The Arab Beat from Switzerland
Already in the mid-1980s, Pat Jabbar and his band Aisha Kandisha's Jarring Effects mixed Arab traditional music with dub, trance and house elements. Stefan Franzen talked to Jabbar about his label and the collaboration with the "Pope of Dub", Bill Laswell
The scene is a nondescript apartment building on a quiet side street in the center of Basel. A heavy cellar door swings open to reveal a Moroccan flag, assorted leather couches and chairs, a bare-bones recording studio, and a profusion of computer chaos.
This is the creative hotbed of Pat Jabbar, a friendly lanky dude whose bright eyes shine out from under his ski cap as he takes us along on a blast through the past:
"I had a totally normal childhood here in Basel and we kids had our trash bands in the city with musicians who had more of a background in punk. In 1984 I was in Israel and heard real Arab music for the first time. It really got under my skin and I absolutely had to find out more about it. A year later I went to Morocco and happened to run into some musicians on the beach. We had some percussion sessions and kept adding more and more instrumentalists and that's how Aisha Kandisha's Jarring Effects was formed."
Arab dub music pioneers
The legendary band mixed Arab elements with dub, trance and house – long before Natacha Atlas or Fun-Da-Mental got their start. To market the album they founded the Barraka El Farnatshi label and were so successful that they were able to send 100 LPs a week to New York.
That's where a certain Bill Laswell soon noticed the Arab-Swiss label and was quickly convinced to embark on a musical collaboration. Even today the heavy bass beat of the pope of dub, as Bill Laswell is often referred to, can be heard on the Swiss musician's albums. Jabbar recalls their first meeting:
"I took the tapes to New York and went to his studio. He just threw them into the machine and immediately found the base note, recorded it when he heard it the second time, and by the third time it was mixed. It's really amazing to see how he works, how quickly he can work his way into a foreign culture."
Using the puzzle approach
The musician from Basel quickly dropped out of university and focused exclusively on his music. Aisha Kandisha served as the impetus for a series of spin-off bands. Jabbar composes using the puzzle approach. The basis and the beats are laid down in Switzerland, then he travels to Marrakech (or sometimes to Casablanca) where he ties things together with local musician friends.
These days, the Barraka label has put together a catalogue that includes 26 albums. Moroccan Rai, the popular Châabi style, and the sounds of Gnawa and Berber musicians have all been integrated into an electronic setting. Hamid Baroudi, ex-singer of the German band Die Dissidenten, has collaborated with him, as has Moroccan-born singer Sapho. Even German punk icon Nina Hagen has made a guest appearance on one of his albums.
Jabbar likes to keep a low profile about all that: "Switzerland is an ideal base. Things are quiet here so I can work. I don't depend on having a certain degree of fame. From here I can focus on my main sales market in Germany."
Streets not paved with gold
Recently, however, he has been expanding his musical contacts in Basel. Barraka has released the albums of the Basel-based Turkish hip hop crew Makale and the latest album by the group Maghrebika also has lyrics that deal with life in Jabber's home town. Two exiled Algerians have also climbed on board for the ride. "They came to Basel roughly ten years ago and sing about their experiences here. Their songs are an attempt to convince the kids back home to forget the dream that the streets are paved with gold in Switzerland and all your problems can be solved here."
In addition to the Algerian youngsters, the mature female voices of the group B'Net Marrakech add rough vocal nuances to the arrangements. The new Maghrebika album is called "Neftakhir," which means pride. Today's Arab youth could do with a good deal more pride, says Pat Jabbar who, as a practicing Sunni, adheres to a pacifistic Islam:
"The kids shouldn't let themselves become too westernized by all these soaps on TV and these values that we cultivate in the West. They should focus on their own culture to avoid losing the identity that can teach us much more than what can be learned from Western culture. We've made this the focus of our new album, with edifying lyrics that combat prejudice, inform people about what Islam is really all about, and tell them not to be deluded by the media, which is always trying to cast Islam in a poor light."
Next year Barraka aims to achieve another milestone. After a long break, the label intends to release the fifth production of Aisha Kandisha. Then German audiences will be able to experience the Arab dub pioneer once again live on the stage.
© Qantara.de 2007
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen