Film Review: El Gusto: Rhythm against all odds

Hani Mustafa, Monday 8 Oct 2012

El Gusto, shown at 5th Panorama of the European Film explores 'Chaabi' music through reunion of Muslim and Jewish music troupe, separated by the political turmoil Algerian Revolution

El Gusto

Documentary "El Gusto", which was screened at the 5th Panorama for the European Film on Monday, explores the Chaabi Algerian music industry in the 20th century.

Set in the period that preceded the Algerian revolution and just after 1962 when the country had gained independence, the movie portrays the reunion of a particular Muslim and Jewish Algerian musical troupe, which had suspended its activities following the migration of its Jewish musicians to Europe.

Chaabi, which means "folk", is a musical style often heard at weddings and festivals, it first appeared in Algeria in the late 19th century and is inspired by Flamenco music.

Through extensive interviews El-Gusto's director Safinez Bousbia documents the music of the Muslim and Jewish troupe before and after the Algerian revolution. This was a key time during which Arabs significantly influenced the music of the area and lasting pieces of music were being made by both Muslim and Jewish communities.  

Although there was a clear historical backdrop to the film, Bousbia does not mention the violent civil war that occurred in Algeria during the 1990s. Instead she only alludes to the migration of Jews and the return of the Europeans to their homelands, during the time of the French occupation, which ended in the early sixties.

In many ways, Bousbia might have been inspired structurally by Wim Wenders 1999 classic Buena Vista Social Club.

Wenders documents the story of a Chaabi Cuban musical group, whose members were separated during the Cuban revolution in 1959 and eventually reunited in 1997 by renowned US composer and guitarist Ry Cooder, who produced an album for the group.

In El Gusto, the director’s eye is drawn to the architectural details and spatial dimensions of Algiers and how that affects the Chaabi music: the winding narrow alleys and structure of the buildings appear to have a great impact on the characters, bringing them together and creating a bond between the Algerian Chaabi music members.

Unlike Wenders, Bousbia wanted to attract the viewer t her film by presenting scenes of the Chaabi music performances in Algeria and smoothly incorporating them into the storyline.

Although the tone is sentimental, Bousbia does not allow the film to become nostalgic, especially when creating comparisons between the past and the present.

El Gusto is not the first attempt to bring the riches of Arab Chaabi music to the public's attention.

Arab cinema has, in the past, featured aspects of the music industry in the 20th century, often indicating that politics ruined the industry.

The film Habiba M’sika, directed by Tunisian Selma Baccar in 1995 was one of the first films illustrating the bond between the Arab Muslim and the Arab Jewish musicians.

Last year saw the release of Ismael Ferroukhi’s film Free Men which depicted the suffering of the Arab Jews and of a Muslim immigrant singer in France, during the 2nd World War German occupation and Zionist period.

El Gusto tackles several aspects of the musicians' reality. It is an expression of coping and forgiveness and a look at the relationship between artists and audiences, regardless of their political and religious beliefs.


Monday 8 October, 1pm at Galaxy Cinema, 67 Abdel Aziz Al-Seoud St, Manial


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