Introduction to Oriental Music in North Africa
The northern part of Africa – the southern coast of the Mediterranean – with its desert and mountain surroundings is quite distinct from the rest of Africa. The region has been called ‘island of the west’ and ‘place of the sun’s setting’ by early Arab writers that saw the land as a divergent from rest of Africa, both ethnically and culturally. The four countries of the ‘Maghrib’ (North Africa) are Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. They cover an area half the size of United States of America. I have explained the musical history in these areas in the past through my papers on oriental music and theories.
The most important impression of North Africa is the rich ethnic tapestry of complex and multifaceted musical history. It also include Spanish Muslims, more known as the “Andalusians” that moved to North African cities in the wake of Christian reconquests and particularly after the expulsion of 1609. The Spanish influences have enriched and vitalized many musical genres in the region. Similarly, the Maltese and Sicilians have historically also lived in close contact with North Africans through laborers and seafaring people that crossed the Mediterranean waters during the era of Aghlabite hegamony from 9th to 11th century.
(Note that Andalusian music of the Maghreb does not refer to the modern Spanish province of Andalucia, but to Al-Andalus, a medieval Muslim state.)
The Dictator – Music from the Motion Picture
I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the music in Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest blockbuster (I’d like to coin the new term ‘mockomedy’ for this type of flick). The first track of the 40 minute long movie soundtrack is a cover on Dr Dre’s ‘ The Next Episode‘ (listen) which features Aladeen, Mr Tibbz and Aiwa (Um, (un)known artists!?). The second track, ‘Ila Nzour Nebra‘ (listen) by Jalal Hamdaoui is an Moroccan song from the 80’s by Reda Bouchnak more known as a member of the Bouchnak brothers where he played bass and sang the chorus lines. They’re one of the pioneering bands in classic Raï music that evolved oriental and contemporary music, such as Spanish (see above), Ma’luf, Al-Andalus and Malhun. The youngest band member, Hamid Bouchnak which was the lead singer, drummer and keyboard player is actively producing in the industry as of date.
A few other famous covers include ‘Everybody Hurts‘ originally by REM, but now sung by the Tunisian MC Rai. A few other more familiar cover songs included in the soundtrack is the old Dolly Parton song ‘9 to 5‘ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let Get It On‘.
‘Goulou L’Mama’ has a middle eastern beat that goes along the same line as ‘Ila Nzour Nebra’ which reminds me of Pop music fused with modern Raï. Interestingly, the word Raï means opinion, something the dictator is constantly portraying through something much compared to an absurd visual leitmotif in a fictional cartoon. The music is just a mirror of the movie. It spans from meh, great and terrible. The two lacking cornerstones (musical training and tradition) in the “modern-day” raï (post-1980’s) caused impromptu and improvisational clichés from reggae, pop, rock and other musical genres. That’s basically what has been characterized as Cheb Raï, thus many artists calling themselves Cheb (Khaled, Mami, Khada, Zahouani etc). Nevertheless, the culmination of raï is flimsily represented in Mr Cohen’s motion picture soundtrack, and I am glad that he went extreme with the intertextuality of so many musical genres and dispersed the artistic norms. But the most important question remains: What will be Sacha Baron Cohen’s next project?
Listen to the songs from ‘The Dictator’ either on Amazon or through the following direct link on Spotify.