IScent CD with original saffron (Safran) flavour on disk.
First solo album project of former lead-singer of Dissidenten: Moroccan music with Gnawa roots and contemporary pop arrangements
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El Houssaine Kili - Safran
It is a dye, a scent, a spice, a medicine and in quantities more than 10 grams it can be used as a hallucinogenic drug: the saffron spice of the Moroccan Berbers in the southern Atlas mountains. And because of its high quality it enjoys international renown. In the music of Morocco colours take the place of musical scales and compositions. They come to being in the midst of the aromas that billow out of north African kitchens and are then played to rituals, where spirits and demons replace conventional medicine and traditional age-old, natural remedies and inebriates are put to therapeutic use. The costly and precious saffron finds its way predominantly into the kitchens of Europe, with which the flavours of not only Iberian culinary dishes are enhanced, but those of other recipes from around the world as well. Saffron etaphorically symbolises the country of origin, exquisiteness and the journey route of the Moroccan artist El Houssaine Kili.
Timbuktu - Marrakech
400 years ago the soldiers in the service the Moroccan king Ahmed al-Man-sur reached the city of Timbuktu in the southern Sahara, who then conquered and subjugated the indigenous black population. While the European colonial powers were shipping thousands upon thousands of African slaves from west Africa to South America and the Caribbean, the Arabs were contemporaneously driving their captive slaves in long caravan-convoys through the desert to Morocco. The actual destination was Marrakech, where slaves from Guinea and Mali were traditionally sold off. With them they brought their rituals and customs, their religions and their knowledge - an age old heritage that, in the course of the later ethnic intermingling with the native Arabs and Berbers, developed into a new exuberant culture that still lives on amongst present day Moroccan groups like the Brotherhood of the Gnawas. The Gnawas are healers and musicians who originally stem from the black African slaves, and with their ceremonies and healing rituals, performed generally in secluded locations, have left an indelible imprint on the modern-day Moroccan cultural scene.
On the Jamaa el Fna square in Marrakech, where once the caravans from Mali, Mauritania and other lands south of the Sahara came in, the Gnawas gather together several times a year to give spectacular acrobatic musical displays throughout the entire day. In the title 'Sbab' (7) this place can be heard with the clamour of voices which is brought about principally by the flute players, traders and story tellers with their rap-music like speech song. The actual ceremonies of the Gnawas take place at night when the people start to come to the Gnawas, pleading to be healed or simply seeking their advice. The whole ceremony has actually little to do with the healing of physical ailments, but more with the freeing from spirits and demons. Some people say that even the effects of a scorpion sting can be healed. During the night (Lila) the Gnawas and the respective visitors gather together to enact a ritual whose course of events is determined solely by the Gnawas. They play, the visitors dance. Depending on the type and extent of spiritual possession or sickness that the visitors are afflicted by, the Gnawas select the music associated with a particular colour system. For one person they may play the colour black, for another the colour red. Every colour is assigned a particular rhythm, a distinct wording and musical sequence. The hypnotising character of the music induces the dancing guests to fall into a trance-like state which then allows the spirits to take possession of them. In this manner the visitors come into contact with the incarnated spirits and demons and make their requests, seeking to be healed. Such ceremonies are part of Moroccan everyday life. In respect to sequential order, musical content and many other details they appear much akin to many Afro-American syncretic cults like Candomble, Santeria or Voodoo - The main distinguishing aspect of Gnawa is the fact that it has been influenced largely by Muslim elements and not Christian. In 'Safina' (6) El Houssaine Kili depicts the annual 'Moussem', the pilgrimage of the Gnawas to the burial place of the lord protector of the Gnawas, Moulay Brahim. There, in the "House of Trust", as this tomb in southern Morocco is referred to in the native language, the Gnawa priests collectively use the few days of their stay to rejuvenate the strength necessary to bring about healing in other people.
The colour system of the Gnawas is once again recognisable in the music of El Houssaine Kili. It is on this basic "Sidi Mimmoun" rhythm, associated with the colour black, that the musical composition "Beni Adam" (9) has been constructed. Kili has linked traditional Gnawa-rhythms with new wordings and modern arrangements, both in this and many of the other works recorded on his CD. "Baniya" (12) is a traditional Gnawa piece: Sidi Hammou, the colour red, which Kili sings accompanied by the sound of the Guimbri. The Guimbri is the main instrument of the Gnawas and forms a central part of Kili's musical work. Similar to the long neck lutes from Mali and Guinea, an animal fur is stretched over its wooden body and is played with gut strings, so that in effect the Guimbri is both a rhythm and melody instrument. The hypnotic sounds of the Guimbri mingle in the Gnawa rituals with the entrancing rhythms of the Qaraqeb, metal castanets, reminiscent of their decorative wooden cousins used by the Spaniards. The Moors and Jews driven out of Andalusia have brought, since the sixteenth century, the already 700 year old Arab influenced musical tradition of the Iberian peninsula back to Morocco, where today a part of the population still speaks Spanish. In the recording "Andalusia" (5), to cite an instance, Kili combines an Arab song from the nineteenth century with Andalusian melodies. The roots of Kili's music can be traced to the drum rhythms of the black African tribes and to the Arabesque melodies of Andalusia, stretching from Timbuktu to Granada culminating in the Saffron region Agadir in southern Morocco where El Houssaine Kili grew up.
