San Francisco-based producer and DJ Cheb i Sabbah devoted his first few albums to Indian musical traditions, making his own field recordings and then meticulously constructing his tracks in the studio. Unlike ethno-techno dabblers who slap house beats on top of samples of sitars or Bollywood divas, Sabbah understands the history and structural underpinnings of the music he works with. On his new album, La Kahena (Six Degrees), he turns his focus to the Maghreb–which makes sense, since he was born and raised in Algeria. He’s said that the political, ethnic, and religious tensions in his homeland kept him from working there, and the core of La Kahena was recorded in Marrakech, in neighboring Morocco; thanks to the wide variety of artists who participated, he’s created a record of stunning breadth and power. Vocalist Brahim Elbelkani brings gnawan trance, the astonishing all-female chorus B’Net Marrakech, from the Atlas Mountains, offer call-and-response chanting, Khadija Othmani injects the Saharan blues of the Tuareg, and Casablanca’s Nadia draws from the ancient pan-ethnic traditions of Andalusia. The traditional song structures and instrumentation–including berbouka, bendir, guimbri, oud, tinde drum, qanun, and riq–remain relatively intact despite Sabbah’s extensive studio reworking. Bill Laswell’s heavy bass lines, Rufus Cappadocia’s cello, and Richard Horowitz’s keyboards never threaten the integrity of the music, and Sabbah’s programmed beats and electronic fills enhance it for dance-floor consumption without reducing it to hollow exotica. Sabbah’s live gigs are DJ events, with no live instrumentation, but considering his knowledge of the music of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as well as his skill at electronic tweaking, this show should be much more than just another world-music DJ gig. DJ Warp & DJ Radiohiro open. Thu 6/30, 9 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $15.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Anthony Pidgeon.