Cheb I Sabbah - La Kahena
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Cheb I Sabbah
La Kahena
Six Degrees (

Cheb I Sabbah, DJ, producer and overall mix-and-match musical tinkerer, first started spinning records in Paris in the '60s. With the emergence of what we now call world music, he began amassing his own recordings of traditional sounds from Africa, the Middle East and Asia and seamlessly combining them in audacious but brilliant ways. He created music for the dance floor that was at once then and now.

His new album, La Kahena, is named after an 8th century Algerian Jewish woman of the Amazigh (Berber) people who commanded tribal armies against invading Arabs, and the music is reflective of Sabbah's own Algerian/Jewish/Amazigh heritage as well as the further cultural connections between Algeria, Morocco and Andalusia. The modern techno edge so prevalent in much of Sabbah's previous work is more understated here, allowing the potency of the vocal and instrumental performances to get just the right amount of added zest. Listen to what he does with the Brahim Elbelkani track "Toura Toura." The sintir bass line and qarqabas (metal castanets) frame the call-and-response vocals in classic Gnawa fashion with only the most subdued studio tweakery adding warmth where there could easily have been coldness. So it goes with the rest of the album, as vocals (mostly female) echo passionately and sounds of percussion, oud and nay are graced by Sabbah's knowing touch. Alternately propulsive and moody pieces like "Madh Assalhin (Praising of the Saints)" seem to guide ancient and modern spirits toward the same oasis. Notable guest players including Karsh Kale, Bill Laswell and Mercan Dede further grace this disc, which from beginning to end brims with atmosphere, groove, attitude and, most importantly, abiding respect for the source material. Les Voix du Maghreb, indeed. - Tom Orr

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