Rarely has a performer of the Arab-Andalusian repertoire, who also masters the carûbî and the hawzî, placed as much passion in the practice of her art. Born in Algiers, into a family of music-lovers, Beihdja Rahal did not immediately embark on an artistic career. Thanks to her aunt and uncle, the Foudalas, who were well known in the theatre world, she was able as a child to attend shows and concerts given by the biggest stars of the time at the mythic auditorium, Ibn-Khaldoun (formerly known as Pierre-Bordes). Like her eight brothers and sisters, she was sent to the El-Biar conservatoire, in 1974, at the suggestion of her mother. Some of them chose the piano, as they had one at home, but Beihdja preferred the mandolin. At the conservatoire, she chose to study the Arab-Andalusian tradition with her master, Mohamed Khaznadji, who gave her the grounding she required to build up a repertoire on a solid basis. She graduated in 1989 with a degree in biology that allowed her to teach natural sciences first at the lycée Bouattoura and then at the lycée Emir-Abdelkader in the Algerian capital. In 1982, she joined the El-Fakhardjia association and then, in April of the same year, took her first steps on stage at the Algerian National Theatre (the former Algiers Opera), where she made a remarkable début in a long solo taken from the nouba h’sîn. She attracted the attention of Bouabdallah Zerrouki, a gifted sound engineer, to whom we owe, amongst other achievements, an exceptional discography of the work of Khaznadji. He suggested that she record all the Algerian noubas. She refused for several reasons: she did not feel ready to undertake such a project and was more inclined to carry on with her studies; and given the lack of professional status accorded to artists in Algeria at that time, she still thought of music as a hobby.
In 1983, Abderrezak Fakhardji chose her to perform a complete nouba in the rasd ad-dîl mode, conducted by Sheikh Hamidou Djaïdir, as part of a concert given at the Algiers Opera, which was also broadcast on Algerien television.
Having left El-Fakhardjia, Beihdja co-founded the music society Es-Sendoussia in 1986 and a year later, took part in four of five recordings produced by Zerrouki. In 1992, she decided to settle in Paris and specialise. It was in France that she at last managed to go to the end of the musical projects that she and Zerrouki had planned together, with a first recording, the “Nouba Zidane 1” in 1995, a second, the “Nouba Mezmoum 1” in 1997, and then a third, the “Nouba Rasd 1” in 1999. From the year 2000 onwards, she began working more frequently in Algeria and performed for the first time under her own name. The context had changed and become more conducive to her work, with a larger choice of musicians and traditional instruments. Encouraged by the exceptionally enthusiastic public response, she threw herself into her work and over ten years of unrelenting activity, managed the feat of recording all twelve of the noubas of the Algiers school.
Thanks to her rigorous theoretical training and her outstanding talent, Beihdja Rahal excels in her performances of the Andalusian mode, a classical music genre that demands authenticity and purity of style. Its interpretation requires warmth, soul and feeling. Beihdja Rahal’s rendition weaves an emotional spell that has charmed audiences each time she has appeared on stage in Europe and throughout the world.
Beihdja has no wish to stop at this point, as is evident from this second series of twelve noubas with special emphasis on the m’djanba and mazmûm modes. On this disc, the Andalusian genre once again reaches great heights, thanks to the brilliant orchestra and the crystal tones of the first woman ever to have recorded the twelve modes of classical Arab-Andalusian music, a privilege in the history of an artform that up until now was the exclusive domain of male performers.
Translated by Reena Khandpur
Available album: In the Mood for the Nouba