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Orchestre National de Barbès

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The Orchestre National be Barbes celebrate not only their Algerian heritage -- for many, it's their homeland -- but the "little Algeria" that is the area of Paris known as Barbès, their home and cultural milieu. The origins of the group date back to 1985, when bassist Youcef Boukalla, then living in Algeria, recorded a cassette with his band, T34. The tape found its way to Paris, and became an underground hit with the Algerian community, lauded by musicians like Takfarinas and Cheb Mami. Boukalla followed his success to the French capital, where he made four albums of rai and rock with singer Larbi Dida, before recording the solo disc Salam in 1994. Meanwhile Fateh Benlala left Algeria to escape the violence, ending up in Paris, as did Moroccan Sufi percussionist Aziz Sahmouni. In Paris all the aforementioned met up, and added another percussionist, Kamel Tenfiche, and so the nucleus of Orchestre National de Barbes was born. More musicians were added, both French and North African, and the band rehearsed endlessly, making their special mix of Maghrebi groove and Franco-funk, then began playing festivals around the country. A live recording of the group at the Agory Theater in Paris made up their debut album, En Concert, which put them firmly on the world music map, and led to more dates around the globe, including a brief U.S. tour in the summer of 1998. That was followed in 1999 with a new disc, Poulina, since which nothing new has been heard from the band, although the pair of albums were issued as a two-fer in France in 2000. ~ Chris Nickson

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