeon, he received his first lute and began composing music in the traditional style, using Tamachek, the Tuareg dialect Tamazight. Steve Shehan is a native of Virginia who has been collaborating with Othmani sing 1985. The songs on this CD were composed by Othmani and Shehan. The CD booklet contains lyrics in French and English.
This is a husband and wife team with incredible vocal talents. These CDs give an idea of the very orgins of Rai music in Algeria. And their Live! CD gives some indication of how Raï should best be experienced.
This album is a tribute to the Kabyle singer Matoub Lounes. It is a collection of songs based on traditional music form the Kabyle region, written and performed by the very talented Moh Aliliche, with an equally talented band of back up musicians. The CD includes interesting and informative Liner notes and is well worth checking out.
This CD is Kabylie music performed by the children to Tiddukla under the direction of Idir.
It is also, according to his statement included (in French) in the liner notes, an act of cultural preservation geared, in part, toward the children of immigration. It is an absolutely charming CD!
The first project of Rachid Taha and several other musicians, this is real Rock and Roll, only in Arabic. In fact, at least in its vocal styling, it is almost punk. Carte de Sejour is the French equivalent of an American Green Card or work permit, and Ramsa is an album which is very much about the difficulties faced by African immigrants in France.
As the title suggest, this is a compilation CD including 14 of the best known Raï songs. Well worth checking out as an introduction to this style of music.
A box set of four CD's from this Amazigh region in North Algeria. The songs are an interesting and varied collections spanning many years in the history of this regions musical heritage.
Alliance Ethnik-As their name might suggest, Alliance Ethnik is a group whose members come from several different ethnic groups. All are the children of immigrant parents in France-Congolese, Italian and Algerian. The group’s core is Kamel Houairi, better known as K-Mel, who is the child of Kabylie immigrants. He grew up listening to music from his homeland, as well as popular R&B music of his time. He then discovered Rap and burst on to the scene in the early 1990s. The Alliance’s lyrics deal less with social issues then do those of many of their contemporaries, and they have been criticized for this. But they have also sold nearly a million copies fo their singles and close to half a million albums, making them one of the most popular Rap groups on the French music scene. Their album include Simple et Funky (1995), Fat Comeback (1999), and a “Best of” compilation released in 2002.
K-Mel-Is the lead singer of Alliance Ethnik, but he has also had a successful solo career. He has recorded a single, "Louled (1996)," for the soundtrack of "Les deux papas et la maman (1996)", a film by the famous French comedian Smaïn. He also recorded a duet "Parisien du nord") with Cheb Mami (1998). In addition, he has produced recordings by a number of new artists. His solo album Reflexions was release in 2001. Karim Kacel-The song of Algerian immigrants in France, Kacel has made his mark on the French music scene with music that was not so much influenced by Algeria as it was in the tradition of la chanson francaise. He also made his mark as early as the 1980s, nearly a decade before most of the other artists on this page achieved any success at all. He has released seven albums, beginning with Banlieue/P’tite Soeur in 1984 and most recently a live album En scène in March of 2006.
Born in Tunis in 1954, Bouchnak is a vocalist, lutist and composer. His music is essentially rooted in the tradition of classical Arabic song, and he is considered by many to be one of the best vocalists in the genre. Bouchnak is a true musician who must be heard to be appreciated.
Born in 1962 in Carthage, Tunisia, Amina is an international star. She has recorded in Arabic, French and English, sang with artists such as Afrika Bambaata and Yasuaki Shimizu, and has received the prestigious "Prix Piaf " for best female singer. She was also invited by Peter Gabriel to be included in the 1991 remake of John Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance," during the Gulf War. Here career has also included acting and dance. Her music is a blend of styles, including jazz, pop, rock, rap and several other genres, but it is generally informed by the Arabic Malouf tradition she learned from her mother, who was also a musician.
Various Artists: Tunisia
A varied, inexpensive sampling of music from Tunisia
This group, from the neighborhood in Paris known as Barbes, is fantastic. Their music is as diverse as the neighborhood itself. It reflects both the African roots of the Orchestra's members, and the influence of contemporary European music. This CD presents the group live and I can only say that, after hearing this, I can't wait to actually see them perform. This is fun, exciting music and a "must have" for your collection.
Various Artists: La Musique Judeo-Arabe
This is a CD of Judeo-Arab Music from North Africa. the original recording are old, so the CD is a bit crackly, but as is the case with the Secret Museum of Mankind CD, that actually increases its charm.
Gnawa Diffusion: Algeria, Bab El Oued Kingston
Formed in 1992 by Amazigh Kateb, the son of Algerian writer Kateb Yacine, this politically engaged group of musicians from both French and Maghrebi backgrounds makes exciting, innovative music that is a mixture of Rap, ragga, reggae, jazz, raï, Maghrebi and other Mediterranean influences. They record in Arabic, French and English.
Zebda: Le Bruit et L'Odeur, Essence Ordinaire, L'Arène des Rumeurs
They are French and Algerians who reside in Toulouse. They make music that they, themselves, describe as a mix of raï, ragga, ballads, soul, rap and rock. Their first album, L'Arène des Rumeurs, came out in 1992, with the other two following shortly thereafter. Their lyrics, mostly in French, are a real in-your-face challenge to the rise of the racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in France. Highly recommended!
This CD is part of the Secret music of Mankind series. It is a remastering of some very old, hard to find music from across North Africa recorded long ago. Some of the recordings are a bit crackly, but that is to be expected give the nature of the project. Worth a listen, especially for those who want to understand the roots of the music that is popular today.
B'ismillah: Fes Festival of World Sacred Music Vol I, Hamdulillah: Fes Festival Of World Sacred Music, Vol. II
Each year there is a festival of Sacred Music held in Fes, Morocco. People of all religious traditions are invited, but these CDs lean toward the "East" in their selection of music from those events. The CDs include Koranic chanting, Whirling Dervishes, Andalusian Orchestras, Javanes Gamelan Music, and Sephardic songs. The packaging is slick and informative. A very interesting mix and an excellent introduction to sacred music outside of the Christian tradition.
Various Artists: The Rough Guide: The Music of North Africa, Cairo to Casablanca
These two CD's are both interesting introductions to the music of the Maghreb and east to Egypt and the Sudan. The mix is interesting and entertaining and definitely worth hearing. Both CDs contain booklets giving a little bit of information about the artists and the musical context. Recommended for those seeking an introduction to the music.