African Music Anthology
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Hasna el becharia
Hasna El Bécharia is extraordinary. She is still the only woman in the Maghreb to play gnawi music, a ceremonial beat that has remained an exclusively male preserve since the animist beliefs of the Bilad es-Sudan, (in Arabic, the Land of the Blacks - today’s Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Chad) encountered the monotheist faith of Islam from across the desert. Her choice has exposed her to a great deal of rejection and sarcasm, but Hasna’s mind and soul are irrevocably bound up with the mystic trance music learnt from her father, a pious man who was himself a maâllem or master of gnawi (the plural of gnawa) syncretism, a black Sufism forged by the descendants of sub-Saharan slaves in White Africa, also called diwan in East Algeria and stambali in Tunisia. Every inhabitant of the Maghreb is familiar with the captivating rhythm of this Muslim Voodoo played on the guembri (an ancient bass instrument with three strings traditionally made of gut) and the qraqeb, qarqabou and crotala (large metal castanets) enlivening a long lila (night), releasing men and women from their troubles, driving out the djinns that torment them and enabling them to join with mlouks, spirits that possess them.
Hasna El Bécharia was possessed by the ecstatic music itself, beginning to write songs on a guembri and acoustic or electric guitar (rock also came to Algeria at the end of the 50s). She is said to have taken up the electric guitar to make herself heard during concerts where the audience drowned out her voice when they joined in her songs. She has since extended her repertoire to more profane, popular genres - although piety is always just around the corner, as shown on this album steeped in religion and self-sacrifice. Hasna devotes herself wholly to spirituality with a fervour she expresses in contemporary language. She has developed her style, introduced in 2002 on her acclaimed first record, Djazaïr Johara (Algeria the Jewel), made in Paris when she was about fifty, after she settled in France after arriving from Algeria in January 1999 for the Women of Algeria festival at the Cabaret Sauvage, where the public also discovered a young female artist from Algiers named Souad Massi. When Hasna left her native land for good, it lay in the shadow of an inhuman, chaotic war between armed Islamic fundamentalists and an army commanded by generals who had seized the riches of a promising nation barely liberated from French colonialism in 1962.
Il canto di Lilith