Orchestre National de Barbes

En Concert

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The "Berbes" in the group's name are the Berbers, the indigenous non-Arabic people of North Africa. Their folk music is heavily percussive and rather raucous with a melody that's hard to pick out. Some listeners might be familiar with the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Orchestre National de Barbes, however, is not a folk group, but a pop-fusion group. They sound like a cross between rai (Arabic pop) and West African Afro pop. Almost all of the instruments are Western: drum kit, guitar, sax, mandolin, bass, and a lot of keyboards. Some of the percussion and an occasional xylophone-like instrument seem to be local, and the vocals sound like Arabic with a little French thrown in. The sound is usually very rhythmic and upbeat, like a big R&B group. "Savon" is incredibly infectious and sounds a bit like Duran Duran. In dramatic contrast, "Ma Ychalli" is much more Arabic, despite the keyboards. After a long prelude by what sounds like a mandolin imitating an oud, the singer "improvises" a complex, moody verse. The percussion is used to comment on the proceedings rather than drive them, and the instruments do not dominate the vocals. This is a very good fusion of local music and Western pop, but the three or four songs based more directly on Arabic or Berber music are the exception, not the rule. For a live recording, the sound and the performance are exceedingly good. The mood is glowing and good times are ahead. Fans of West African or North African pop need not hesitate.

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