- 01 – Alik Belana
- 02 – Interlude
- 03 – Mazel Khatmi
- 04 – Koum Tara
- 05 – Ya Kalek Lechia
- 06 – Ya Taleb
- 07 – M’shet Lya
- 08 – Ya Ladra
- 09 – Tlou Mouni
KOUM TARA – CHAÂBI, JAZZ AND STRINGS
Koum Tara is a meeting of four musical worlds centered around a common project, created and directed by pianist-composer Karim Maurice: traditional chaâbi music, classical string quartet, contemporary music, and jazz. The raw material was extracted from the traditional repertoire of Algerian singer Sid Ahmed Belksier.
These themes were worked, distorted, reharmonized and restructured to create a hybrid, cross-cultural style. As part of the writing process, these musicians brought their own identity and their specific know-how to each piece. This has been a cultural meeting of minds, resulting in a unique musical texture. Chaâbi’s traditional poetry and love songs are blended with the tradition of the Western string quartet, jazz improvisation and electronic music, creating a fusion of styles and genres within each piece.
At a time when humanity, respect for cultures, and tolerance are seen as much-needed values for building a better world, this performance offers a musical universe in which each person brings his or her identity, cultural heritage and originality to sing universal love.
Karim Maurice is a French pianist-composer-arranger. His Karim Maurice Project was named “Revelation 2008” at the Jazz Festival of Ramatuelle. In 2013 he won the SACEM Autoproduction Award, and was named Best Composer at the international “Made in New York Jazz Competition” in 2015.
Gaël Rassaert is the laureate of several chamber music competitions and enjoys an international career as a chamber musician. He is a regular guest of the Lyon National Orchestra, the Radio-France Orchestra and the Lyon National Opera. He is part of Portugal’s Darcos Ensemble, directed by composer Nuno Côrte-Real (heard on Odradek Records album ‘Mirror of the Soul’, ODRCD336). Today he devotes a large part of his activity to the artistic direction of the conductor-free La Camerata string ensemble, which he founded in March 2004. La Camerata has established itself as an important player in the musical landscape. Comprising 20 musicians from Lyon, La Camerata embraces repertoire ranging from Schoenberg, Bartók, Britten, and Shostakovich, to traditional music (Algeria, Argentina, Chile), jazz, and contemporary music.
Booklet in English and French.
“Koum Tara is an ambitious and eclectic international project by one of France’s leading jazz composers, Karim Maurice… sophisticated but accessible arrangements… rich in rhythm… The string players contribute a dramatic ambience throughout…”
BBC Music Magazine – Jon Lusk - November 2018
Champions of chaâbi Worlds collide in an ambitious new project led by one of France’s foremost jazz composers
Fusion foursome: Sid Ahmed Belksier, Kamal Mazouni, Karim Maurice, Brice Berrerd
Koum Tara Koum Tara Band Karim Maurice (keyboards), Sid Ahmed Belksier (voice, mandola), Kamal Mazouni (percussion), Brice Berrerd (double bass) Odradek ODRCD700
“Algeria is known for its rai, which was a world music phenomenon in the 1980s.
Even so, Algerians, Moroccans and Egyptians refer to their own ‘popular music’ as chaâbi.
Koum Tara is an ambitious and eclectic international project by one of France’s leading jazz composers, Karim Maurice (piano, keyboards, arrangements and artistic direction). It celebrates Algerian chaâbi by combining the string quartet La Camerata with jazz improvisation, and the band’s instruments, reworking the original repertoire of Algerian singer and mandola player Sid Ahmed Belksier. Maurice’s sophisticated but accessible arrangements draw on influences as diverse as Bach, Bartók, Stravinsky, Herbie Hancock, Pink Floyd, electronica and Jobim. This music is rich in rhythm, thanks to the hand claps and percussion of Kamal Mazouni and double bass of Brice Berrerd. The string players contribute a dramatic ambience throughout, nowhere more evident than on the epic ‘Tloumouni’. Even if you don’t understand Arabic, Belksier’s vocals constantly maintain a palpable sense of narrative. *****
“… a dazzling confluence of sound… The currents that feed Koum Tara manage to retain their identities and also merge into something never heard before.”
