Maghrebika: Moroccan maestros

Maghrebika's music is an education: not just in its African origins but in its lyrical focus on Muslims, writes Phil Meadley

Some people approach the idea of tampering with traditional music with caution, but Pat Jabbar - producer, musician and owner of the Swiss-based label Barraka El Farnatshi - prefers the all-or-nothing philosophy. For 16 years, his label has consistently chipped away at the boundaries, juxtaposing traditional Moroccan music with Jamaican dub, funk, electro, house, trance and trip-hop styles. And for a large part of his label's existence he's collaborated with bass player extraordinaire, and famed producer, Bill Laswell. Like Jabbar, Laswell is a man noted for shredding the rule book, most notably as producer of Herbie Hancock's seminal album Future Shock, seen as a precursor of the hip-hop movement, as well as his recent production duties on Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu's breakthrough album Youth.

Their most recent collaboration is on the album Neftakhir by Maghrebika, a name that Jabbar describes as "a derivation of Maghreb [a region of North Africa taking in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and sometimes Mauritania] and a little word play on Metallica". Unlike the majority of the label's output, the bulk of this one was recorded in Jabbar's hometown of Basel, with the help of Algerian singers Abdelkader Belkacem and Abdelaziz Lamari, both of whom he met at the local mosque. Other parts were added later in Morocco.

Although Jabbar was brought up a Swiss Protestant, he converted to Islam many years ago, but stresses that he only became serious about it three and a half years ago. "Before, I didn't practise," he says. "I was drinking, smoking weed, doing ecstasy, etc. But this life became really boring, so I started saying prayers five times a day, going to mosques and doing Ramadan."

Musically, Neftakhir (which translates roughly as "to be proud") mixes raï, shaabi (popular Moroccan music), and gnawa, through electronic filters and various trancelike beats, mostly aided by Laswell's sonorous, hypnotic bass. Lyrically, there seems to be a recurring theme, that of Islam and how its teachings have helped people gain a deeper meaning to their life, and also the misconceptions abounding after September 11. "It's not really that interesting to hear about how someone is having a problem with his girlfriend," says Jabbar. "So, given that most of the people in Maghrebika are practising Muslims, we thought that we would concentrate on that. It's one of the biggest things in our lives, so the lyrics talk about educating people, telling them what is true about Islam, and trying to get them to forget the misrepresentations and propaganda that's been propagated by the media, especially about terrorism and Muslims."

A good example is the title track, which implores young Arabs not to be influenced by Western values at the detriment of their own culture. It's jointly sung by Belkacem and legendary Moroccan all-women singing group B-Net Marrakech. The track "Ghourba Mourra", sung by Belkacem and Lamari, discusses the feelings of being exiled to a strange, inhospitable land. The lyrics go: "Oh my God, look how we live? Exile is bitter and exile is dark... I want to leave this exile and keep away from the troubles that we find." "From Mecca to Najaf" is about the civil war in Iraq, between Shiites and Sunnis, and is a call for Muslim's to forget their differences.

"People confuse the different aspects of Islam," Jabbar says. "Islam in Afghanistan and Turkey is a totally different aspect of Islam than in Morocco, or Algeria. Sunnis and Shiites in Iran are again very different. Most countries have a very different approach to Islam; sometimes it's even mixed with indigenous roots, which is the case in Senegal and Nigeria. So our main idea as very open-minded pacifist Muslims was to show a different path away from just having fun, going to parties and living for each thrill. If you watch people in Morocco they can be very poor, living in ghetto slums, but they're always smiling and happy, and this is because of Islam."

Jabbar met Laswell indirectly through the American composer, author (best known for The Sheltering Sky) and traveller Paul Bowles. A friend of Bowles suggested Jabbar send some material to Bill Laswell, who agreed to collaborate, so Jabbar and his Moroccan group flew over to New York to record Aisha Kandisha's Jarring Effects second album Shabeesation.

At the time, Laswell had started dabbling in North African music in his own right. "A lot of people became interested in that part of the world, not so much through music, but from reading things about people who had gone to live there, obvious examples being Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin," he says.

Certainly one of the most prolific men in music production (he's currently switching between rock-edged drum'n' bass and remixing Ozzy Osbourne), Laswell managed to find some spare time to add his unique bass-line to 10 tracks on Neftakhir. "The way we work is more like trading," he says. "If it was 100 years before, I'd do a bass-line for a couple of goats or something."

And what of the future? With the radical idea of fusing Moroccan tradition with psy-trance on his forthcoming project Dar Beida 04, Jabbar shows little sign of compromising just yet.The ex-philosophy student, who gave up his studies in Geneva to run his small, independent label 16 years ago, is still going strong.

'Neftakhir' is out now on Barbarity/ Barraka el Farnatshi ( www.maroc.net/barraka)

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'