Amar El Achab
The Chaabi of the Grand Masters
Institut Du Monde Arabe

All of the recordings from the Institut Du Monde Arabe are well made, well annotated and well conceived. At last, someone (Mohamed Metalsi and his collaborators at the Institute) is taking stock of the wide Arabic musical output, recognizing its roots and its diversity, and documenting through thoughtfully conceived concert programs the Arabic musical heritage beyond pure pop music. This latest Institute release is an example of Algerian chaabi music, a popular urban style that came out of Algiers. A series of poems set to stringed and/or wind instruments are strung together interspersed with musical ornamentation. In form, chaabi does not differ much from more other Arabic classical suite genres that go all the way back to Andalusian music. The major difference is that chaabi incorporates local rhythms and harmonies, particularly Kabylia, Berber music.

Amar El Achab was a leading chaabi composer and performer in Algiers during the 1950s and 60s. He immigrated to France in 1976 where he records, sings and plays the mandola for the Algerian community there. The richest parts of this live recording are the various improvised interludes such as the ones in the zidan mode and the mawwal mode. During a concert, these interludes serve the purpose of allowing the singer and musicians to show off his/her vocal ornamentation and improvisational skills and El Achab's dramatic, throaty improvisations are superb. This album will delight anyone who leans towards the older pre-synth Arabic music. - Aaron Howard

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