World Listening Post - Atigay - July 2018
“Like most urban settlements, Lyon began with people and currents from other places—Roman refugees camped at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers. For two millennia the rivers have framed the city’s heart and in recent years La Confluence, France’s largest urban renewal project, has transformed the area near the original encampment into a vibrant residential, business and cultural hub. Now Lyon is home to another kind of convergence, a dazzling confluence of sound. Koum Tara—the name of album, title track and performing group—fuses traditional Algerian chaâbi, classical strings, jazz and just enough electronica to convey that this merging is of today. Conceived by virtuoso pianist-composer-arranger Karim Maurice, it is built around the repertoire and the warm, textured Arabic voice of Algerian-born chaâbi singer Sid Ahmed Belksier and elevated by members of La Camerata, a string ensemble under the artistic direction of violinist Gaël Rassaert. With streams from all directions, the album’s nine tracks reflect universal experience—love, beauty, loss, error. Ya Taleb (O Patron Saint) focuses ostensibly on a flyaway bird, though it sounds suspiciously like a lover: “I will always forgive him, despite his wanderings” (video 1). The narrator of Alik Belana (Let Your Mind Be at Peace) assures an absent beloved that he won’t pursue her (video 2); while in Ya Kalek Lechia (Creator of All Things) a repentant sinner pleads for forgiveness (video 3). The centerpiece—Koum Tara (Stand and Behold Beauty), a reworking of a popular Algerian folk song—counsels the need to appreciate wonders because the world is also harsh (video 4). Converging rivers typically paint stripes of different hues when they come together, before blending into a unified color. The currents that feed Koum Tara manage to retain their identities and also merge into something never heard before. Not unlike civilization.”
“In common with the most treasured recordings in one’s record collection, Koum Tara’s sound is at the same time superlatively modern and convincingly primitive… Piano like unexpected, refreshing summer rain. Driving percussion. Intense strings. Vocals guiding one through the human heart…”
World Music Central - Arthur Shuay - July 2018
Koum Tara’s Sound Recipe Spanning Millennia
Jazz legend tells us that while the U. S. 369th Infantry Regiment (AKA Harlem Hellfighters) was temporarily integrated into the French 16th Division during the First World War, musicians from Harlem and from North African French colonial possessions bonded, sharing not only performance ideas, but homemade instruments and instrumental techniques, and that what we call “jazz” today came from that specific merging of cultures.
Music aficionados surmise that a listening background in American jazz and blues, marked by slurred and individualistic improvisational phrasing, is a good start for falling in love with World Music, in which the primary vocabulary, for the listener, must be that of music rather than that of any one spoken tongue. Combine the legend and the surmise, and what results is the basis for Koum Tara.
Led by composer/pianist Karim Maurice, this group weaves Châabi, classic string quartet and jazz to create a cerebral music at once lighthearted and capable of exploring sophisticated depth. New release “Chaâbi, Jazz and Strings” does what is supposed to be done with a jazz project; it utilizes a group of respectful, introspective players to examine songs, take them apart and put them back together in just a few, not-long-enough minutes. In common with the most treasured recordings in one’s record collection, Koum Tara’s sound is at the same time superlatively modern and convincingly primitive.
Four musicians, nine songs. To give some idea of thematic range with words, some sample lyric lines, translated into English, include:
“Don’t ever imagine seeing my shadow again”
“My wait is limitless / Like an orphan seeking happiness”
“In this garden, next to a river / The sun is about to fade into dusk”
“An internal ember burns me from inside”
“Accustomed to travel, he always returns to his nest / His plumage soft as silk”
“Be more tender and accept being mine / Beautiful creature, O dove of the city”
“No one can blame me for holding on to my first love”
Is it a record or a rubaiyat? Please access it and decide for yourself. Piano like unexpected, refreshing summer rain. Driving percussion. Intense strings. Vocals guiding one through the human heart, from delight to despond. A sound recipe spanning millennia.
“… ‘Koum Tara’ is an absolute gem of an album and an absolute must for those who still have to discover Algerian chaabi!”
Rebel Base - July 2018
“Koum Tara is a project around the French composer, arranger and pianist Karim Maurice in which chaabi ("popular" in Arabic and thus the Algerian equivalent of our pop music), classical strings (four members of twenty-piece La Camerata, a Lyon based string orchestra led by violinist Gaël Rassaert) and jazz find each other effortlessly. The musical backbone of the project is the repertoire of Algerian chaabi singer Sid Ahmed Belksier, who in turn drew inspiration from renowned chaabi artists like El Hadj M'hamed El Anka ('Mazel Khatmi'), Hassen Said and Amar Ezzahi. The band got its name from the Algerian folk song of the same name, which was completely reworked for the album and can be translated as: "Get up and admire!". At times (opener 'Alik Belana', title track 'Koum Tara' and especially 'Ya Kelek Lechia' and 'Ya Taleb') Karim Maurice's piano playing reminded yours truly of the work of Algerian jazz and raï pianist Maurice El Médiouni. Asked to describe the project, Maurice answered: "My purpose was to do something really sophisticated, but keep it accessible. There are many influences, Bach, Stravinsky, Bartok, Herbie Hancock, Björk, Pink Floyd, Jobim and many others. The purpose was in fact to use the different identities of the band, in what they used to do, but on something they haven't done before! At a time when humanity, respect for cultures and tolerance appear to be necessary values in order to establish a better world, Koum Tara offers a musical universally where everybody can contribute to build his identity, his cultural heritage and his originality to share his love of singing the universal language of the world: music!". The proof is in the pudding, as 'Koum Tara' is an absolute gem of an album and an absolute must for those who still have to discover Algerian chaabi!”
“… this is a worthy fusion of styles that works precisely because there is an understanding of and empathy with each of the respective cultures, and these blend together extremely well. Odradek, incidentally, is a US independent world roots label, and if this offering is anything to go by, then it would be well worth looking out for future releases.”
UK Vibe - Tim Stenhouse - July 2018
“Algerian chaâbi music simply refers to the popular music of the Maghreb and Machrek (North Africa plus Egypt, which share common musical roots), and it can be either rural or urban in character. This is very much a fusion of that genre with European classical strings, contemporary music and jazz improvisations. The leader of the group is Karim Maurice and the music was recorded in France, inspired by a chance encounter between musical director Amar Soulani and Maurice, who is best known as a jazz composer. A project was thus conceived to interpret the repertoire of the traditional songwriting talents of Sid Ahmed Belksier, with the support of a Lyon based string quartet, La Camerata. In North African musical culture, as with much of the Arabic and indeed even Persian (i.e. in Farsi) world, music and poetry tend to combine, with melodic love songs. Here, the world roots fusion encompasses three languages, Arabic, French and Spanish and composer Sid Ahmed is also the singer. typical of the album as a whole, ‘Alik Belana (‘Tale of lost love’) is a meditative, yet still uplifting number, with a Latin piano vamp (Latin music is very popular in the Maghreb. No less than Eddie Palmieri once toured there and Sephardic North African music sometimes combines elements of Latin piano). On the intro to, ‘Interlude’, there is a fine oud (quintessential North African percussion instrument, not dissimilar in function to the tabla in Indian classical, but with a distinctive sound nonetheless) solo, while, ‘Ya ladra’, is an impassioned plea to the parents of woman to ask for her hand in marriage. The subject matters revolves around matters of the heart and the accompanying music has a strong romantic and lyrical feel to it.
Beautifully packaged with a lavish inner sleeve, full lyrics and detailed discographical notes in Arabic, English and French, this is a worthy fusion of styles that works precisely because there is an understanding of and empathy with each of the respective cultures, and these blend together extremely well. Odradek, incidentally, is a US independent world roots label, and if this offering is anything to go by, then it would be well worth looking out for future releases.”
