Afropop Worldwide’s program Berber Rising II has been in the works for a few years. It includes interviews Banning Eyre conducted with Takfarinas and Idir (of Algeria) and Najat Aatabou and Malika Zarra (of Morocco). Here are excerpts from these interviews.
MALIKA ZARRA: Interviewed in New York City in April, 2011
I’m Malika Zarra. I’m a singer born in Morocco and I grew up in France. My music is really rooted in traditional Moroccan music, because I listened to a lot of this at home.… Growing up in France, I was surrounded by Western music. And then I started being interested in jazz. Now my music is a mix of all this.
I was born in Ouled Teima, a little village between Agadir and Taroudant. It is another dimension from Agadir, very removed from any kind of urban life. It is in the south, but not yet the desert. There are still sand roads. The sand has come up and up. I remember as kids playing in little streams from the Suss river. Today there is no more water at all. Just cactus everywhere.
I left Morocco, early, at 4 years old. But my parents were part of this generation of people who were always thinking to go back home. Life in France at that time was really tough. In the 70s and 80s. My father left Morocco first. He was already working in France. It was really, really hard. They never felt they would stay with their kids. Some people never brought their kids to Europe because it was too hard. The society made them feel that they were not at home: “This is never going to be your home.” So they spent their lives working in Europe and then back to Morocco. My parents would every summer come back to Morocco and stay 1 or 2 months. So I was able through that to really get connected with Morocco, and this culture.
My grandfather is from Tata, more south and in the Sahara. My grandmother on that side was a white Berber but my grandfather is really dark. It’s funny. He speaks only Arabic. My father wasn’t really comfortable with the Berber language, or Tamazight. He spoke Moroccan dialect. Sometimes he and my mother spoke Berber when they didn’t want kids to know. Now I want to learn. I like this language.
The word “Berber”
Tamazight is the language. And Amazight are the people. Amazight, amazight. That’s the real name. When I am performing I always use both words. Because I know people can be hurt. The world “Berber” came from “barbarian.” We used this term and it stayed. In the Western World, this is how these people are known. But it’s not an offense, and I don’t take it like that. We can use Amazight or Berber. The result is the same.
To be honest, it was only when I came here to the United States, this is when people started, “But you are using the term Berber! Do you know what it means?” And I, well, I never thought about that. I never had a problem. I always heard that in Morocco, in my family, and it was never a problem.
Berber rights in Algeria, as opposed to Morocco
I think it’s about the history. Morocco and Algeria—it’s a completely different history. So I totally understand that the approach [to Berber issues] will be different. It’s really strong, but in Algeria it’s even stronger. I mean it’s only in '62 that the colonization finished, and we still today don’t want to talk about that. So it’s normal that people there are more sensitive and aggressive about that. And at some point we need to talk about that. That’s why sometimes I do talk in my songs, and I am really sensitive to that, because this is also what my history is about and what my family is about.
And I am getting tired of people who don’t want to talk, and say, “Oh that is the past, and you are again going to talk about that.” But we never talk about that. We still talk about the second world war, but Algeria and its just close to our door and we share so many things in terms of culture. There’s a big community of North African people in France in Europe, and we don’t want to talk about it. There’s something wrong. We need to talk about it. I don’t want to talk to just be angry about it, but to make people comfortable. Because there is generation after generation that are born in France and Europe, and to make people be recognized, we need to acknowledge that this thing happened.
[Even in Morocco,] for a long time the Berber language wasn’t taught in schools until really recently. It’s incredible because Morocco is the biggest Berber community today. …. Who is not Berber in Morocco? Some people in Fes maybe. [LAUGHS] I love people from Fes. Fes is great. But it’s just a fact. Yeah it took a really long time. People fought for many, many years to make sure that this language this culture comes back. Now there is a radio station in the south, Berber Radio, with only Berber music. So it is definitely taking place. We start talking about these Berber musicians, and little by little things start moving.
From Berber music to jazz
At home, my mother was listening to a lot of Berber music. And my mother, she is a really happy person. Lots of energy. So the morning, she would put the music super loud to make us wake up. And at that time there were only tapes and really, really badly recorded. Plus, you known, there is a lot of Berber music where you have this woman with a super high pitch. I was like, “Turn off this music! I can’t take it.”
