Moh Alileche performs the traditional music of Kabylia, Algeria's primary Berber (Amazigh) region. Born in 1959, Alileche has been performing music for years, but Tragedy is his first recording. He had gained a great deal of local and some national recognition in Algeria, but emigrated to California in 1990, the year before the outbreak of Algeria's devastating civil war. Since then Alileche has slowly made a name for himself by performing at world music venues in California and his visibility has increased with this CD release.
Tragedy consists of numbers penned by Alileche, who sings and plays the mondol or mandola, a ten-stringed instrument that is something like a large mandolin, and is favored by singers of the Algerian chaabi genre. A heterogeneous group backs him here, including North African musicians based in the Bay Area and non-Algerian Californians devoted to Middle Eastern music. The ensemble results are surprisingly pleasing, with Omar Ait Vimoun on banjo and Mimi Spencer on qanun standing out in particular. Alileche himself is truly outstanding, delivering spirited vocals and mondol playing, and it is hard to imagine that the music we hear was produced in San Francisco and not Tizi-Ouzou.
The title track of Tragedy is dedicated to Matoub Lounes, the talented and militant Kabylie musician assassinated in Algeria in 1998. Throughout this year, tens of thousands of Algerian Berbers have been demonstrating, in Kabylia and in Algiers, for official recognition of their language (Amazigh) and an end to official repression. Frequently, the protesters carry aloft posters of their fallen cultural/political hero, Matoub Lounes. "Tragedy" is a long, beautiful, and poignant tribute to Lounes. And the entire album, whether it deals with overtly political matters, love affairs or traditional weddings, represents Alileche's own militant, artful contribution to the struggle for recognition of the Amazigh language and culture. - Ted Swedenburg
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