6. World Music Experiences
In the course of the last three years, the B'net Houariyat have left their country approximately fifteen times, on the increasing requests of some of the most important festivals in the international World Music circuit. In particular, the experiences which they made in London and Paris favored meetings with musicians interested in collaborating with these five women from Marrakech.
In July 1998, after having successfully participated in the Womad festival in Reading, the B'net Houariyat were invited to record a CD in the Real World Studios, near Bath, in the English countryside.
In order not to falsify the natural sound of the voices and percussion instruments, all pieces were recorded in the simplest possible way with a DAT and two microphones in the garden of the Real World Studios, avoiding resorting to the sophisticated equipment in the digital recording studios, which were nevertheless available.
Each afternoon at five o'clock, Peter Gabriel personally prepared tea and served it to the B'net Houariyat. On the eve of the last day, our host invited the B'net Houariyat into his personal studio, a sort of pagoda in the middle of a little wood. Inside, the speakers diffused a looped pattern: a rhythmic base of electric bass and drums with very simple harmonization. Before going out to inevitably prepare some tea, Peter Gabriel asked the B'net Houariyat if they could help him to complete the piece by adding their voices and percussion instruments.
The five women had no idea of whom our host was, nor of what he really wanted: to them "Bittèr" (as they called him) was a kind middle-aged man, one of the many musicians who frequented the Studios during those days. However, to return his kindness, the B'net Houariyat, after having identified the mizan (rhythm) of the piece, began to accompany it with their percussion instruments. When Peter returned inside with a tea tray, the women performed the song that greets the bride's entr ance. The piece - extremely suggestive and indeed "in tune with the circumstance" - was rapidly recorded with the help of a young sound engineer.
The first real work of "contamination" was favored by the meeting with Algerian Karim Zyad, Cheb Mami's drummer, who was particularly attracted by the rhythmic aspect of the music of the B'net Houariyat. In Paris, Karim and Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê formed a "multinational" band with a Jamaican bass player, a Bosnian pianist, an Italian saxophone player, a French kora player, as well as, obviously, the five B'net Houariyat. The project, Maghreb & Friends, was sponsored by Nguyên Lê's record label, and by Christian Mousset, the artistic director of the Musiques Métisses festival in Angoulême. Relative economic tranquillity enabled the encounter and common journey of the different artists involved, which provided a solid springboard to the specific context of World Music, where sometimes only recorded tapes travel, while musicians are thrown in front of an audience without having been able to prepare a common ground.
The presence of Karim, who could move on the common ground of both language and musical rhythm, was fundamental to the mediation between the B'net Houariyat and the group of jazz musicians from different backgrounds: owing to him, the B'net Houariyat discovered that the mizan, the rhythm of their songs, could be "counted". Initially this provoked amused surprise among the women; however, they rapidly realized that the ability to "count" helped to make the rhythmic parts "fit", and to regulate the entries and exits of the various "solos" and, in short, to exert a more efficient control on the composed material. Consequently, after the initial rehearsals, the B'net Houariyat stopped counting and memorized the time sequences. Once a certain degree of cohesion had been reached among band members, it was also possible to extend the rhythmic and instrumental solos ad libitum, on the basis of the gestural technique traditionally employed by the B'net Houariyat. Tuning presented another problem to which the B'net Houariyat were already sensitive since their percussion instruments are tuned accurately, and the note for singing is obtained from them. The possibility of tonal variation, offered by instruments such as the guitar and the piano, also enabled the introduction of short modulations in a type of music otherwise strictly rigid in its structure.
The work carried out with Nguyên Lê and Karim Zyad was presented to an audience for the first time during the Musiques Métisses festival in Angoulême in 1998, with the final rehearsals open to the students of the local conservatoire, and a final concert in which the B'net Houariyat were congratulated by Joe Zawinul.
Maghreb & Friends was recorded and published on CD.
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