Interview: Said Tachiti of Chalaban

Ahead of his band's December 6th show at Klub Kross, the Hungarian-based musician discusses Morocco, Mohammed, and new album Transzolok

Although their current Hungarian address may not seem the strongest of North African credentials, as a music writer who's traveled numerous times to the Magreb, it must be said that Chalaban are at least equal to any recording artists making claim to the folklore of North Africa.



What their Budapest experience brings to their sound is an urban dimension. Chalaban's latest CD, Transzolok ["I Trance"], demonstrates the band's ongoing efforts to form a synthesis of North African music and rock, echoing deep into the region's rich connections with rock 'n' roll.



Whereas their previous three CDs occasionally found the band attempting to bridge desert blues with the tools of rock and jazz, their latest work is as solid a Magreb-rock effort as you could hope for.



On Transzolok, Chalaban doesn't detour into fashionable world-beat fusion, but instead reaches further into Magreb tradition and instrumentation, leveraging the strengths of a tight brass section and percussive electric guitars to deepen the trance.



Those who have seen Chalaban founder Said Tachiti in concert - either solo, unplugged or with a band - have experienced some very special musical moments. Although Gnawa and Chaabi have no shortage of reference these days in world-beat music, Tachiti and crew cut to the history and currency of the form with a refreshing directness.



In our interview Moroccan-born Tachiti discusses his and his band's ongoing journey.




Darrell Jónsson: Your new CD seems to have very solid sound. The guitar and brass in particular seem to blend extremely well. How did you manage this?



Said Tachiti: I can say that each album for me is a particular challenge. If each artist would like to have his own style and his characteristic, my objective is to continue in an open acoustic evolution. I can say that with all four Chalaban albums I made a success of this challenge.



There remains the fact that in order to keep the band's fans and audience it is absolutely necessary to keep perfecting this outstanding line. I would prefer to not disappoint this segment of the public.



In this album I needed more than courage. While working with musicians coming from the various artistic currents - classical, traditional and jazz - I accelerated the creative process. I had to fight against classical perfectionism, jazzist complexity, and the naiveté of folklore. The result is that this album for me is a recorded happening. I accept it with happiness with all its qualities and its defects.




DJ: What else enabled you to arrive at this new sound?



ST: As an artist who works in a foreign country, I collaborate a lot with local musicians. They bring many things to this music. And at the same time I continue to be influenced by all the sonorities that surround me in my host country.



In Hungary, among the strongest musical traditions we find gypsy music, and much of the atmosphere comes from the Balkans. In this album I have "Arabized" Balkan music, or I have Balkanized Moroccan music.



From a political point of view the two concepts became very negative, but musically it is really a good experience, full of energy, spirituality and joy.



The last influence for me is my fascination with the '70s. For me, they were the strongest years in terms of artists and quality. Later, in the '80s and 90s, it was a long vacuum dominated by showbiz and fast-food video clips.



On a funky note, I put a retro song on our last album, Transzolok. The words are in Arabic but I used a lot of brass. I don't like songs with a direct message or long speeches - instead I have my way of saying things and of expressing myself.




DJ: Are there any new members of the band, and what special contribution do they make?



ST: The band is presented as a group of Moroccan musicians, but I spent three seasons as the only Moroccan in the group. Logically, we lost a lot from a sound point of view.



Now, we are two Moroccans, and one Algerian. The Algerian Tabet Ahmed has enabled us to discover a style - Chaabi - while introducing the Algerian [bass] mandolin to European audiences.



On this album I also called up a new member - the Hungarian saxophonist Péter Jelasity, and thus for the moment I have two musicians in the brass section plus a guest on the album, Mourad Abbas, of Syrian origin.




DJ: How does the sacred and the sense of celebration blend, in the songs you wrote and selected for Transzolok?



ST: In Morocco, the passage from profane to sacred is always ambiguous. There are no lines of demarcation. I think that religion had an important role. Because the prophet Mohammed treated all subjects without caste or taboo. He found answers to all the questions at a time when Arabic society was very closed - during Al Jahilya, the era of greater Arabia before the arrival of Islam.



Thus the Prophet spoke about love, sexuality, aesthetics, beauty, education, commerce and so on. A continuity of this can be found in Moroccan songs and folklore.



It is a different spirit that tries to restore the taboos. When I listen to some songs by Moroccan women of the '60s and '70s, I can hear them sing and say words and poems with courage, freedom and sometimes with a very surprising "vulgarity." Certainly no women would dare to do it today in the region.



In song I've tried to follow this spirit. I say: "I want neither to lie, nor to be hypocritical. I want neither to strike nor to go away. I am only one bohemian and I want to be in trance, trance, trance."



It is the rejection of reality that puts sadness in the heart and which brings out the bad spirit, and this is a therapeutic musical process that creates a solution.



Music played a very important part in calming the spirit of Moroccan youth beyond the ritual of traditional trance. In order to fully understand this it is necessary to see crowds in the '70s and '80s, singing, creating and dancing with the legendary Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwan, on songs like Ghir Khoudouni ["Just Take Me"] or Mahmouma ["Sad Mind"]. It was sensational.




DJ: You pay several homages on your new CD. Can you tell us about the song Lahbib Baba?



ST:I am inspired deeply by Moroccan folklore, in particular by Gnawa. This song belongs to this rich repertoire. The first time I heard this song was an interpretation by a very important maalem (Gnawa master musician), from the town of Meknes, called Maalem Zizou.



What's unusual about this song is that its repetitive mode and monotone mode are driven by a call-and-response that we know from the style of Gnawa. Within these elements, the melody enabled me to use the lute and alliterate characteristics of the guembri [Berber lutes] as found in Gnawa music.




DJ: Who was Amr Ezzahi?



ST: One is accustomed to paying homage to the dead. Me, I like to do it too for those who are alive, and Amr Ezzahi is one of the last great masters of the Chaabi style in Algeria.




DJ: Who will be in your ensemble here in Prague?



ST: The group will be composed of Tabet Hmida (vocals, mandolin, percussion), Khalid Moutahir (vocals, percussion), David Tórjak (bass guitar), Bálint Kovacs (guitar), János Vazsony and Péter Jelasity (saxophones), Gábor Pusztai (drums) and me, Said Tichiti (lute, guembri, percussion and song).




DJ: What are your future plans?



ST: Last February we recorded a DVD for the Hungarian TV station Duna, which will be broadcast this month. For the next CD I would like to make a very personal CD, with various guests. But it is still an idea and since I have just finished this album with Chalaban, and am now touring, it is still just an idea.




DJ: You mentioned earlier this year that you'd been back to the south of Morocco to do a television project. Can you tell us a little bit about that?



ST: There are two projects.



One was when we toured a year ago in the south of Morocco. It is a fantastic documentary on the Berber world in Morocco, from the Atlas mountains to the desert. We met and interviewed the greatest living masters of Berber song - Mouha Oulhoucine and Mohemmed Rouicha.



The other project focused on the desert brotherhood of Gnawa á Marzouga. We also met with El Hadj Boga Istvan, a Hungarian who lived in Morocco for 50 years and who converted to Islam. He just died three months ago. In short, these media projects enable the discovery and sharing of many aspects of my culture, some of which I was not even aware of before.




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