Cheb i Sabbah's 'Devotion' to Organic Electronica The Algerian club DJ is best known for melding traditional ethnic sounds with electronica. But on his new album, his mix of highbrow Indian spirituality and dance-floor ambition stands apart from the growing morass of globalized techno wizardry.


Music Reviews

Cheb i Sabbah's 'Devotion' to Organic Electronica

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In the 1960s Cheb i Sabbah moved from his native Algeria to Paris, where he became a successful club DJ. These days, Sabbah is better known for producing albums that blend traditional ethnic sounds with electronica. His seventh release titled, "Devotion," is just out, and it draws on religious music from the Indian subcontinent.

Banning Eyre has this review.

Mr. BANNING EYRE (Senior Editor, Club-friendly remixes of world music are a dime a dozen these days. At their worst, they can reduce any cultural expression to a rubble of beats and bleeps. So it's important to understand from the start that Cheb i Sabbah is not remixing or sampling anything. For all their high-tech sheen, the eight tracks on "Devotion" are organic recordings, made with the full cooperation of flesh-and-blood musicians, including here some of the most respected devotional singers in contemporary India.

(Soundbite of music "Morey Pya Bassey")

Ms. SHUBHA MUDGAL (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. EYRE: That liquid-gold voice belongs to Shubha Mudgal, an iconic singer of Indian classical music. She's interpreting a bhajan, a vocal piece from Hindu ritual. Cheb i Sabbah has found that high-culture figures like Mudgal actually yearn to reach out to popular audiences. But they worry about having their art cheapened by Bollywood commercialism, or worse. Working with Sabbah, they can embrace modernity, but keep their dignity intact.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EYRE: On "Devotion," Sabbah also works with younger artists, more accustomed to genre-bending, like Punjabi vocalist Master Saleem. Together, they rework a moody, Sufi classic by Pakistan's most famous singer, the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EYRE: The music on "Devotion" seeks to universalize expressions of Hindu, Sufi and Sikh spirituality. Sabbah never resorts to slamming disco beats or tacky club music gimmicks, and yet he is trying to bridge the ecstasy of Eastern religious practice with the ecstasy of a rave. Bringing highbrow spirituality to the dance floor is just the sort of ambition that sets Sabbah's work apart from the growing morass of globalized techno wizardry.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Banning Eyre is senior editor at He reviewed "Devotion" by Cheb I Sabbah.

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