MARCH 21, 2012
Cheb i Sabbah Benefit Album Released
Samaya Helps A World Music Legend Healby Tom Pryor
Here's a very worthy story that almost fell through the cracks last week while we were away at Austin's SXSW Conference... One of world music's true innovators, Bay Area DJ and musician Cheb i Sabbah was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer last year - and now the music community that he's so inspired has stepped up with a new benefit album to help cover his medical expenses. But don't just take our word for it - read the full press release below...
Cheb i Sabbah's significance in international music and culture cannot be overstated. Born in Constantine, Algeria in 1947, Sabbah (whose DJ name translates as "young of the morning") began spinning soul records six nights a week in Parisian discothèques at seventeen. Influenced by his North African upbringing and the music of Jewish-Muslim-Andalusian cultures surrounding him, Sabbah's unparelled knowledge of Mediterranean dancefloor aesthetics has made him one of the most beloved DJs on the international music scene.
When Cheb i Sabbah was diagnosed with stage four cancer in 2011, he reached out to friends, family, and fans for help and they responded with much needed funds for his health care costs. He also asked for something more dear to him than money: music. The double-album Samaya: A Benefit Album for Cheb i Sabbah (1002 NIGHTS) is the beautiful result of his outreach. Featuring 22 songs from friends spread across the planet, including Karsh Kale, Nitin Sawhney, Natacha Atlas, Bill Laswell, Bombay Dub Orchestra, Kailash Kher, Zakir Hussain and many others, as well as a mastering job by Brian 'Big Bass' Gardner, who has mastered every one of Chebi's records, it is possibly the most heartfelt and inspired compilation to hit any iPod and all proceeds from its sales will go towards offsetting the crushing cost of ongoing medical treatment.
Samaya is also being released in conjunction with the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability or age-related problems. Founded by singer-songwriter Victoria Williams in 1993 after being forced off a tour with Neil Young due to multiple sclerosis, the organization has aided numerous artists in difficult situations for the past 19 years.
Sabbah's global excursions began while spinning in Paris and listening to what was then called musique extra européenne, thanks to the immense UNESCO record label. After moving to America in 1968, Sabbah befriended jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and joined spontaneous art group The Living Theatre. Cherry's vast sonic repertoire totally fused with Sabbah; the jazz cornetist traveled to Bombay, Turkey and Mali to study folk instruments and sounds. His musical excursions literally forced and helped Sabbah to broadcast his sonic palate, describing Sabbah as a professor of music. Upon rooting in San Francisco he started a weekly party at Nickie's on
Haight St. spinning a mind-blowing array of international grooves for 18 years. Nearly a decade into the party, Sabbah was signed to the forward-seeking Six Degrees Records for a trilogy of albums exploring Hindustani and Carnatic music set to a digital beat. The result of his efforts- Shri Durga, MahaMaya and Krishna Lila, not to mention his later Devotion-have changed the manner in which people think about the union of classical and electronic Indian music.
Sabbah's evolutionary insights can be traced all along Samaya, where a younger generation of producers has continued pushing the sound of South Asia and Arabia forward. Labelmate and close friend Karsh Kale mixes his gorgeous tabla aesthetic with the wobble bass of dubstep in his scorching "Sandstorm." Kale also offers an upbeat new mix of "Ranjaabi" with Midival Punditz, while longtime friends Transglobal Underground pitch in a hard-edged beat on "Nadagroove." Egyptian singer Natacha Atlas croons atop Nitin Sawhney's guitar-driven
"Nomadic Sky" before returning with her own dancefloor ringer, "Omri Coulu Leek." Bass- heavy producer Bill Laswell is joined by his wife, the Ethiopian singer Gigi, for the seductive and hypnotizing "Bante," while the French-Tunisian vocalist Amina Annabi offers her social assessment in "Ya Nari Revolution."
Fellow San Francisco producer Janaka Selekta artfully remixes Sabbah's own qawwali track, "Ali Maulaah." Yet perhaps the album's most searing song can be attributed to Sabbah himself, who remixes the English rock band Bauhaus's "Too Much 21st Century." Hearing Peter Murphy's futuristic prose float above Sabbah's dhol-led beat is indicative of the man's longtime quest of merging worlds to create a unified global message.
"You never know who listens to who," Sabbah says, reflecting over his initial contact with Murphy, who has been a Sufi and spends half the year living in Istanbul. "A couple years ago Peter got in touch with me on MySpace. It turns out he had all of my music, and he wanted me to remix a Bauhaus song. We ended up having long conversations about Sufism. When he played in San Francisco, I went there with my son, and he came out for the encore and dedicated the last song to me. When I spoke to him about being part of the compilation, he instantly said I should use the remix. It was so sweet of him to let me use that remix, as they were going to use it for a new remix album."
Speaking of his son, Opium pays tribute to his dad on "Freedom Is Free," a bouncy hip-hop track featuring a lush hook by Tunisian MC Raï and mixing work by Six Degrees labelmate Jef Stott. "It's a hit song," Sabbah says, fondly. "It's also the best title I've ever heard in a long time. It seems so simple, yet how often do you realize that your freedom is free?"
Beats are prominent on the album's first half. The second is another tribute entirely. Starting with Persian singer Azam Ali, who also designed the album cover, and multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian's heartbreaking song/poem "The Lonely Chamber," Mediterranean luminaries Watcha Clan pay homage with a heartfelt "A Nomad Called Cheb i." Bombay Dub Orchestra eschew drums for a reflective "Flame of the Forest," while kirtan vocalist Jai Uttal has never sounded better than on "Maha Maya."
Kailash Kher, one of Bollywood's biggest stars, offers his softer side with "Naiharwa." Classical India is represented with Pandit G. S. Sachdev's stunning "Twilight," as well as Humayun Khan & Salar Nader's "Miyan Ki Todi." The closing track by Zakir Hussain & Ramnath, consisting of tablas with sarangi accompaniment, might even be the most emotional song in the mix. Hussain's father, Alla Rakha, was the first Indian percussionist to solo in the classical world thanks to the insistence of famed sitar player Ravi Shankar. Hussain, who plays with Shankar often, has taken over that legacy by being both an innovative and expressive soloist. You can literally hear the heart cries and hope built into his performance. It is a fitting closer to this album of unfiltered appreciation.
Supporting this album will continue to help Cheb i receive the utmost treament that he needs while he continues to battle cancer.