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Chaabi — 'of the people' — has its roots in the Andalusian music of Moorish Spain, spreading to North Africa with exiled Jewish and Moorish communities; but it really took off in the music schools, parties and bars of occupied, post-WWII Algiers, where its Andalusian, Middle Eastern and North African lineage infused with the Mediterranean soundtrack of that era — chanson, jazz, snatches of tango, a little boogie-woogie.
A Chaabi band combines traditional instruments such as the quanoun (or zither), mandole, oud, gambar (a stringed turtleshell), bendir and derbouka (types of drum); together with the piano, flute, banjo (brought to Algiers by American GIs), violin (played upright on the lap to save space in crowded venues), accordion, bongos. With subject matter ranged from God to pretty girls, the songs often touch on taboo issues. For our recording, the Orchestra included four singers — joined in chorus by the voices of the entire orchestra — and five-man banjo, percussion and violin sections. The scale and organization are thrilling; the music is swirling and improvisatory, gripping and rhythmic, surging from the haunted to the bluesy, the devotional to the knees-up.
Abdel Hadi Halo And The El Gusto Orchestra Of Algiers was recorded on the tilting fifth floor of the Conservatoire d’Algiers, in a room overlooking the sea on one side, and the Casbah on the other: the orchestra was recorded ‘live’ in full flight — all together, in continuous takes.
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