Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Danceable remixed traditional Middle Eastern music from Cheb I Sabbah

A few weeks ago in my post about Najma Akhtar, I mentioned she had appeared on an album compiled by Cheb I Sabbah (“As Far as a DJ Mix”). I really knew very little about Sabbah beyond that fact that I like his taste in music. I decided to do a little digging about him and find more of his stuff.

Cheb I Sabbah was born Haim Sérge El Baaz in Constantine, Algeria. He was raised there and in France and now lives in California. He became a DJ almost on accident. He recounted in an interview with the Forward that he had a friend who was a DJ in Paris in the 1960s. One night when he couldn’t spin, he asked Sabbah to replace him. Sabbah had seen him do it and so knew how it was done. He tried his hand and became nearly an overnight sensation. “Without looking for it, or paying any dues, I was suddenly playing the five major clubs of Paris,” he said.

Sabbah actually left music to pursue acting but while living in San Francisco and working in an organic market a man asked about the music playing in the store. Sabbah told him it was an Algerian music disc he had mixed at home. It turns out the man owned a club and invited Sabbah to come spin. He did and was quickly a smash there too. Clearly, it was meant to be.

I’ve listened to a few of his discs now and today I want to recommend his 2008 release, “Devotion.” Sabbah does something that I absolutely love. He takes traditional Middle Eastern music of various forms (including Qawwali) and adds modern electronic percussion and synthesizers to create danceable, high-energy tracks with deep Asian and African roots. I love the sound and I particularly liked 4 tracks off this album.

  • Jai Bhavani – I don’t know whose performance he remixed for this, but there are plenty of vocals, lots of flute and tabla. It sounds much like a traditional rendition except for some of the atmospherics and keyboard lurking in the background.
  • Koi Bole Ram Ram – This track also sounds traditional, except for the great rhythm that marches this song along, particularly during a couple of breaks mid-song.
  • Haun Vaari Haun Varaney – This great 10-minute track has a full on modern sound throughout. Dub meets Qawwali.
  • Morey Pya Bassey – The vocals in this one are a mournful alto accompanied by sweet flute. The harmonies sound strange to my very Western ear so that creates a lot of interest for me.

If you enjoy this music, he’s released 8 albums in the 9 years from 1999 to 2008 and much of it has this sound. I might also recommend checking out the “People who bought this also bought…” section on Amazon.


March 4, 2010 - Posted by | Chillout, Electronica, World Music

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