Kili grew up in a Berber family of 11 with Arab folk music, Berber songs and American Pop songs, which he became familiar with over the radio. As a bass guitarist Kili played with his first band "The Southern Band" a multitude of Pop-song cover-versions that found their way over from the USA. The American Pop scene of the late 60's and early 70's was for Kili something both exotic and strange, but based after all to a large extent on musical roots of African origin. Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix were just as much his musical idols as the Gnawas were.Touring through Morocco the "Southern Band" played their Pop cover-versions in Hotels and at festivals with a musical melange comprised chiefly of Moroccan musical ingredients. After he had tried out different trades such as welder, carpenter and footballer in the beginning just to make ends meet, Kili gradually managed to make a living as a musician. His parents were, however, of a different opinion. When he was 17 his mother smashed his Spanish guitar to pieces, as music in her eyes was no respectable trade: "Musicians, those are people who sit around the streets playing for money, that is no art, that is misery."
Besides playing for the "Southern Band" there was also "Tam Tam", another band with whom Kili played traditional Moroccan folk music and in particular the music of the Gnawas. Kili worked with both bands during the seventies and early eighties. The "Southern Band" had to be constantly supplied with new musical works and sometimes El Houssaine Kili only had one song-book containing notes that he could not read. It was for this reason then that Kili acquired for himself, at the Musical Conservatory in Agadir, the musical qualifications that was to support him in his later professional music career. There he also had the opportunity to play with American Jazz greats like Randy Winston. Morocco was in those days for many musicians, especially from North America, an important destination. Already in the late sixties people like Jimi Hendrix and James Brown came to the little hippie hang-out of Diabet on the Atlantic coast, near the city of Essaouira. Even artists like Pharoa Sanders, Peter Gabriel and Bill Laswell have played during the past years with musicians of the Gnawa-tradition.
Agadir - Kassel
In 1977 a very coincidental, but nevertheless momentous, encounter between two men took place in one of the streets of Agadir. A German Hippie and musician named Christian bumped into a Moroccan called Houssaine with a guitar case and asked him "Etes-vous musicien? - Are you a musician?" The Moroccan said "Oui! - Yes!", and then the two started talking. The German coaxed the Moroccan into coming with him to his hippie-bus and his friends. The bus was full of musical instruments. For two months the young Moroccan El Houssaine Kili and two of his friends travelled with the German freak Christian Burchard of the Jazz-Rock band Embryo throughout Morocco. That involved two months of endless jam- sessions, beach concerts and a sweet hippie life, of the sort that was only possible back in the seventies. On many occasions Kili ended up in police custody, as the bus that they travelled in generally aroused the suspicion of the authorities.
Three years later, 1980, Embryo, sponsored by the Goethe Institute, came back to Morocco. Kili's band "Tam Tam" and Embryo went together on tour throughout orocco. The Embryo musicians learned a lot from the north Africans and Kili gained his first insight into the international music scene. Up to 1984 Kili worked on in Morocco as a musician until one day he received a letter from the "Dissidenten" (dissidents), Friedo Josch and Uwe Müllrich. Both of them had left Embryo and founded the band "Embryo Dissidenten", later to be called simply the "Dissidenten". They wanted to have him as a band member for live appearances, whereby they organised his trip to Germany and took care of the formalities involved in obtaining his residence permit.
He came to Germany, where the "Dissidenten" Josch, Müllrich and Klein gave him their recently released record "Sahara Elektrik", which they recorded during their travels in Morocco with the famous band Lem Chaheb. In the music of Lem Chaheb Arab, African and western influences intermingle with elements of Berber and Gnawa music. It is here that the Guimbri plays a central role. Kili, together with Hamid Baroudi from Algeria became a singer for the "Dissidenten". It was in this way that an exciting mixture of Jazz, Pop and ethnic elements from North Africa and Asia evolved, bringing to the "Dissidenten" group world wide acclaim in the year thereafter. Kili went with the band on tour, where they played in the USA and Europe. After having worked on the release of three "Dissidenten" LP's, as musician, composer, writer, singer and arranger (Life at the Pyramids, Out of this World, Dissidenten live in New York), Kili left the group in 1988 and started working on a solo project. In the following years Kili played with musicians like Don Cherry and again with Embryo, With them he worked on two more LP's, "Turn Peace" and "Jazz Bühne Berlin". Together with the Embryo member, Roland Schäfer, Kili still appeared in many concerts.
It could be said that Kili lives with one leg in Morocco and one in Germany. Morocco is for him his homeland and the place where he can find musical inspiration. Germany is the place where he can transpose his work, and it is here that Kili finds a cosmopolitan public that is fully enthused with his musical harmonisation of Orient and Occident. In Morocco too, there is a large public eager to hear his music, which needless to say, is not regarded as world music. There, it is simply called Pop music. The presently available first solo album of Kili's is the result of a long development that reaches back to his beginnings as a bass-guitarist in Morocco, over the formative and intensive experiences with Embryo and later with the Dissidenten, leading then up to the years as an independent musician in Germany. Old acquaintances like Roland Schaeffer from Embryo and Hamid Baroudi have also had a hand in the production work. For El Houssaine Kili this album represents a beginning, not a final conclusion. Rather, it can be seen as a matured, musical distillate of the 20 years of personal experience between Morocco and Germany.
"Neat Production, and the suitably saffron yellow inlay is scented to boot" FolkRoots