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
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
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.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?