Algerian born Cheb i Sabbah is more of an alchemist than a DJ. For more than three decades, he has been mixing and matching a pan-ethnic mélange of international music with beats and organic-sounding electronics, putting him far ahead of the curve on global dance music. An infinitely subtle and tasteful mixmaster, Cheb i Sabbah essentially disappears into what ever track he is mixing, working a nearly invisible magic that puts content over personality.
La Kahena is his fifth CD for Six Degrees Records, and it returns him squarely to his North African roots. Working with a shifting group of mainly female vocalists from Algeria and Morocco, and a large pool of musicians (including Karsh Kale and Bill Laswell), Cheb i Sabbah spins mesmerizing, hypnotic grooves that tap an ancient well of devotional music. Featuring passages sung entirely in native desert tongues and played largely on traditional instruments, these tracks come back to Cheb i Sabbah's electronics and beats, which frame the songs with a transparent, easy fit. Whether Sufi, Berber or Andalusian in origin, the eight songs on La Kahena (named after a seventh-century North African rebel leader) are all trance music of spiritual communion and transformation. They also, intentionally or not, speak to a cross-cultural bridge between Eastern and Western cultures that is a real positive in these times of mutual distrust and hostility.
If the leaders and warriors of our hemispheres could communicate to each other as well as the cultural ambassadors do, perhaps we could find a way to lessen the global tension. A revolution with a beat? Why not?