It’s really funny, because I grew up in France listening to all this Berber and shaabi, and Middle Eastern music. But I wasn’t really paying attention to that. I was writing lyrics in Moroccan dialect on my jazz songs. I started timidly bringing in inflections of my musical heritage. Then I came here and met Arnie Lawrence, who started the Jazz Dept at The New School. Arnie is a really free person. He doesn’t want to have any rules. He encouraged me. I was playing in his student ensemble, and he asked me to sing only in Arabic or French. I thought, “Wow, someone from USA wants me to explore more my Moroccan heritage.”
I had not really thought about using all these things when I came here for three months in ‘96. When I came back in 2004, this desire to explore these things became stronger. I realized how much it is an amazing gift to have two cultures. I was still in conflict with myself. In France and even in Morocco, people always tell me, “Ah, you’re not French. Ah, you’re not Moroccan.” But I understood in my gut that I had the strength to embrace the two cultures. My first CD was On The Ebony Road. People really encouraged me. New York is so, so, so inspiring. Really amazing. Everyone encourages you to go forward.
I love France and I love Morocco and I love here, for different reasons. France has its own history. It is more conservative—not only music, any business. If you want to create something new, it’s going to take you a long time. Here I had more chance to just explore my world and share more quickly, to really build confidence.
Women in Moroccan (and Amazight) music
Last April, I went back home and spent more time, at mothers’ place in the mountains. The women are working really hard, waking up super early like 4 or 5 in the morning to tend to the cows, goats, sheep, clean the house, make breakfast, then when the guests eat, start on lunch. Then back to the fields. And these women are so happy, even though they have a tough life in the field, they have a little transistor. But now they don’t have tapes. They have these little USB keys they sell anywhere, in the streets, where you have the hippest music, the latest songs. It’s like two different worlds. The women are still dressed the same and doing the same work, like back in the days and they have this transistor you can jus put the USB card in it, and listen to a lot of Berber music.
There are now a lot of women artists in Morocco. They are starting to come up. I’m really happy about that. Women have been always there, because it’s an oral tradition, and it’s mostly through the mothers that this tradition was passed on. And I feel that we still need to talk a little bit more about these women. Women artists need to take more of a place in this business.
New CD: Berber Taxi
This time, I had more chance to just explore my world and really build more confidence. On The Ebony Road established my idea. But with Berber Taxi, I got to spend more time. The first time, we did everything in 2 days, recording mixing—the jazz way. For this album, we took more time. I was inspired by Berber women’s ensembles, so I used a lot of backing vocals. This one also adds songs in Berber, Tamazight songs. Like the first song “Tamazight.” This is my composition, and it’s about women in general, especially those who are still living in isolated places and have a tough life. The hardest work at home. So this song is saying basically, “You are really working hard, and even if they don’t want to recognize the fact that you are the stronger here, they know that without you they won’t do that much.”
“Berber Taxi” is an old song, and I was never able to find out who wrote it or even the title. So I made up the title. My mother taught me this one. It’s a light song about love. I found it interesting to have a Berber song about love in the CD. Then there is the song “Houaria.” The Houara people are from the south, around Taroudant, where my father is from, where I grew up. They have a specific music. Women sing and play music and men dance. I spent a lot of time in this region. My “milk mother” was there. In Arabic that’s the translation, the woman who gives you her milk. Women share. This lady, my mother gave milk to her son, so it’s like another mother for me. I go to Taroudant. I love this city. It’s like a little Marrakesh, only more authentic. This song is also a tribute to the women from there. I am not a feminist. But I am very aware of the role of women in all this. Now, our industries have understood about this. Factories hire women, because—sorry, guys—they are more reliable, more serious than men. Sorry guys. I love you, but it’s just a fact. Also they can pay them less than men. That’s the sad part. But that’s what is going on today. It’s just a reality.
