Like the tango from Argentina or the fado from Portugal with its saudade, the flamenco with its emotional and musical tone somewhere between fury and pure grace, or the negro blues of North America, the chaabi emerged in the early 20th century out of the poorer quarters of the casbah in Algiers, in echo to the particular blend of socio-cultural, economic and political elements prevalent at the time. It took its inspiration from Moorish music which provided it with certain melodic structures, although the actual tunes and rhythms it has adopted are quite different; its distinguishing features are its special tone and phrasing. The words, based on traditional proverbs or modern-day maxims, speak of real-life situations or preoccupations of the common people, whilst the instruments it uses (the mandola, banjo and piano) would seem to indicate modernist intentions.
1- Touchia sîkâ/Overture in sîkâ mode – 8’34
2- Insirâf al-husayn – 6’33
3- Insirâf raml al-mâya – 2’48
4- Khlâs – 4’34
5- Istikhbar zîdân – 3’56
6- Insirâf zîdân – 3’00
7- Goulou Yamna/Tell Yamma… – 5’10
8- El Goumri/The carrier pigeon – 8’06
9- Khlâs in zîdân mode – 1’55
10- Istikhbar mawwâl – 4’41
11- Billah alek yâ râyah/I beseech you, o traveller – 6’00
12- Ishqî mâ hennani/My love does not assuage me – 2’54
13- Ishqî wu ghrâmî/My love nd my passion – 3’32
Interpreters and instruments
Amar El Achab (mandole and singing)
Mustapha Yacoub (piano)
Hocine Soudani (derbouka)
Merzak Boudjelouah (tar)
Réda Djillali (guitar)
Mohamed Mokhtari (violin)
The history of a popular genre
Just like the tango from Argentina, born of the suffering of the “little people” living in the poor quarters of Buenos Aires, or the Portugese fado suffused with saudade, that indefinable melancholy of those who spend their life at sea, or expressive flamenco with its blend of tempestuous emotion and pure grace, or negro blues from North America with its underlying accent of revolt rising out of the solitude of the cotton fields, the chaabi emerged early in the twentieth century in the poorest part of the casbah in Algiers, as an echo to the socio-cultural, economic and political elements that shaped the scene at the time. It took its inspiration from Moorish music which provided it with certain melodic structures, although the actual tunes and rhythms it has adopted are quite different; its distinguishing features are its special tone and phrasing. The words, based on traditional proverbs or modern-day maxims, speak of real-life situations or preoccupations of the common people, whilst the instruments it uses (the mandola, banjo and piano) would seem to indicate modernist intentions.
The word chaabi means literally ‘popular’ and refers in fact to absolutely all the popular arts, including regional musical forms. In this context it denotes a popular form of urban expression specific to Algiers. In its early days it was known as the chaabi-malhun, for the poems composed in this Algerian form were designed to be sung ; the style took a lot of its sources and inspiration from the malhun repertory, where the main body of work is actually the output of Moroccan craftsmen.
But the ultimate model is the qasida (from the verb qasada – to tend towards something, to decide to do something). This refers to the poet’s desire to decide to relate his message, or recount one of his experiences or something that’s happened to him, in other words, things considered worthy of being brought to the attention of his contemporaries. One of the greatest authors of qasida was Sidi Lakhdar Benkhluf, a native of Mostaganem, a village in Western Algeria also very open to the chaabi form. Its very long verses in dialectical Arabic often recall past glories in order to diminish or compensate the humiliations of the present; but they also cover all poetic styles, from the ghazal (love) to the madih (religious or sacred poems), via the hidja (satire) and the ritha (elegiac style). Other poets such as M’Barek Ben Latbak, El Hadj Aïssa and Ahmed Ben Triki have influenced some of the masters of the chaabi., of whom the most important is still El Hadj M’Hamed El Anka (d. 1978). It was he who laid down the rules for chaabi, rules which still exist in Algiers today. To avoid monotony, the master used the bayt wa siyah method which opens the way to a choice of melodic and rhythmic themes, interspersed with instrumental ornamentation, as accompaniment for the singing.
Bayt means a line of poetry but in the context of the qasida , it denotes a sung couplet accompanied by strings (mandola, banjo, guitar and piano), wind instruments (the violin and the flute) and percussion instruments (the darbuka and a tambourine with little cymbals attached). The siyah or istikhbar indicates the vocal and instrumental prelude. The piece opens with an instrumental solo which sets the mood and tone colour of the mode (or tab’, the modal scale). This is followed by the singer performing the first hemistich of the first line of the istikhbar, to which the second solo instrument replies, then the singer takes up the same hemistich once again but adds another this time, with backing provided by a third instrument. Thus the istikhbar comes back to the beginning of each couplet in a different mode. Its function is to allow the singer to warm up, so to speak, and to prepare the audience for the general theme of the qasida.
In musical terms the chaabi has borrowed certain suites such as the raml el maya, the zidane, the mezmum, the iraqi and the ghrib from Moorish or Andalusian music; at the same time it does not hesitate to borrow rhythms and harmonies from more local sources. In particular, there are numerous borrowings from the music of Kabylia; most of the tenors who sing in the Algiers style come from this region.
Ever since the fifties the chaabi has been constantly enriched by new elements integrated from outside, and above all from new compositions introduced into the repertory. The most creative singers apart from El Anka and Hadj M’Rizek are El Hachemi Guerouabi, Dahmane El Harrachi, the author of Ya Rayah, which has become an international success ever since Rachid Taha and Amar El Achab took it up. The latter, the principal artist on this recording, has left his mark on a whole generation by certain songs that have become standards or absolute classics of their kind.
Djamel Lounis and Rabah Mezouane
Translated by Delia Morris
- Reference : 321.030
- Ean : 794 881 602 629
- Main artist : Amar El Achad (عمر العشاب)
- Year of recording : 1999
- Year of publishing : 2000
- Music style : Traditional music
- Country : Algeria
- City of recording : Paris
- Main language : Arabic
- Composers : Amar El Achad ; Hadj El Anka ; Traditional
- Lyricists : Amar El Achad ; Hadj El Anka ; Traditional
- Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe