Boomkat Product Review:
What do you get if you take Damon Albarn, Basic Channel's Moritz Von Oswald and a selection of veteran Jewish and Muslim Algerian musicians? Well that's a question you just wouldn't expect to be answered but somehow Honest Jons have done exactly that. Before embarking on this musical journey it's probably important to know some background information - Abdel Hadi Halo & The El Gusto Orchestra Of Algiers is a 'chaabi' record, a style rooted in Moorish Andalusian music but which quickly changed as it migrated with Muslim and Jewish exiles in Northern Africa. The music took on elements of blues, jazz, chanson, tango and boogie-woogie and developed into something truly original blending the usually un-associated loves of both the Jewish and Muslim communities which at that time lived together peacefully in Algiers. When the state came under Muslim rule in the 1960s most of the Jewish community fled to France fearing for their lives, but the influence on the music remained and this incredible disc is certainly proof of that. In fact, like the hugely successful Buena Vista Social Club project which set the world alight a few years ago this is the first time these musicians have played together since that time, and of course being such a monumental occasion a documentary film was also pieced together to show the event. I haven't seen the film sadly but the music really does speak for itself, documenting both an incredible, energetic event and also a style of music rarely heard outside of North Africa. Certainly we get treated to snippets by those lovely guys over at Sublime Frequencies but rarely do we have a project presented on this scale with this kind of attention to detail. Honest Jons sent out a recording team headed up by Damon Albarn to make sure the utmost care was taken in the recording of the material and subsequently the takes (without overdubs!) were mixed down and mastered by the great Moritz Von Oswald (Basic Channel, Maurizio) so the sound is absolutely flawless throughout. Flawless, but there is no gloss - this still sounds live, spontaneous and with all the energy and passion that the lyrics suggest as the musicians sing about God or, in contrast, pretty girls. The players use unusual Algerian instruments such as the gambar (a stringed tortoiseshell), the bendir and derbouka (percussion) and quanoun (zither) along with mandolin, oud, piano, flute and banjo to create an impassioned masterclass, akin to many of the shockingly good records we've heard coming from the Numero Group recently. This is soulful, devotional and with the kind of conviction you rarely hear in modern pop and backed with a story almost as good as the record itself, how can you possibly resist? Highly Recommended.