"Devotion" by Cheb i Sabbah
Reviewed by Living Abroad Contributing Editor Volker Poelzl
Cheb I Sabbah is an Algerian born DJ turned mix artist, who over the past decade has devoted his talent to combining various world music traditions with electronic music. To achieve his unique musical creations, Cheb I Sabbah works with well-established musicians, who are all masters in their field. Sabbah began his series of music from the Indian subcontinent with "Shri Durga" (1999), continued with "Krishna Lila" (2002), "La Kahena" (2005), and finally his latest work of collaborating with Indian musicians, Devotion (2008). In all these releases, Sabbah combines traditional Indian music with a modern beat, electronic sampling, and sequencing. Cheb I Sabah also released remixes of most of these albums, which have a heavier accent of electronic elements than in the original releases. Some of his CDs, such as "As Far as-A DJ Mix," as well as the remixes of his alums, are more club-oriented and show a stronger influence of electronica, with heavier beats and a more repetitive song structure.
But his collaborations with Indian musicians, including his latest release "Devotion," demonstrate an astonishing sensitivity toward Indian musical traditions and sounds. The electronic beat and samples are carefully woven into the songs, allowing the original compositions and performances to stand out. Sabbah’s musical sensitivity allows him to add a beat and bass to traditional Indian music in a subtle way that never overpowers the sound and feel of traditional instruments—though some titles are definitely more dance-floor oriented than others. With "Devotion," Cheb I Sabbah continues his exploration of the vast musical traditions of the Indian subcontinent, performed by well-known modern and classical musicians and singers from the Indian subcontinent, such as Shubha Mudgal, Anup Jalota, Riffat Sultana, and Master Saleem. The technically perfect studio production, crisp sound, and subtle mixing of electronic elements with traditional Indian music reveal Sabbah’s mixing talent. What makes this album different is the fact that it is more mellow and meditative than his other releases and has more of a new age feel to it.
The CD’s first song, "Jai Bhavani," transports listeners into the more exotic elements of Indian music—with sitar, flute, and voice filling the air, while cymbals, tabla, drums and electronic loops provide a trance-like beat. While respecting Indian musical traditions, Sabbah does not shy away from including some nontraditional rhythms, such as the reggae beat on "Haun Vaari Haun Varaney." The last track along with the CD’s title track are interesting kaleidoscopes of sounds recorded in the Indian city of Varanasi (Benares). Amid devotional bells, prayers, and chanting, listeners also hear the sound of water and bird songs, all before the subtle musical background of a constant drone.
Cheb i Sabbah notes that the album’s sole aim is that of sharing and spreading tolerance, peace, love, and understanding—a message that underlines the album’s spiritual focus. Also, as a collaborative project of Indian and Pakistani musicians, both Muslim and Hindu, whose countries are frequently at war with each other, the album is in itself a gesture of good will and peace.
This release will no doubt bring Indian classical and devotional music to wider attention among western music listeners, especially since Cheb I Sabah has already established his credentials as an insightful, sensitive, and masterful mixer and producer.
Sabbah was nominated for the BBC Awards for World Music in the Club Global category in 2006 and 2007; www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/worldmusic/a4wm2007/index.shtml.
For more information visit chebisabbah.com. To download an interview with Cheb I Sabbah and hear a selection of his music, go to solipsisticnation.com/?p=106.