'Music is the only way to speak to everyone': Djmawi Africa's fusions honor Algerian roots and more

Soha Elsirgany , Wednesday 20 Apr 2016

The Algerian band will be in Egypt for a concert at El-Genaina Theatre, a master class at Al-Darb Al-Ahmar art school, and performances in the Oshtoora Festival

Djmawi Africa
Founded in 2004, Djmawi Africa presents a vibrant fusion of chaabi, rock, metal, reggae and gnawa music.(Photo: Courtesy of the band)

Algerian band Djmawi Africa will give a concert at El-Genaina Theatre, continuing the venue's April concert series, on 23 April.

The eight-member band has been running for over a decade, formed in 2004 during their university years, to perform at the end of year celebration party.

Djmawi Africa offers a vibrant interbreeding of genres, fusing chaabi, rock, metal, reggae and gnawa music.

Their name itself carries the fusion they represent.

“Djmawi was taken from the first part of the word ‘Djama3a’ (meaning group) and the second part of ‘Gnawi,’ since gnawa music was an influence and style that all the band members liked, despite coming from different backgrounds, like rock, classical, Andalusian, etc.,” lead guitarist, vocalist and band manager Abdelaziz El-Ksouri tells Ahram Online.

“Africa was [added] because we would like to highlight the African origins of Algerian music and those traditions that we have, which a lot of people forget due to Algeria’s proximity to Europe and especially France,” he adds.

With their fusion sound, the band is driven by all forms of music and their creative curiosity.

Comprised of Issem Bosli, Nazim Ziad, Karim Kouadria, Fethi Nadjem, Mohamed Shihadeh, Amine Lamri, Zohier Ben Larbi and El-Ksouri, “Each member has an influence and we are trying to be very free in our creations and let every member bring the universe that he likes. Now we are also exploring the new influences that Bosli, the new singer of the band, is bringing since he joined the band last year.”

“We listen to all kinds of music, from Beethoven to chaabi music, but some of our influences are Cheb Khaled, who brought Algerian music to universality, Orchestre National the Barbes, Gnawa diffusion, and many others.”

Their music juggles around 12 instruments, some more rock (like guitar, bass and drums) and others more classic (like the clarinet, saxophone and trumpet).

They colour their melodies and rhythms with unusual instruments, like the kora, flute, Indian percussion, or traditional instruments like the Gumbri and the mandolin.

“We are exploring also other melodies with the violin and clarinet. The mix of those instruments allow us to introduce Celtic sounds, as well as a brass section that adds some power in our sound,” El-Ksouri says.

The concert at Genaina Theatre will be their third performance in Egypt. In their 2008 international tour for Mama, their first album, they performed at Cairo’s Opera House and in Alexandria as part of the Algerian culture week. A year later, they were back performing for the Cairo International Film Festival.

“It was maybe our most beautiful concert of all time, at the Pyramids,” El-Ksouri says.

This time the band will be present in Egypt for over a week.

After their performance at Genaina, the band will offer a master class for the students of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar school, between 24 and 27 April.

According to El-Ksouri, the band “will give the students workshops on wind instruments and percussion. We are very excited to be part of this experience.”

Afterwards, Djmawi Africa joins the lineup of the Oshtoora Festival later this month, taking place in Fayoum between 28 April and 2 May.

“We are also very excited to be part of Oshtoora this year, to meet different artists and to try to create something in a spontaneous way,” El-Ksouri says.

Having played more than 400 concerts internationally, including shows across Europe and Africa, the band enjoys the challenge of performing to different audiences.

“We are always testing the universality of our music, and it works! Music is the only way to speak to everyone on this planet, and maybe not only on this planet,” El-Ksouri says.

The themes they convey through their music have shifted over time in response to their surroundings.

Their latest album, Avancez l’Arriere, was recorded in the context of the Arab Spring between 2011 and 2013.

“Algerians had a different analysis about what happened at this moment in Tunis, Egypt and the region, as our generation suffered from terrorism for 10 years and had a revolution in 1988. We tried to put this in the album with some songs talking about Algeria and its society and the current world situation. We say usually that this album is more ‘urban’ than our previous ones.”

Currently Djmawi Africa is preparing their new album, which should be recorded by the end of the year.

“It will have lot of influences from the new experiences we are having during our 2016 tour, which took us from the Ivory Coast, to Egypt now, and a big tour of Europe this summer that will start in Holland and end in Slovenia,” says El-Ksouri.

With three albums in 12 years, Djmawi Africa take their time producing their music and give priority to live performance.

“We prefer to be on stage than in the studio. We believe that music should be live before being on albums, and will continue to proceed in this way,” the guitarist says.

During 2016, they expect to perform more in the Middle East and infuse their sounds with influences from the region.

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