Back in August, I was in Concord searching in the back of my truck for a small adapter for a tool I needed on my (day) job. Of course I could not find it and I was especially frustrated as I was in a rush and had people waiting for me on another site.
Then I heard behind me a little voice asking me if I had jumper cables. I really did not have the time but when I turned around and the lady asked me again I recognized a familiar African accent and she looked so distressed that I did not have the heart to tell her no and decided to help her out. On the way to her car we talked and she (being from Cameroon) spoke a perfect French…
OK, this is where it becomes interesting. I helped the lady and she got on her way and I got on mine. While I was driving a couple of minutes later my cell phone rang. It was the organizer of the African Music Festival of Lowell. He stumbled on our site, liked what he heard and decided to invite us to play there since they had never featured a group “from” North Africa before. Of course we spoke in French and English and guess where he was from? Cameroon of course! (I did ask if he knew the lady I had just meet but I could hear in his voice that he thought that I was a bit nuts so I did not persist)
I do believe in Karma..Do you?
I guess that to do the music that I do I must believe in karma and destiny. Atlas Soul’s latest CD title is ”Maktoub” (2008) and so is the title track #6 which in Arabic literarily means “it’s written” but really refers to “it’s destined”. How else could it be that Atlas Soul’s musicians, from all different countries, religions and backgrounds, could meet here in Boston, USA, and be so passionate about a type of music that nearly no one around here had ever heard of, and, against all odds keep at it until they had built an audience and a following.
Ever heard of Shaabi-Jazz, Rock’n Raï or Gnawa-Funk? Probably not— these are cross over North-African styles that bridge into our familiar western idioms.
Shaabi literally means popular (pop music). In Morocco it refers to a Moroccan 6/8 groove that is very specific to that country and amazingly addictive. In Algeria it refers to the more traditional Arabic/Judeo/Andalusia music played with the oud, banjo or violin and so touching and deeply emotionally charged that I often have to hold back my tears when I listen to it.
In Egypt in refers to yet another type of “pop” and modern Arabic music.
Raï is probably the most well known of the North-African music styles. Raï means opinion. It started in Algeria in the 1920’s. Alger and Oran’s Kasbah smoky cabaret where performers could safely express their frustration about love, social injustice, the French and later on their own oppressive government. It really took off and traveled across the Mediterranean Sea in the eighties with the arrival of electronic instruments like the keyboard and drum machines. Thanks to many talented vocalists and amazing artists playing acoustic instruments like trumpet, sax, ney (flute), accordion and bendir (a hand held framed snare drum), which are typical to this style, the music evolved.
Gnawa music is probably the most ancient and paradoxically has kept gaining popularity in wider circles for the past 20 years in the Maghreb (North-Africa) as well as in Europe and the USA. Ancestrally the Gnawa musicians-organized as a family around a “Maaleem” (master musician)- traveled all over Africa to play and dance for rituals and events (weddings etc..) The kings and sultans favored them and they are an integral part of the North-African culture.
After listening to a couple tunes of the Gnawa -trance- music, anyone will recognize and connect the points with some of the roots of rock’n roll, jazz and blues. Go ahead give it a listen it’s strikingly funky you’ll agree with me.
Many artists— Robert Plant, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones to name a few— have spent time in the Southern Moroccan cities of Marrakech and Essaouira and now many more pop, rap, jazz and rock musicians are doing collaborations and incorporating Maghrebian music into their own idiom.
So back to Atlas Soul— musically bridging the North-South and East -West is not an exercise in style, it’s a natural affair for us to mix it up just like we ourselves are a mix of diverse cultural backgrounds. Is it destiny that brought us here? Is it karma that keeps us doing songs mostly in Arabic (but also in French, Hebrew and English)? Are the American public and music lovers from all over shyly –but consistently- opening their musical interest to Middle- Eastern and North African culture? It would seem so.
In my mind music needs to have an emotional and a philosophical content to be valid. Atlas Soul’s music aims at being passionate, intense, uncompromising but also organic, healing and melancholic. We have borrowed from our multicultural background and produce this music as a cultural opening force to bridge and cross over between countries, religions, and race. Politically, besides playing regularly for not for profit organizations from all walks of life, we hope to inspire world peace through a fusion of music and culture that gets people to the dance floor and sharing the positive vibe.
Atlas Soul Is Playing The Regattabar at The Charles Hotel, Saturday January 29 2011
Thursday December 10, 2010 (Boston, MA)- Atlas Soul - an award-winning group based in Boston- is playing the Regattabar at The Charles Hotel, Saturday January 29 2011 at 7:30 PM.
Bridging divides between Eastern and Western cultures, Atlas Soul delivers a cross-cultural music Experience- one could describe as Maghrebien-Funk, Rock’N Raï, Shaabi-Jazz- in French, Arabic, Hebrew and English. The lyrics speak of love, natural wonders, oppression, poverty, and of the melancholy of immigrants longing for their homelands.
This will be Atlas Soul’s first show of 2011. They are currently in the studio recording a new album and will premiere many new songs at the newly renovated legendary jazz club!
Philosophically and politically, Atlas Soul hopes to inspire world peace through a fusion of music and culture that gets people to the dance floor.
Jacques Pardo: sax, guitar, lead vocals
Anwar Maghreb: lead vocals
Jon Simmons: trombone, percs.
Tim Paul Weiner: bass
Nadjim Kebir: drums, percs.
Alessandro Acquafredda: guitar
Boujemaa Razgui: percs. Ney, vocals
"Atlas Soul's blend of jazz, funk and Middle-Eastern/Arabic grooves is a fascinating sonic stew that will catch any listener's ear. This is their second appearance on our CD's compilation. We like'em, and you will too".
Global Rhythm Magazine
World Music journalist Banning Eyre (Afrobeat worldwide) writes:
“What hits hardest about Atlas Soul’s sound is the natural funk of North African music and also powerful vocals, which span fluid, passionate Gnawa melodies and husky Raï hooks. There is great wisdom in a world-music outfit that embraces divergent genres (but not so many that the sound loses its identity)"
The Regattabar at The Charles Hotel is located at:1 Bennett St.
Cambridge Massachusetts 02138 USFor more info and reservation please call 617-395-7757 or follow this link [map]