When it comes to the Berber--more properly Amazight--people of Algeria, culture and politics can be hard to separate. The original inhabitants of North Africa have long felt under cultural attack in this country. They consider their language, lifestyle, and music, threatened by a government bent on "Arabization" of the country, most notably the mountainous Kabyle hinterlands, long the home of the Amazight. Kabyle's greatest modern troubadour, Matoub Lounes, was assassinated for his activism in 1998. Since then, from his adopted home in California, Moh Alileche--also born in Kabylia--has taken up the baton. On this, his third and best recording, Alileche emerges as a powerful musical voice, driven by a life mission.
Song titles like "Amezruy (A Culture on the Brink of Extinction)" suggest didacticism rather than poetry. This song critiques the marketing of Algeria's popular rai music, which Alileche argues is being used as a tool in the government's acculturation campaign. Whatever one makes of the argument, the song itself is beautiful. A wheedling violin leads Alileche's 9-piece ensemble into a relaxed, rolling desert groove--rich with flute, violin, mondol, and layered percussion working magic within a dense, 12/8 feel. Alileche's voice a tuneful, buzzing presence throughout, expressing savvy mournfulness and soulful grit.
Most of these nine pieces begin by featuring one of the ensemble's instruments--flute, violin, banjo, guitar, or mondol, the signature, paired-string lute of Kabylia. The first-rate players on this album make it Alileche's most satisfying release yet, whether in eloquent, improvised introductory passages or lush ensemble playing. Alileche is not a virtuoso singer, but his voice has a calming warmth, and he skillfully places it within lush--but not overdone--orchestration that make it delightful to hear. The energized, hypnotic mood of striving in "Avrid (Toward the Summit)," the shaabi-like strut of "Tamurt (The Abandoned Homeland)," and the jazzy timbres of "Adu (Windstorm)" show three different faces of a gifted composer and arranger.
Ultimately, this album is a celebration of culture, and two pieces conjure the mood of a village celebration. "Tameghra (The Wedding Celebration)" offers an ecstatic, chant-laden round of thumping cross rhythms, driving hand claps, and wild ululating by a group of women. "Assirem (Hope)" concludes the set with a loping, darkly serene instrumental. However engaged, Alileche is more than a musician with a cause. At a time when Amazight cultural expressions are receiving more and more attention and nurturing, he is a gifted and original voice and musician, and a man who has learned how to make a great record.
Contributed by: Banning Eyre for www.afropop.org