Paying Tribute To San Francisco DJ Cheb I Sabbah | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Paying Tribute To San Francisco DJ Cheb I Sabbah

Cheb i Sabbah's life traces an almost fairy-tale perfect path through the evolution of what's now called world music. Born in Algeria in 1947, he absorbed the Judeo-Arabic Andalusian music of his local culture before he joined the '60s rebellion and became a 17-year-old DJ playing soul 45s in Paris. By the end of the decade, he'd moved to New York and become friends with trumpeter Don Cherry, famous for his association with Ornette Coleman and a pioneer in the concept of multicultural music. Cherry's fascination with fusions made a permanent impression on Sabbah, and by 1984 he'd relocated to San Francisco, a city that wears a rainbow of cultures with graceful lightness. Cheb i Sabbah began releasing records in 1994.

Sabbah is now dealing with Stage IV stomach cancer without the benefit of health insurance. His new release, Samaya, is subtitled "A benefit album for Cheb i Sabbah," but it's also a testament to the musician — a grand gathering of his tribes.

Of Samaya's two discs, the first jumps with more dance beats, while the second turns inward with more reflective tempos and tones. The contributors include all of Sabbah's regular collaborators and favorite performers over the years, such as Bill Laswell, Karsh Kale, Transglobal Underground and tabla master Zakir Hussain. Sabbah himself offers one original track and some sinuous remixes. He always includes a surprise you think can't possibly work, but it does.

Of course, Samaya easily clears the basic hurdle of a benefit album — it's a compelling journey all the way through, and the good cause it aids is a bonus. But delicate moments on the second disc, many based on Indian forms, do indeed touch on mortality and the transcendence of spirit. Though spoken passages are often a liability, the prayer-like lines in "The Lonely Chamber" remain a comfort through repeated listenings. And the uplifting cuts are full of sweet reassurance, none more so than Jai Uttal's "Maha Maya," which does hit that elusive goal of dreamy ecstasy.

Sometimes global-culture advocates get carried away into fancies of universal harmonies, or at least understanding through music. Cheb i Sabbah has never quite suggested that. He delivers a much more certain and earthy message: All peoples have music from the spirit, and through music all peoples can communicate. What you make of the conversation is up to you, but Cheb i Sabbah makes sure you know the path is there. His life demonstrates it.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, July 30

You can keep things old school with a classic musical and an exhibit featuring watercolor paintings from the 1800s.

NPR

Farming The Bluefin Tuna, Tiger Of The Ocean, Is Not Without A Price

Scientists are trying to raise prized bluefin tuna completely in captivity. An experiment at a Baltimore college is the first successful attempt in North America.
NPR

Senate's Highway Trust Fund Bill Sets Up Conflict With The House

A short-term fix for the nearly empty Highway Trust Fund is a step closer to President Obama's desk. Congress has been talking about the long-term problems with the construction account, but the two chambers have not agreed on a long-term solution.
NPR

OkCupid Sometimes Messes A Bit With Love, In The Name Of Science

OkCupid, the online dating site, disclosed Monday that they sometimes manipulate their users' profiles for experiments.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.