Text taken from The Rough Guide To World Music book
Chapter written by Phil Meadley
Huge international pop hits, such as Holly Valance’s version of Tarkan’s Turkish smash 'Simarik', and the Chemical Brothers’ single 'Galvanize' (which sampled Moroccan singer Najat Aatabu’s 'Just Tell Me The Truth'), have instilled Arab influences into Western popular music. However, the most intriguing developments have been from Middle Eastern producers, keen to meld their musical roots with the hottest club tunes.
The West has long been fascinated by the Middle East and its rich and vibrant culture. In the twentieth century, North Africa became a Mecca for rock acts like The Rolling Stones. Prog-rockers Gong incorporated Arabic scales into their music, drawing from the great Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum on the track 'Master Builder' from their album You, whilst Steve Hillage paid homage to Kulthum's 'El Alb Yeshak Kol Gamil' on his 'Earthrise'.
German collective Dissidenten collaborated with Moroccan band Lem Chaheb on their hit 1983 album Sahara Electrik, whilst the late Israeli singer Ofra Haza’s vocals were sampled on MARRS’ house anthem Pump Up The Volume. Towards the end of the 1980s, Peter Gabriel scored the soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ, inspiring Western producers to look deeper into North African traditions.
No matter where you look, there is nearly always a strong French connection within Arabic music. In 1989 raï superstar Cheb Khaled’s electro-funk album Kutche (with Safy Boutella) was co-produced by acclaimed French producer Martin Meissonnier and paved the way for a succession of North African artists.
Two contemporaries of Khaled also made notable contributions during this era. Algerian superstar Rachid Taha carved out his career in punk- and rock-influenced raï in France, whilst the Tunisian-born singer Amina Annabi represented France in the 1991 Eurovision Song Contest before collaborating with UK dance production team Renegade Soundwave on her classic self-titled 1999 album. More recently, she has worked with UK-based Moroccan producer U-Cef.
Morocco has an enduring mystique for Western musicians. Berber Sufi Trance group The Master Musicians of Joujoukahave played with The Rolling Stones, Ornette Coleman and beat poet William Burroughs. Their 1992 album The Next Dream saw trance-like rhythms pared down to ghaita (double reed flute), gimbri (three-stringed lute), lira and percussion.
Another Moroccan obsessive was Swiss producer Pat Jabbar, who set up the North African dance imprint Barraka El Farnatshi. In the mid-80s he formed the band Aisha Kandisha’s Jarring Effects to create a new kind of Moroccan dance scene, away from the popular music heard on Morocco’s famous Radio Rabat. The band released a succession of groundbreaking records until leader El Habib El Malak left to become a politician in Marrakech. Jabber has continued to release inspired North African fusions from the likes of Hamid Baroudi, Amíra Saqati, Turkish hip-hoppers Makale and Azzdine.
In 1992, Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart released Rising Above Bedlam featuring the talents of Ali Slimani, Sinead O’Connor and Natacha Atlas. Aki Nawaz’s Nation Records became central to the new global beats movement in the 1990s, along with Transglobal Underground, who were at the forefront of this dance revolution, featuring Natacha Atlas on their debut album Dream of 100 Nations. She then released the first Arabic/dance crossover single 'Yalla Chant' in 1993. TGU collaborated on 1997’s Halim – her first attempt at recognition from Arabic audiences. They also produced her biggest hit single in France 'Mon Amie La Rose'. TGU have become a prominent production team in the Middle East, and have remixed famous pop stars including Lebanese diva Dania, pop heart-throb Yuri Mrakadi and shaabi superstar Hakim.
The late 1990s saw the Arabesque sound embraced by rich and famous socialites. Tunisian-born entrepreneur Claude Challe was a key figure on Paris’s chic club circuit. His 1998 compilation, Flying Carpet, was the first attempt to merge European dance culture with some of the best names in popular Arabic and Asian music. Algerian-born restaurateur Mourad Mazouzreleased the acclaimed Arabesque compilation, showcasing acts including MC Sultan and Omar Faruk Tekbilek to a younger, club-savvy fan base. Both of these compilations became the blueprint for subsequent Arabic beat compilations.
The independent label Apartment 22 released groundbreaking releases from Moroccan drum & bass pioneer U-Cef, and expats MOMO (Music Of Moroccan Origin). Alongside bands like Turkish breakbeat specialists Oojami, Zohar and Paris-based acts Digital Bled and Smadj, the late 1990s was a boom time for Arabic fusion. The new millennium also saw contributions from DuOud, drum & bass producer Naab, oriental hip-hopper Clotaire K and electronic freestylers Aïwa, as well as the incredible turntable skills of America’s DJ Rupture.
Recently, Arabic dance producers have started reclaiming their heritage. In Lebanon, house producers REG Project and Said Mrad are clubbing icons. Turkey has also become a hotspot of Arabesque creativity. Progressive jazz/dance label Doublemoon have developed acts such as Mercan Dede, Orient Expressions, Turkish female rapper Aziza-A and Baba Zula, who provide an exhilarating take on Turkish dance/roots fusion.
Other notable additions are percussion collective Harem, trance producers M. Celaleddin Yüksel Project and hip-hop artist Sultan Tunç, whilst new label Elec-Trip have added hip dance sounds. Tunisian talent MC Raï mixes up club beats and hip-hop with heavy rock and classic soul-searching raï vocals. With a burgeoning club scene, Arab dance music has never been stronger – and it’s the Arab producers rather than the Western ones who are now leading the way.