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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Cheb i Sabbah is a San Francisco-based deejay and producer who was born in Constantine, Algeria. He has his fourth CD out now. It's called "La Kahena," and it takes him back to north Africa. Here's producer Derek Rath with more.

(Soundbite of music)

DEREK RATH reporting:

The music of the Maghreb is intoxicating. An unsuspecting Brian Jones, founding member of the Rolling Stones, was introduced to the music in Morocco in the early '60s, and the churning rhythms and chants caused him to hallucinate, a not uncommon experience as the music has definite transcendental intent.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: Algerian born Cheb i Sabbah returned to the area to make "La Kahena," an album that explores the links between the music and the historical influences on the Maghreb over many hundreds of years. He tells a tale of mysticism and magic, matriarchs and marauders.

CHEB I SABBAH (Deejay): The intent was really to gather, you know, as it says in French on the album, (French spoken), so the voices of the Maghreb and, you know, trying to make the connection with all the different, you know, people and cultural mixing of, you know, the Tuaregs, the Berbers, the Jews, the Arabs and bringing back into the West and adding this somewhat modern element.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: The Maghreb covers an area between Mauritania to the west and Libya to the east, with Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria in between. And here lies a complex and fascinating story of how centuries of war and trade created a society rich in cultural diversity and a population of myriad ethnicities and faiths. Cheb i Sabbah knows the story well.

CHEB I SABBAH: You have the Berber people, which are the original inhabitants of the Maghreb. Then you have monotheism coming in with Jews as refugees; a few more invasions, and then the last one being the, you know, Arab Muslim basically Arabization of the Maghreb.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: The Vandals, the Greeks and the Turks also left their mark, and trade routes coming up from sub-Saharan Africa had a major part in formulating the sound of the region.

CHEB I SABBAH: There is a saying, you know, in north Africa that Algeria has the melody and Morocco has the rhythm.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: The legend of La Kahena, which provides the title for Cheb i Sabbah's album, lies at the heart of these cultural unions and conflicts. La Kahena was a 7th-century warrior queen of the Berbers and led a huge army that repelled a Muslim invasion.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: Sensing a second Muslim attack, La Kahena ordered the destruction of her homeland's cities and orchards to diminish the land's valley to the Muslims. The move backfired, and she lost the support of many of her people. Legend has it that she was captured and beheaded by the Arabs and that her sons later embraced Islam, paving the way for the Muslim presence in the region today.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: La Kahena herself is reputed to be of Jewish descent. The mixture of faiths, as well as the subtle interplay of accommodation and resistance, makes La Kahena's story relevant today, particularly for the region's women.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

CHEB I SABBAH: I chose La Kahena as a, you know, symbolic, I think, posture in history of woman and woman, because a conception also is that women in the Arab world are less than wherever else.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: The album was recorded mostly in a home studio, deep in the medina of Marrakesh, Morocco. Nearly all the vocals are sung by women. One featured group, B'net Marrakech, is famous for preserving past disappearing traditions and began singing long before it was socially acceptable.

CHEB I SABBAH: Traditionally, you know, within Arab and Muslim culture, the woman that sings is not someone you would want to marry because it's--you know, it's like, no, you don't want your wife to be, you know, performing and singing and all that traditionally, our world that is changing.

RATH: Singer Khadija Othmani represents another musical element of the Maghreb on this album: the sub-Saharan tinde traditions, as heard on "Alkher Illa Doffor," which means peace is found behind wounds.

(Soundbite of "Alkher Illa Doffor")

Ms. KHADIJA OTHMANI: (Singing in foreign language)

Backup Singers: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. OTHMANI: (Singing in foreign language)

Backup Singers: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. OTHMANI: (Singing in foreign language)

Backup Singers: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. OTHMANI: (Singing in foreign language)

Backup Singers: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. OTHMANI: (Singing in foreign language)

Backup Singers: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: Coming from the East, Michal Cohen sings a Yemenite song titled "Im Ninalou," or "If the Door Is Locked," made famous by the late Israeli singer Ofra Haza and, like all the tracks, is augmented by Cheb i Sabbah's magic hand in the studio.

(Soundbite of "In Ninalou")

Ms. MICHAL COHEN: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: In the Maghreb, hundreds of years of warfare have failed to unite and reconcile a population that sometimes sees itself as occupied. Cheb i Sabbah hopes that music can do the trick instead.

CHEB I SABBAH: By now, I feel everybody had the chance to invade or be invaded, so I might as well do something different that is not invade or be invaded. There's got to be something else.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

RATH: For NPR News, this is Derek Rath in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

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