“… stunningly beautiful chaabi jazz crossover album… all of these styles form a perfect musical puzzle, a wonderful metaphor for unity…”
Matti Poels - June 2018
“The French (jazz) pianist Karim Maurice and the Algerian singer Sid Ahmed Belksier, percussionist Kamal Mazouni, bassist Brice Berrerd and the La Camerata string quartet, led by violinist Gaël Rassaert, recorded the stunningly beautiful chaabi jazz crossover album ‘Koum Tara’.
The jazz-pianist and composer Karim Maurice (photo) was invited to organize two concerts with musicians from various disciplines for France’s City of Music La Cordonnerie. So he formed the group ’Koum Tara’ and wrote and arranged music in the style of modern chaâbi, like the music of Hassen Said, Amar Ezzahi and El Anka who mix traditional music with pop and rock. On ‘Koum Tara’ Karim Maurice even developed this traditional Algerian chaâbi, alongside with pop and rock, also with jazz, Latin American music complemented by a contemporary classical approach represented by the wonderful string quartet La Camerata.
Rarely heard such a great colorful and musical anthology where melody, arrangement and performance practice interlocked so organically; also by the use of modern Western classical harmonies, rhythms and structures. This music offers a brilliant new perspective to the chaâbi, a style that became very popular in Algeria in the seventies. On ‘Koum Tara’ the chaâbi is represented by singer Sid Ahmed Belksier. With his marvelous voice, related to the French chanson, he accompanies himself on the mandole (kind of long-necked mandolin). Many unanimous (unison) melodies, a style characteristic from Arabic music, are complemented and supported effortlessly. In addition to his vocals, there is the smooth piano work of initiator Karim Maurice with percussion of Kamal Mazouni supplemented with bassist Brice Berrerd and the string quartet La Camerata. ‘Koum Tara’ is a band where every musical style preserves its dignity and remains recognizable. Integrally, all of these styles form a perfect musical puzzle, a wonderful metaphor for unity in this world that once again turns out to be as beautiful as possible within music.”
“I’ve been loving every note of a wonderful new jazz/Algerian chaâbi fusion album called Koum Tara…”
Rhythm Planet - Tom Schnabel - June 2018
“I’ve been loving every note of a wonderful new jazz/Algerian chaâbi fusion album called Koum Tara: Chaâbi, Jazz and Strings. I featured a track from it on last week’s show, but wanted to share more about it and the style of music. Broadly speaking, chaâbi (pronounced “shahby”) is a form of popular music in North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt) that emerged in the first half of the 20th century. The word chaâbi refers to its folk origins, meaning “of the people” or “popular,” and it’s a celebratory music often played at weddings and festivals.
I’m most familiar with Algerian chaâbii, which is associated with the cities of Algiers and Oran. My Algerian friend Redha tells me that the sound of Algerian chaâbi also incorporates elements of Andalusian classical music, which goes back much further to the 9th century. The father of Algerian chaâbi, El Hadj M’Hamed El Anka (1907-1978), was considered a master of both chaâbi and Andalusian classical music.
A chaâbi group includes a singer with an orchestra comprised of piano, violins, mandolins, drums, and other instruments. Chaâbi gained popularity before Algeria’s war of independence from France, with musicians like singers Line Monty, Lili Labassi, and Lili Boniche, pianist Maurice el Mediouni, composer El Hadj M’Hamed El Anka, and singer Dahmane El Harrachi, who penned the anthem of emigration and homecoming, “Ya Rayah.””
“An uncommon, wonderful North African blend that manages to be ancient and modern, simple and complex, exotic and familiar all at the same time.”
Songlines - April 2018
“An uncommon, wonderful North African blend that manages to be ancient and modern, simple and complex, exotic and familiar all at the same time.”
“This world fusion encompasses four musical worlds and sings the language of universal love.”
Nexus Magazine - Richard Giles - October 2018
“An album of Algerian chaâbi music coming from the popular music of the Maghreb and Machrek (North Africa). Karim Maurice, Sid Ahmed Belksier, Kamal Mazouin and Brice Berrerd together create a fusion with European classical strings, contemporary and jazz improvisations by collaborating with French string quartet, La Camerata, led by Gael Rassaert. African culture, music and poetry tend to combine through melodious love songs. This world fusion encompasses four musical worlds and sings the language of universal love.”