1/  El B'Nia                                   (Traditional,Jabbar,Lamari)   4.59
  2/  Babour                                     (Jabbar,Lamari)               5.12
  3/  Ghourbia Mourra                            (Belkacem,Jabbar)             6.12
  4/  Al Insan                                   (Jabbar,Lamari)               4.59
  5/  From Mecca to Najaf                        (Belkacem,Jabbar)             5.26
  6/  Ya Sherel Beli                             (Belkacem,Jabbar)             6.08
  7/  Neftakhir (part I.)                        (Belkacem,Jabbar)             3.49
  8/  Neftakhir (part II.)                       (Jabbar)                      4.15
  9/  El Baqara                                  (Jabbar,Lamari)               4.00
  10/ Tyran Perdant                              (Belkacem,Jabbar)             6.30
  11/ Kafa                                       (Belkacem,Jabbar)             4.32
  12/ Sidi Rabbi                                 (Belkacem,Jabbar)             4.56
  13/ Litim                                      (Jabbar)                      4.12
  14/ Matkhafsh                                  (Belkacem,Jabbar,Bombax)      6.00

          Recorded at Studio Mejjad, Marrakech, Secret Laboratory, Basel and
            Orange Music, West Orange
          Engineer at Orange Music: Robert Musso
          Recorded, mixed and produced by Pat Jabbar
          Track 14 mixed by Bombax
          Mastered at Greenwood Mastering, Basel by Glenn Miller
Bill Laswell: bass (2-10,13); Abdelkader Belkacem: vocals (3,5,6,7,10-12,14); Abdelaziz Lamari: violin (13), guitar (1-4,6,9,10), oud (1-4,6,9,10), vocals (1-4,6,9,10); B-Net Marrakech: vocals (1,5,7,8,13); Adnan Benidamo: vocals (11); Youssef El Mejjad: keyboards (1,11,12); vocals (5,13); bass (11); Ben Youssef Berrudja: mandol (12); Mourad B.: vocals (9); Makale Crew: rap (11); Oezgur Sakar: saz (10); Andrea Tonna: electric guitar (7,8); Louis Cseke Lajos: violin (10); Bombax: programming (14); Pat Jabbar: programming, samples, arrangements.

          2008 - Barraka el Farnaishi (Switzerland), Barbarity 026 (CD)


Some musical marriages are so exemplary that the term "destiny" seems pointless. Having well proved himself in a number of sonic modalities - most notably dub reggae and classical Indian - bass player/producer Bill Laswell was meant for North Africa. And when coming into contact with a group of talented Algerian and Moroccan upstarters, young men and women that swirl between more traditional shaabi and raļ sounds to deep, dubby electronica and hip-hop, the results are, well - Maghrebika.

Inspired by the fierce work he performed on vocalist Azzddine's genre-defying Masafat, the duo that defines Maghrebika (Abdelkader Belkacem and Abdelaziz Lamari) sought Laswell's help. Being label mates with Azzddine (as well as musical counterparts) helped, and while many of the same techniques were applied, Neftakhi trumps Masafat due to its diverse stylistic ranges and rhythmic applications. Whether swinging low in a Massive Attack headnod to trip-hop or adding a slice of Rachid Taha streetfight rocking raļ, every one of these 14 tracks displays amazing integrity.

And that last word is key, for their raļ is not the pop result of a Cheb Khaled or Mami, and their shaabi isn't as shabby as Hakim's. Both of these folk forms were late 19th century innovations by the lower classes, much as Spain had developed Rom-influenced flamenco a century prior. That is, these forms grew from struggle and desperation, as well as enjoyment of music for music's sake, not for record sales. Abdelkader and Abdelaziz are as much informed by digital beats as the guttural inflections and intonations of their Algerian homeland (they are now based in Switzerland).

This is further backed by the inclusion of the inimitable B'Net Marrakech, a Berber female troupe I've been waiting for Laswell to collaborate since first stumbling into Chama'a years ago. What Morocco and Algeria screams for - the only thing it lacks in recording studios - is bass. The Gnawa guimbri, for one, is a homegrown bass lute never given enough prominence in the headphone mix, lost behind the frame drums and krakebs. With this collaboration between Laswell and Maghrebika, that union is complete. Much like the hinting at such a fusion with Cheb I Sabbah's exploration of Algerian and Moroccan female vocals groups (in which B'Net contributed), La Kahena, this album is a speculative gaze into the future of North African folk.

To hear handclaps amidst the frenzy of muddy computer-generated beats - there is something primal in this. When the slow crawl of "Neftakhir" is met with a searing rock guitar and B'Net's soundtrack-quality vocals, there is really no geographical pinpoint. The same for the bobbling beat and occasional six-string on "Al Insan," and the bass line on "Babour" is unmatchable, as are the duo's vocal efforts - Abdelaziz also the violin, guitar and oud master throughout. Laswell sets such a fascinating groove for 13 tracks (the 14th, a techno-ish club cut, reminded me of a forced club-ready track on Azzddine's album; it doesn't suit the temperament of the whole), one realizes this marriage is still in its honeymoon. Considering what he's able to do with the rhaita, a flute that is possibly one of the most challenging to temper in the studio given its grating, piercing qualities (the sound became famous after Brian Jones uncovered Jajouka over three decades ago), there is truly no limit to future rendezvous on the south side of the Mediterranean.

