In terms of music, I've always been enamored with the mystical sounds of this much romanticized region. The sand and the wind seem to permeate the textured voices of Tuareg singers telling stories of ancient oases and modern lives amidst the harsh landscape. Instruments like the gimbri and rabab with their droning strings add to the magic of crackling cold evening air after the sweltering heat of day has subsided.
Odd (but not that odd) to see a banjo amongst the legendary Nass El Ghiwane
When these sounds migrate to Europe and beyond, the qualities that define the old ceremonies and celebrations have been transmuted and fused with modern beats from the African Diaspora. There is no better example of this thrilling mixture than the music of Amazigh Kateb, the son of the Algerian literary great Kateb Yacine who said that revolutionary writing "must transmit a living message, placing the public at the heart of a theater that partakes of the neverending combat opposing the proletariat to the bourgeoisie". Although my French is essentially non-existent, I gather that Amazigh Kateb uses his music in this same tradition to give a voice to the agents of political change.
Making some kids smile with Gnawa Diffusion
I came to discover Amazigh -- whose name means "free man" in Tamazight -- via his now defunct band called Gnawa Diffusion, which specialized in blending the varied musical ingredients of Northwest Africa with reggae, funk, and hip-hop. Based out of Grenoble, France at the turn of the century, the Gnawa Diffusion mix is infectious and I can't seem to devote my full attention to much other music right now when the earbuds are in! Author Radu at BABE(B)LOGUE explains the roots of the band's name:
The group's name is a reference to the Gnawa, a tribe from Western Sudan who were deported to North Africa in the 16th century by the rulers of Fes and Algiers. While the Gnawa were officially converted to Islam by their new masters, they continued to worship their own African gods in private. The way Gnawa Diffusion see it, this historic tale of people uprooted from their homeland and forced to begin a new life in a foreign land, is remarkably similar to the lives of modern-day immigrants growing up in France.Beyond hyper-relevant themes like immigration and equal rights, Amazigh's music is rhythmic, exotic yet accesible, and, as I've found, absolutely habit-forming, or at least that's been my case with the Gnawa Diffusion album titled Algeria (thanks, DCT!). Now that I'm hooked, I hope it's just the first step in long march of exploration into this region's music and all the cultural exchange that goes on in France.
Find out more about Amazigh, Yancine Kateb, and Gnawa Diffusion:
Listen - hear Gnawa Diffusion and check out the discography
Listen - of course, Gnawa Diffusion on Myspace
Listen - interviews and music on Babel Cafe radio (sorry, Français only)
Read - a fine interview with Amazigh by Fayçal Chehat
Read - the entire Gnawa post by Radu at BABE(B)LOGUE
Watch - Amazigh Kateb & Safwane Kenani in a "green room" maybe
Explore - Amazigh Kateb's official site