Chaâbi was commissioned by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The work is named after a particular type of Algerian traditional music. This is the second piece I have written exploring Algerian popular music forms; the first was Raï (2006), commissioned by the Britten Sinfonia.
Like many other musical genres in North Africa, chaâbi was originally influenced by the music of Al-Andalus (the medieval Muslim state in parts of what are today Spain, Portugal, and France, which existed between the eighth and fifteenth centuries). Chaâbi developed its unique sound in the multi-cultural musical groups that were prevalent in the Casbah of Algiers in the first half of the twentieth century. In particular it is a music born of the dialogue between Jewish and Muslim instrumentalists, composers and singers from that period.
This work is not an ethnographical study and doesn’t pretend to be authentic. Chaâbi is a meditation on the music of a bygone era where often a single instrumentalist (frequently an oud or mandolin) would beckon the remainder of the performing group to follow. This idea of dialogue between soloist and ensemble is played out in this piece in various permutations across the whole orchestra. Like the music from which my work takes its title, these shifting textures occasionally lock together into passages of sustained rhythmic intensity.
© Tarik O’Regan
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