By Saby Reyes-Kulkarni December 08, 2021
“Every time I set out to write a love song,” explains Majid Soula, speaking through a translator on a Zoom call, “it unfortunately turns into a song about justice. in place.”
For Soula, a singer-songwriter / guitarist who has spent most of his life in a kind of gentle exile from his hometown, romance and resistance go hand in hand. If you judge strictly by his music (or, say, the title of his 2001 album Kabylie my love), one gets the impression that Soula’s love of life was not a person, but rather the North African region of Kabylia. Occupying about a fifth of the Mediterranean coast of present-day Algeria, Kabylia stretches inland through a series of mountain ranges. The inhabitants of the region, the Kabyles, a Berber ethnic subgroup who founded one of the oldest civilizations in the northwest of the continent– have withstood multiple waves of invaders for over 2000 years.
Indigenous settlers from a vast expanse of North Africa stretching from Egypt to the Canary Islands, the Berbers collectively refer to themselves as amazigh (pronounced ah-mah-ZEER) and speak a range of dialects of the Tamazight language. Their communities and customs tend to be linked to an Arab presence and influence that dates back to the start of the Arab-Muslim conquest of North Africa in the 7th century. Today, the Kabyle people continue to struggle against marginalization in a postcolonial Algerian society dominated by Arab culture, language and political power, the central conflict that has defined the history of work and life of Soula for almost a half-century.
Since releasing his first single “Eyfouk Achehr Athaaazizth” in 1972 via the late Algerian label Disque Oasis, Soula has expressed feelings of separation, nostalgia, homesickness, alienation and being caught between two worlds. While “Eyfouk Achehr Athaaazizth” addressed the plight of immigrants all over the world, a crucial distinction is that Soula experienced these feelings even before leaving Algeria, finding himself displaced and struck by culture shock when he moved to the capital Algiers in 1969. There he fought against the inability to speak the local dialect of Arabic, the country’s only official language at the time.
Since then, Soula’s work has largely been a response to what he calls the “Arabization” of Amazigh culture. In the late 1970s, amid widespread political unrest and repression of Kabyle artists, Soula found it untenable to stay in the country and moved to Paris, where he has been based ever since. His production during the period before and immediately after this move is summarized and presented again on Amazigh song, a compilation of Habibi Funk label that features songs from several cassette releases that Soula released (mostly independently) during the 1980s.
As Soula’s music aligned with the secular insurgent spirit of Kabylia, what Amazigh song most clearly shown is its openness to a variety of influences. For someone who intended to expose the world to its native customs, Soula was never inclined to purism, drawing rather loosely from West African highlife; Saharan Tuareg scales; American blues and funk; and the Arab disco wave of the 70s and 80s. As a proto-lo-fi artist, Soula was also willing, when the need required, to play roles on the ajouag (shepherd’s flute) and bendir (frame drum) itself.
“Kabyle music”, affirms Soula in the cover notes of the new album, “must imperatively become universal if it is to survive”.
To listen Amazigh songFor example, the single “Netseweth Sifassan Nagh” by “Netseweth Sifassan Nagh”, with its skin-tight charleston guiding a groove intended for the dance floor, one has little sense of the world Soula describes with so much nostalgia when he talks about women. locals singing Kabyle folk songs he first heard as a child, or his memories of attending midnight performances by figures like Slimane Azem and, subsequently, being inspired to sing himself at Kabyle weddings in ceremonies that lasted after 3:00 a.m. Elsewhere on the album, “Lgira” seems to start off as a pensive, atmospheric piece in a traditional mold before a new wave-style electronic beat takes over.
Venturing even further, “Win Terram” begins with a strobe synth pulse dubbed an electric guitar that would have sounded home on Devo’s first two albums, before another line of synths caught fire. spotlight and only sends the song into home video game territory.
“We can integrate all kinds of music wherever it is,” says Soula. “From India, Japan, Russia, Germany, etc. The motivation for me has been to develop new sounds within the framework of the tradition, and my audience has been very receptive to the modern elements that I have brought to them. The modernization of Amazigh music has been a way to ensure that it can spread beyond its original borders.