Lili Boniche ‘Trésors de la musique judéo-arabe’ (World Village) 4/5

Lili-BonicheFranco-Algerian music well before Rai emerged is little known in the UK and so the superlative ‘Anthologie’ of male singer Lili Boniche was a major treat when it surfaced last December. This is in effect a follow up of sorts (Boniche passed away a few years ago and his music has been resurrected thanks to the efforts of his daughter who owns the master tapes). The majority of songs on this new compilation date from Lili Boniche’s classic period between 1958 and 1960 with some extra bonus songs dating from 1978. Once again the music conjurs up at once the smell and very essence of the Mediterranean with a delightful Latin undercurrent that may come as a surprise to some, but not to those who lived through the period. If North African music had an equivalent figure to Ibrahim Ferrer of the Buena Vistas, then Lili Boniche might just be that singer. Emotive strings and French vocal delivery are a feature of ‘Alger Alger’ while on the opener, ‘Ana el owerka’ there are hints of tango. An especially recognisable Latin riff can be heard on ‘Bambino’ and it is a reprise of a famous Perez Prado composition that enjoyed renewed attention and success when it became the theme tune to an advert for quintessential Irish beer in recent years. Here the tempo is far more relaxed than on the somewhat manic Big Band Latino original from Prado. The interweaving of styles is best illustrated on ‘Golo le fene’ where a stunning eastern-flavoured piano solo sits side by side with a violin solo and deeply evocative vocals, and consequently the listener is immediately transported to the Maghreb. Quite simply, the magic of the music of Lili Boniche is that he succeeds in bringing back to life a bygone era that has been largely ignored and even repressed, with a love both of Arabic music and Arabo-Andalusian culture more generally and for the listener that means a real treat is in store.

Tim Stenhouse