Abdelli | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The violent struggle between Islamic fundamentalists and the secular government has dominated what little news we've heard from Algeria over the last decade. And buried in the reportage has been the plight of the Berbers--the original inhabitants of North Africa--who've been caught in the cross fire. In fact, even in the emergence of Algerian music on the global market, the Berbers are left out: mostly what we hear is rai, the largely hedonistic pop music of Algerian youth. One of the few Berber musicians to gain international recognition was singer Matoub Lounes, who like most successful rai artists left the country; on a visit home in 1998 he was killed by unidentified gunmen. Another is Abderrahmane Abdelli, whose lone recording is 1995's New Moon (Real World). Abdelli comes from Kabylia, a mountainous region in northern Algeria, but he too left his homeland long ago. Like most rai singers, he now presents his music in a multicultural setting; unlike rai, which celebrates booze and sex, his music contemplates cerebral and philosophical matters, from preserving Berber culture to accepting death in the name of freedom. For New Moon Abdelli recorded his vocals and mandola--a steel-stringed lute--alone in Belgium, and then producer Thierry Van Roy brought in a raft of European and Chilean musicians as well as a player of the bandura (a Ukrainian zither with nearly 50 strings) to flesh out the arrangements. In a few places he went overboard: "Achaah" is clogged by pulsing synthesizer, and on "Walagh" the New Age tweet of the quena, a bamboo flute popular in Andean music, provides inappropriately ethereal counterpoint to Abdelli's vocals. But mostly Abdelli's singing is unobscured by the arrangements, which is fortunate, as he has an understated style, eschewing flashy highs and lows in favor of a narrow but beautiful midrange. Saturday, 7:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Real World Records.

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