Amar el Achab

The Chaabi of the Great Masters

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This is the real desert blues, the hardcore sha'bi or chaabi sound that's been the music of the working classes and poor across North Africa for almost a century. And vocalist and mandola player Amar El Achab gives a hardcore rendition of the music, albeit in a modern, though not pop, fashion. His ensemble employs piano and banjo among more traditional instruments. Apart from his own compositions, much of the material here is traditional, although some pieces, like "Istikhbat Zidan," are group improvisations, a testament to the quality of this band. They can also get a very full sound on the uniquely Arabic songs, like "Goulou Yamna/Dites-le A Yamna," where mandola, guitar, and violin combine to give a wonderfully full sound. And using banjo, as opposed to the more expected oud, proves to be inspired, with a not immediately identifiable twang. On piano, Mustapha Yacoub is used sparingly, but to interesting effect on "El Goumri." And El Achab himself proves to be a master of mandola on the same track. It might not be easy listening for beginners, but this disc, recorded live at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, is perfect chaabi.

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