A version of the following article was first published in Al Ard – Die Welt in Berlin, for which I work as chief editor. It was published in both German and Arabic language. See here the English version:
Western Pop music often helps itself with the music of other cultures to reinvent itself. Rarely there is a real fruitful exchange. But in the 70s local pop scenes evolved in several countries of North Africa, enhancing the music from the west. Only now the rare recordings are available in Europe for the first time.
The recording whooshes and scratches, the suspense-packed atmosphere of the studio reaches out to the listener in that short moment before the musicians begin to play. Then a tinny sounding dirty distorted guitar rattles loudly and a world-famous blues riff blares out of the boxes. The dirty garage sound underlines the singer’s raw energy as he fervently caws into the slightly overdriven microphone.
It is James Brown‘s classic „Papa ́s got a brand new bag.” Just as the song has started droning, there is a first moment of surprise; contrary to expectations not the language of blues is to be heard here, not the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown is singing. Here it is a young man from Moroccan Casablanca demanding everything from his voice, when he screams “Sid Redad”, an Arabic cover version of the classic (listen here). His name is Fadoul, a man who discovered the raw sound of western underground music in the back rooms of Parisian avant-garde and brought it back to Morocco.
Fadoul was pure avant-garde
Until recently nobody knew Fadoul anymore, not in his home country, not somewhere else in the world. Even during his creative period in the 70s he was far from fame. Fadoul was pure avant-garde, underground, a thoroughbred total artist who moreover played theater and painted. In time his rare recordings disappeared somewhere under piles of LP’s in the Moroccan side road junk shops. His music couldn’t even be hold for lost or missing, since hardly anyone in the decades after knew they were actually existing.
Until German Producer Jannis Stürtz rediscovered them. In an electronic shop he was taken aback when he saw a cover with Arabic writing between a dump of vinyls, that credited James Brown for being the original author; it was a single by Fadoul et les Privileges. He found the family of the musician, who died in 1991 and purchased the rights to reissue his music. So in 2015 all of the eight rediscovered Fadoul-singles could be brought together on the Album “Al Zman Saib” by Jakarta Records.
Catchy belly dance disco
In the history of music this is an outstanding process, because music from North Africa, that combined US-Soul with North African groove and Arabic lyrics, was reimported into a western market. Until then the mutual musical influence was more like a one-way road from the west to the Arabic world: Jimmy Hendrix visited Morocco in the 70s jamming with local musicians, just as did free jazz pioneer Sun Ra from Birmingham (USA), who recorded songs in Cairo inspiring a local Egyptian jazz scene. But also musicians from North Africa would go to Europe, mostly France, and where they were influenced by the local pop culture. Impressions they brought home and developed them further.
Contrary influences Europe or the US took from Arabic music often showed the face of exotism, as shows the Abdul Hassan Orchestra for example: Behind the project Dutch producer Han van Eyck could be seen as he tossed pieces of belly dance sounding music pieces together to create catchy disco tracks.
The 70s evoked an athmosphere of liberty
The music of a Fadoul on the other hand wasn’t as polished. It was raw and coarse, probably recorded in a single run by simplest means. And not only the production conditions created this punk aesthetics, that must have been completely novel in the region by that time. Also thematically he dealt with the dirty banality of daily life between sex, drugs and violence.
No easy topics in a region that today is confronted with strict conservative islamist movements. In a region where – for example in Morocco and western sahara – homosexuals still face repressions or where opposition members are persecuted. In which, like in Algeria protests are struck down by violent force and people are tortured.
But talking to all the musicians of the time Jannis Stürtz could trace, he found out that especially the 70s evoked an atmosphere of liberty among the young and the glimpse of a liberal society to come. The state even sent musicians to the world exhibition to represent their country, like film composer Ahmed Malek from Algeria, known to many for his neat orchestral soul pieces. Also former members of Dalton, who played straight funk and smoth R’n’B, said that didn’t want to know anything about religion and wanted to adapt to a liberal life style.
But all in all it was due to the low degree of popularity of most of the musicians that protected them from persecution or repression. It’s very questionable if such a vibrant avant-garde pop scene could evolve and exist today in these partly crisis shaken countries. So much the better when enthusiasts like Jannis Stürtz, who are aware of the musical heritage, make sure it gets the appreciation it deserves, even after decades. And this doesn’t only count for the west, where the music has been reissued. Also in the countries of its origin awareness grows about the heritage most people didn’t even know it existed.