When the honeymoon ends, the true work will begin - an essential duty for both the sonic future of this region, as well as a political and social panacea for an important part of Islam rarely given voice. That is, the human and devotional side. These sorts of fusions are the balm that heals a growing divide in global culture today. As always, the medicine is prescribed not by politicians or Big Pharma, but by our artists.

Derek Beres (courtesy of the Ethno Techno website)


Some people approach the idea of tampering with traditional music with caution, but Pat Jabbar - producer, musician and owner of the Swiss-based label Barraka El Farnatshi - prefers the all-or-nothing philosophy. For 16 years, his label has consistently chipped away at the boundaries, juxtaposing traditional Moroccan music with Jamaican dub, funk, electro, house, trance and trip-hop styles. And for a large part of his label's existence he's collaborated with bass player extraordinaire, and famed producer, Bill Laswell. Like Jabbar, Laswell is a man noted for shredding the rule book, most notably as producer of Herbie Hancock's seminal album Future Shock, seen as a precursor of the hip-hop movement, as well as his recent production duties on Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu's breakthrough album Youth.

Their most recent collaboration is on the album Neftakhir by Maghrebika, a name that Jabbar describes as "a derivation of Maghreb [a region of North Africa taking in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and sometimes Mauritania] and a little word play on Metallica". Unlike the majority of the label's output, the bulk of this one was recorded in Jabbar's hometown of Basel, with the help of Algerian singers Abdelkader Belkacem and Abdelaziz Lamari, both of whom he met at the local mosque. Other parts were added later in Morocco.

Although Jabbar was brought up a Swiss Protestant, he converted to Islam many years ago, but stresses that he only became serious about it three and a half years ago. "Before, I didn't practise," he says. "I was drinking, smoking weed, doing ecstasy, etc. But this life became really boring, so I started saying prayers five times a day, going to mosques and doing Ramadan."

Musically, Neftakhir (which translates roughly as "to be proud") mixes raļ, shaabi (popular Moroccan music), and gnawa, through electronic filters and various trancelike beats, mostly aided by Laswell's sonorous, hypnotic bass. Lyrically, there seems to be a recurring theme, that of Islam and how its teachings have helped people gain a deeper meaning to their life, and also the misconceptions abounding after September 11. "It's not really that interesting to hear about how someone is having a problem with his girlfriend," says Jabbar. "So, given that most of the people in Maghrebika are practising Muslims, we thought that we would concentrate on that. It's one of the biggest things in our lives, so the lyrics talk about educating people, telling them what is true about Islam, and trying to get them to forget the misrepresentations and propaganda that's been propagated by the media, especially about terrorism and Muslims."

A good example is the title track, which implores young Arabs not to be influenced by Western values at the detriment of their own culture. It's jointly sung by Belkacem and legendary Moroccan all-women singing group B-Net Marrakech. The track "Ghourba Mourra", sung by Belkacem and Lamari, discusses the feelings of being exiled to a strange, inhospitable land. The lyrics go: "Oh my God, look how we live? Exile is bitter and exile is dark... I want to leave this exile and keep away from the troubles that we find." "From Mecca to Najaf" is about the civil war in Iraq, between Shiites and Sunnis, and is a call for Muslim's to forget their differences.

"People confuse the different aspects of Islam," Jabbar says. "Islam in Afghanistan and Turkey is a totally different aspect of Islam than in Morocco, or Algeria. Sunnis and Shiites in Iran are again very different. Most countries have a very different approach to Islam; sometimes it's even mixed with indigenous roots, which is the case in Senegal and Nigeria. So our main idea as very open-minded pacifist Muslims was to show a different path away from just having fun, going to parties and living for each thrill. If you watch people in Morocco they can be very poor, living in ghetto slums, but they're always smiling and happy, and this is because of Islam."

Jabbar met Laswell indirectly through the American composer, author (best known for The Sheltering Sky) and traveller Paul Bowles. A friend of Bowles suggested Jabbar send some material to Bill Laswell, who agreed to collaborate, so Jabbar and his Moroccan group flew over to New York to record Aisha Kandisha's Jarring Effects second album Shabeesation.

At the time, Laswell had started dabbling in North African music in his own right. "A lot of people became interested in that part of the world, not so much through music, but from reading things about people who had gone to live there, obvious examples being Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin," he says.

Certainly one of the most prolific men in music production (he's currently switching between rock-edged drum'n' bass and remixing Ozzy Osbourne), Laswell managed to find some spare time to add his unique bass-line to 10 tracks on Neftakhir. "The way we work is more like trading," he says. "If it was 100 years before, I'd do a bass-line for a couple of goats or something."

And what of the future? With the radical idea of fusing Moroccan tradition with psy-trance on his forthcoming project Dar Beida 04, Jabbar shows little sign of compromising just yet.The ex-philosophy student, who gave up his studies in Geneva to run his small, independent label 16 years ago, is still going strong.

Phil Meadley (courtesy of The Independent website)