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
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
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.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor