Koum Tara ‘Chaâbi, Jazz and Strings’ CD (Odradek) 4/5

Algerian chaâbi music simply refers to the popular music of the Maghreb and Machrek (North Africa plus Egypt, which share common musical roots), and it can be either rural or urban in character. This is very much a fusion of that genre with European classical strings, contemporary music and jazz improvisations. The leader of the group is Karim Maurice and the music was recorded in France, inspired by a chance encounter between musical director Amar Soulani and Maurice, who is best known as a jazz composer. A project was thus conceived to interpret the repertoire of the traditional songwriting talents of Sid Ahmed Belksier, with the support of a Lyon based string quartet, La Camerata. In North African musical culture, as with much of the Arabic and indeed even Persian (i.e. in Farsi) world, music and poetry tend to combine, with melodic love songs. Here, the world roots fusion encompasses three languages, Arabic, French and Spanish and composer Sid Ahmed is also the singer. typical of the album as a whole, ‘Alik Belana (‘Tale of lost love’) is a meditative, yet still uplifting number, with a Latin piano vamp (Latin music is very popular in the Maghreb. No less than Eddie Palmieri once toured there and Sephardic North African music sometimes combines elements of Latin piano). On the intro to, ‘Interlude’, there is a fine oud (quintessential North African percussion instrument, not dissimilar in function to the tabla in Indian classical, but with a distinctive sound nonetheless) solo, while, ‘Ya ladra’, is an impassioned plea to the parents of woman to ask for her hand in marriage. The subject matters revolves around matters of the heart and the accompanying music has a strong romantic and lyrical feel to it.

Beautifully packaged with a lavish inner sleeve, full lyrics and detailed discographical notes in Arabic, English and French, this is a worthy fusion of styles that works precisely because there is an understanding of and empathy with each of the respective cultures, and these blend together extremely well. Odradek, incidentally, is a US independent world roots label, and if this offering is anything to go by, then it would be well worth looking out for future releases.

Tim Stenhouse