As good as it gets: North African-French DJ duo "Toukadime" bring Chaabi music back to life
“Toukadime” means ‘to present’ and that’s exactly what this DJ duo do: Present North African music to your ears. Offering the world a chance to hear some of the oldest and greatest songs from the North African diaspora from times gone by. Their main aim is to find songs with a vintage feel, predominantly from the chaabi genre of music, then present them on their frequently-updated Soundcloud radio shows.
Take note though: those with an MTV attention span, and ears for the chart pop thrillers of the Arab world must stay away. For the most part, chaabi songs can go on for the better part of half an hour.
When people speak North African music, most often they're talking about rai, the infectious blend of Arab, African and Western rhythms that has long been a staple in Europe and the Americas. What “Toukadime” do is bring to light the other side of North African music: rai singers singing in chaabi style, old gems of chaabi music from the Jewish Maghreb and plenty more.
The shows are recorded in French (as the DJs are based in France), and their research and attention to detail lies in their conversation between each track, where they describe the geography, history, religion and society involved in the creation of each musical track.
However, their authenticity doesn't just lie there. The DJs make regular trips to North Africa, namely Morocco to collect and explore the divine vintage record and music stores all over the Maghreb. As with Europe and America, record and music stores are on the down due to the online presence of music, but the treasure trove of musical delights that can be found in music stores all over the Maghreb not only house the perfect old school soundtrack, they are also usually owned by true music fans who are of the generation of chaabi music. They lived, breathed and tasted the atmosphere and rhythms of Mahieddine Bachetarzi, El Hachemi Garwabi and Hadj Muhammed Al Anka.
Chaabi in present day, is no longer widely played. It is usually reserved for old tape players and the ears of an older generation. However, once upon a time, it was the crown of North African melodies, with stories of love and loss, society and youth. Chaabi concerts still play within the Maghreb, with shows playing ode to the classic era of traditional Maghrebi clothing and red berry-coloured Fezzes adorned on its singers.
“Toukadime's” website paints the perfect entry image for a chaabi style concert or setting: Moroccan poofs designed to look like DJ sets, with the deep colours of a smoke-filled room smelling of amber. Chaabi means, in darja, the "people's music", where it once used to pour from smoke-filled corners of the casbahs of the Maghreb, is now available directly through your earphones, anytime, anywhere in the world.
As of late, chaabi has had more attention brought to it because of the recent turmoil and dangers of the Arab uprisings, especially from Tunisia and Egypt. This led journalists and DJs alike to paying closer attention to the role of music in protests.
In general, this has been a welcome development, especially when one considers that once upon a time chaabi music and its cousins were simply an afterthought of old school nostalgia. Now, the themes of independence, freedom and societal love that chaabi serenaded its audiences with now have a reinforced place in modern society.
This has been hard to ignore for DJs like “Toukadime,” who leapt at the opportunity to showcase the rebellion cause of music from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. One doesn’t have to go far to hear the influence of modern day rappers of the region being heavily influenced by namely the late 1960s and 1970s protest standouts Nass El Ghiwane, Jil Jilala, and Lemchaheb, who themselves drew on older musicians.
“Toukadime” take advantage of present day issues happening in the region; as well as marrying the relationship with the diaspora Maghrebis in France, America and beyond. Their Soundcloud houses 14 online shows to date; all around one-hour long with interval chats between each mix or soundtrack. The DJs record in French, but worry not non-francophones: commentary is minimal, and the DJs themselves sometimes dip in between English and Arabic, too.
The Soundcloud shows are the perfect accompaniment for a day of writing, a long drive, or simply a break from the world, that will transport you to that old Kasbah square with the hot North African sun kissing your cheeks.
The blend of Moorish Spain, Berber Africa and Arabic has continued to evolve throughout Algeria, Morocco and the like, with Muslim and Jewish musicians playing side by side and absorbing various influences. This has now spilled over to an online presence, finally captured for a modern audience on the go by “Toukadime.”
"Toukadime” are quite simply an initiative of two DJs with a love for the Maghreb. Krimau's interests lay in the soul and funk music world, while I [Bachir] focused mainly on Hip-Hop music. With our collective love of original and classic music finds, we began collecting records and decided to dig the music bins of North African music.
We are both the sons of North African immigrants; and this project was a way for us to provide the Maghrebi culture, to those people who do not have access to it easily, through the medium of music.”
By Naila Missous for Al Bawaba.
Nailais a linguist and writer; with a keen interest in Algeria, North Africa and the Middle East. Find her on twitter @nsabrinem.