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Michel Alibo: The Bassic Personification of World Fusion

By Published: October 16, 2003

MA: We spent 7 months in New York. We had government help, a grant from the French government. A French journalist, named Pieremarti, helped us out. He found us a place in Brooklyn. We had a $60,000 grant for the 6 month period, and many contacts from Polygram. We invited the great saxophonist Michael Brecker to play on it. We played at SOB's and some Universities and at Central Park around the 4th of July. I remember Stanley Jordan and Mino Cinelu helped us find some gigs and industry contacts. We played at another club called the Blue Lounge.

AAJ: But you never played any US festivals or a tour?

MA: No. We played at the Montreal Jazz Festival many times, however. That's what we did when we came to stay in New York. We played Montreal first and then stayed on.

AAJ: So what about the post-Sixun period?

MA: After Sixun I felt I should start to calm down a bit. So since I was sixteen I was going and Sixun was until '98, so in '99 I started to calm down. I had a solo album, 9 albums with Sixun, and 3 albums with Sakiyo - after that I decided it was time to refresh myself, to find some new ideas. So I stayed quiet for a while.

AAJ: Meanwhile you are working your butt off, I'm sure, but by your standard it's quiet.

MA: (Laughs). Yeah, but in a way, I needed some inspiration. I mean, Warner wanted Sixun to do the last album. But did we want to do a new album just for the sake of having a new release? Or do we want to find something new-new music with new ideas? We weren't ready to do that, in my opinion. I said to the guys, "OK, for me, we're not ready to do a new album right now. Let's wait." But production and circumstances demanded a new cd. But I wasn't so happy so I didn't compose for this new album. So that began my moving on and deciding to learn more about North African music, Japanese music, more traditional and ethnic music and things like that. So I started to work with NguyꮠL꼯A> . I started to work with African artists, like Karin Ziad, the great Algerian drummer Cheb Mami for example. I played two years with him.

With NguyꮊL꼯A> it was the first project, with Bojan and Karim Ziad . It was the first Maghreb & Friends. This concept was more using traditional African music, Moroccan music, and Gnawan music. Maghreb is the name of the North African continent. Alors! Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Karim is from Algeria, Berber. Gnawa is the music from the slaves. They do rituals and ceremonials with the music.

AAJ: I think the catch phrase I hear is "Gnawan Trance."

MA: Yeah, that's part of the ritual. The music of North Africa is very complex. I thought because of all my previous experience with African music with many singers, and all the "new lessons" about music and rhythm I had with every different artist I worked with, I thought I would know it somehow. But when I discovered North African music I said, "Wow! What's this?" Because they don't play the time as most of the black Africans we know play it. You find very many connections to Brazilian music, Asiatic music. It was very surprising to hear traditional music from north Algeria and they play pentatonic things that are exactly like Asiatic music. At the same time they have some grooves that are exactly like Brazilian music. There 's a big collection.

AAJ: What did you mean the time is different than other African music?

MA: The first thing Karim Ziad explained is that, "We don't play the first beat. We don't play the one." So the one is what? The one is a hole and two is a hole too (Laughs). [Michel then explains by singing the difference between an African 6:8 and a North African 6:8 that cannot be syllable-ized. Here is an attempt at it, displaying the top line as phonetic drum beat, the bottom line as your toe tapping 6 times.]

 Tak - tak um takit, ta-ka-tat 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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