Djamel Laroussi

(Website)

“To be an Algerian does not only mean to be Arabic. We are a sum of all the indigenous peoples, the Berbers and all the waves of invasions afterwards, the Phoenicians, the Arabs, the Romans, the Turks, the French. All of these mean Algerian.”

This is the vivid picture Djamel Laroussi paints of his homeland. Out of all his compatriots, the vocalist, composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist has probably been the most consistent in translating his work’s colourful cultural mosaic into the present. Far removed from raï stereotypes which the Occident attaches to Algeria, he presents a truly global mix of rhythms, harmonies and melodies.

In his absorbing, immediately catchy songs, tricky rhythms from Egypt and Morocco settle right next to salsa and samba references and get married to grooves from Guinea and Cameroon. Embedded in pop structures, one can hear the ritual ceremonies of the gnawa, those mystical sufi brotherhoods, who live in the Maghreb as a black minority. Jazz rock has a liaison with rap and raï, ballads indulge in colourful Arabic love poetry and parables.

From a young age onwards, the man from Algier listens to two different sound worlds: he almost automatically grows up on the traditional sounds heard at local feasts, but next to that, he learns how to play songs by the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Wes Montgomery on his guitar. Since Djamel’s guitar playing is self-taught, he initially does not notice that he is playing his righthanded guitar “the wrong way round” – and since he is playing it with such breathtaking speed and in such a fascinating way, it is hard to follow his perfectly crafted and visually unusual performance. At the end of the 80’s, he ventures out to Europe.

Djamel is one of only a few guitar players who pass the Cologne College of Music’s entrance exam on the first attempt and is the first African ever to study jazz (guitar and drums) at this college. While studying theory and jazz harmonies, he still enjoys music and rhythm. Thus, the invitation to go on a world tour with Cheb Mami while he is still a student is a brilliant opportunity for Djamel, since it means a change from everyday university life. He also plays at the Leverkusener Jazztage with Graham Haynes and, together with the world-class guitar player Nelson Veras, at the Chet Atkins/Marcel Dadi Association’s summit, to which Marcel Dadi himself invited him. Djamel teaches master classes and plays for the guitar manufacturer Takamine.

In 1997, Djamel’s first solo album “Sapoulaty” is released. The German magazine Jazzthetik writes that here one can find exactly that “approach to pop music… that could become as independent of world music stereotypes as of the trends in the pop music markets.”

From his newly adopted home Paris Djamel builds up on his position as one of the leading Algerian musicians living in exile with his second album, released in 2003. “Etoile Filante”, whose title track held top positions on the Algerian charts for months, surprises with its rich imagination, which seems to have never-ending resources. Bellydancing and Bossa rhythms, a Berber salsa, ghost evocations, which almost unnoticeably turn into jazz rock, Moroccan Melhoun poetry, and rap.

Djamel Laroussi himself provides a beautiful picture for this great diversity: “I compare the rhythms of different cultures with steps. Steps as such are present everywhere, but the steps themselves are different from each other. A European might stumble when climbing up steps in the Congo.”

The perfect packaging of the complex ingredients prevents European audiences to stumble while listening to Djamel’s music. This is particularly evident in his breathtaking live shows, in which the Algerian artist proves how effortlessly and naturally he and his excellent band juggle with complex metres, sophisticated entertainment, and hit potential. His fans have clearly expressed their wish for a live recording – Djamel fulfils it and releases one of his unquestioned concert highlights on CD and DVD.

From the first until the last minute, the perfectly tuned sextet around the man from Algier shows its sparkle and its fun of playing on stage. Djamel proves that he is not only an excellent guitar player, but that he also leaves an enthusiastic audience with his performance on the Sahara bass goumbri, and as a percussionist on mostly traditional instruments such as the t’bel and the bendir. All band members are multi-instrumentalists; Djamel himself chose them and formed them into an excellent unit; they sing and dance with such intensity that one is often mislead into thinking that there are twelve instead of only six musicians on stage.

With the keyboard player Smail Benhouhou, the saxophonist Momo Mazouni, the bass player Tarik Gasmi, the drummer Guy Nwogang and the Senegalese ‘djembe dervish’ Issakha Sow, Djamel has assembled the perfect band whose mastery, fun of playing, and presence on stage are every bit as powerful as his own.

After the percussive gnawa ritual “Lâafou”, which serves the band as a ceremonial entrance on stage, the extremely varied show starts and offers a surprising programme. In “Mazal”, Laroussi furnishes a breakneck e-guitar intro with winding arabesques, before cabylic elements meet salsa patterns. In “Aho” the band unites into a powerful trance percussion orchestra together with a choir, which turns to gospel towards the end. By providing a clever mix of châabi, Algeria’s pop music, and a gnawa intermezzo, “Toumba” impresses with its accelerating final tempo. The chart success “Etoile Filante” features Momo Mazouni’s saxophone which delivers clever interjections, and in the second part of the track, the catchy song changes into an exceptional extended version with a newly rhythmitized melody. “Mani Man” serves as a balladic interlude which leads into the earthy “Hasna”. Inspired by the Ahl-El-Lil bedouins, the band unites into a Sahara choir over the sound of the swinging desert lute goumbri. The listener will find an almost hard-rock interlude in “Maal Maa”, before Djamel and his musicians as an encore feature the show’s highlights in a turbulent medley.

Anyone watching the enthusiastic audience regrets that he could not be a part of it. Djamel Laroussi’s live musicians are ideal partners to add even more sparkle to his unique musical colours from the Maghreb, jazz rock, funk, the Caribbean, and the Sahara in his stage show.

The Essener Wochenpost wrote in a concert review: “…Anyone who does not feel the urge to move his legs when seeing a live show by this artist does either only love marching music, or cannot be helped at all – an absolute must.”

Albums

En Chair et en Live

Label: Dadoua Music - DAD 006
Distribution in France: Night & Day
Release date: October 01, 2004

In the absorbing, immediately catchy songs composed, arranged and played by Djamel Laroussi, tricky rhythms from Egypt and Morocco settle right next to salsa and samba references and get married to grooves from Guinea and Cameroon. Embedded in pop structures, one can hear the ritual ceremonies of the gnawa, those mystical sufi brotherhoods, who live in the Maghreb as a minority. Jazz rock has a liaison with rap and raï, ballads indulge in colourful Arabic love poetry and parables.

The perfect packaging of the complex ingredients prevents Occidental audiences to stumble while listening to Djamel’s music. This is particularly evident in his breathtaking live shows, in which the Algerian artist and his splendid group prove how effortlessly and naturally they juggle complex metres, sophisticated entertainment, and hit potential. His fans have clearly expressed their wish for a live recording – Djamel fulfils it and releases one of his unquestioned concert highlights on CD and DVD.

Djamel Laroussi - En Chair et en Live

Etoile filante

Label: Douada Records
Release date: February 17, 2003

The title track of this album topped the charts in Djamel’s home country for months, making him as famous in music-crazy Algeria as Robbie Williams, though the two don’t share much in the way of common musical ground.

Laroussi is heavily inspired by the Moroccan gnawa tradition but also masters all the major musical styles of the African continent and broadens his soundscape further by the inclusion of contemporary movements from funk to rap. His virtuoso use of string, keyboard, and percussion mirrors the broad range of genres and cultures that find their way into his music, surprising by turns.

Jazzthetik’s reviewer said “This approach to popular music could be a new style, independent of both world music stereotypes and market-governed pop trends”.

Djamel Laroussi - Etoile filante