Mid-2016 saw the release of two fine discs that I listened to side-by-side for several months, without really coming to terms with how to review them. I considered them together as both explore the Arabic and Islamic presence (past or present) in the southern portion of their respective states: France's Occitania and Spain's Andalucia. Both discs feature sounds and instruments associated with two cultures and with both sides of the Mediterranean, emphasizing the historically close ties and similar musical origins.
La Banda Morisca is a descendant of the legendary Spanish band Radio Tarifa, and reminiscent of Aman Aman. I believe Algarbya is the name the Christians gave to the Arabic language in the days of the so-called reconquest. If the music sounds like of fusion of Arab, Andalucian, Flamenco and other styles it is because these are related musics that share a common origin. So much of Spain's and Europe's later civilization derived from the Cordoban caliphate, which even today has left some of the finest monuments to be seen in the Spanish state.
This is the band's debut recording. From Cadiz province, literally the edge of Europe, La Banda Morisca, with Jose Cabral on oud, morisca guitar, cumbus, banjo, sax, and guimbri; and Jose Mari Cala's evocative vocals bring back a time lost, that of the Arab civilization in Iberia, today's Spain.
The disc reflects the varied past of the Andalucian region. "Rumaiquiya y Matamid" is a tale from the days when Seville was an Arab Sevilla, but "Romance de la Monja," featuring beautiful oud playing on the intro, is a poignant tale of the young woman during the Catholic era sent off to be a nun. They put me in a coach, we passed through villages, and one by one, two by two, I said good bye to the friends I had made..
Antonio Torres on the sax, tarota and gralla, evokes a lot of the atmosphere with his mastery of the various reeds, as goes the use of Gnawa lutes (hajhouj and guimbri). (Note, the band makes the distinction between the two instruments, but some say they are two names for the same thing.) One of the nicest tracks, though, is the short into to "Algarabya." The noted folklorist Amin Chaachoo performs this gem on violin.
The eleven tracks on Algarabya are really evocative of an Andalucian present that does not ignore or forget its past.
Du Bartas, from the Occitan region of France, isn't as musically adventurous, but perhaps it is more fun. Named after a 16th century Occitan bard, they are a rollicking quintet. The 14 songs on Cinc are primarily in Occitan, opening with the hard-driving Truca Morron. One of the most memorable tracks is Jib-al-Guellal Abdel Bouzbiba's song, which is partly in Arabic; as is La Mar Te Pren a lament for those who died crossing the Ocean for a better life: Oh this sea that I so much wish to cross
.I left the dearest to my heart, to try my luck elsewhere, to change my life, and I got into the boat of hope/to change my life.
Laurent Cavaliés' accordion along with the foot-stamping percussion make this a quite lively record; from the charming exuberance of La Fringala to the storytelling mode of Sant Joan La Grana a remembrance of battles lost: Dark of order of death, black shirt, black fear; they got Garcia Lorca, dark with no hope of light, dark blood of the Commune of Paris, Narbonne or Marseille.
Primarily though, the strength of Du Bartas is its percussion, a driving rhythm that stops and starts unexpectedly. Clement Chauvet and Abdel Bouzbiba are the main percussionists along with Titouan Billon, who also plays the oud. The Sirventes label continues its record of fine Occitan recordings, exploring difficult issues of the present in a traditional but endangered language. On this , its fifth record, Du Bartas hits its stride.
While Banda Morisca is a folklorists' labour of love, in an old genre, Du Bartas creates a new sound with its nearly unstoppable energy. - David Cox