My song “Amnesia” is about the situation of North African people living in Europe and France. I think there is still a lot of work to do about people knowing history, what happened. People think that they know but they don’t know. If today we still have all this misunderstanding. I can’t take it that some people say to the generation that was born in France from African countries. People say, “You need to integrate.” But what integration are you talking about? They are French. The people who didn’t integrate the history are the French people.
And it makes sense at the same time, because in the schools, in the public schools, we don’t talk much about the colonial period. I’m not angry about that. It’s not to strike and be aggressive. It’s just that things need to be said. What happened. That’s it. And just the fact that you say that, and tension will be released.
NAJAT AATABOU: Interviewed on eve of her Lincoln Center debut in July 2009
Hello, I’m Najat Aatabou a singer from Morocco. I sing popular modern songs mostly focused around the problems of women in Africa. I started out in the village of Khémisset. It is a small village but it is where I am from it is like a larger city. So I’m of Amazight descent, and I went to school in Khémisset and in Rachidi also because my father was a soldier so we moved around a lot. While I was studying at Khémisset, I had the intention of becoming a lawyer, but it seems destiny wanted me to be an artist, and I entered into the artistic world despite my intentions.
B.E.: I’ve read that in the beginning, when you first started to sing, the idea was not very popular with your family?
N.A.: It was very difficult, because I come from a family that is a little bit close-minded; there was not a single girl in my family who sang. It was basically forbidden. But I did not choose to become a singer, singing chose me. That’s the difference. Why? Because like I told you, when I was in school I wanted to be a lawyer, but on the side I always loved to sing. I always sang for my friends and at school. Once a friend invited me to a wedding and I sang, of course, and he recorded me without telling me. I was surprised how it became public. It was hard, very hard. I had a lot of problems with my family. I was obligated to leave my home and that caused me a lot of headaches and huge problems in my family.
B.E.: That first recording circulated on a cassette, right?
N.A.: Yes, it was on a cassette. It was the song “J’en ai Marre.” "I am not happy." I really like to write songs. I wrote pretty good songs for those years. But it was alongside my studies. But it was really about my life; for many years I was very unhappy. I was a young girl who left home who didn’t know where to go or how to live alone. It was very difficult for me. I decided to go to Casablanca. That was in 1981. A very big change! Before that it had been 3 years since I had seen my family that really affected me. I said before that destiny wanted me to become an artist, and so I followed its path.
I think that the connection is the voice that’s there, it’s the voice of the lowest class, you see. A voice that is very strong, you know, and the rhythm also that comes from those styles as well. So it’s that which makes it a mix between the two. And that voice gave me a style, a unique style.
B.E.: I understand that the whole issue of Berber identity is more difficult in Algeria. Why is the situation so different in these two countries?
N.A.: Perhaps in Algeria its more political than folkloric, I want to say. There the songs are a link to the political world, for us its not. The songs, the music of Amazirt , is popular with a lot of other people because, its art, that’s all. We look at it with joy, with everything that is brings with its subject and with its rhythms.
B.E.: There is a taste Andalusian music in some of your songs. Talk about that tradition and the place of that style in the world of music of Morocco.
N.A.: Al-Andalus music is very popular amongst people who are older, not really young people. It’s a bit far from their taste. It’s a type of music that is very powerful. Personally, I like it very much because the way the voice is used, the way it travels from one theme to another, it’s a lot of work. You have to really listen to it; I think that you have to be an artist to listen to it and to like it.
I have a song, “Hekda Rad Allah.” That song was composed, the words and the music were by Mr. Abdel Aziz Taheri. Who has worked a lot with Jil Jilala, and Jil Jilala sang a lot of the Melhun [a popular Moroccan variant on Andalusian music], and he heard a lot of the Melhun. And he said to me, “Najat, you have a voice that could sing all types of music” and so we tried it. And that is what you hear in that song. This type of Melhun, what is really beautiful is the subject. It’s about a girl; she is engaged to a man who came to ask for her hand in marriage. But he is not serious. He came to her parents and asked for her hand, but really he just wanted to take her out but she didn’t want to go with him. So she says, if you want me to go with you, you must come to my parents and ask for my hand. So he came and asked for her hand, but it is all a trick. After she becomes engaged in front of her parents and everything, he takes her out, and after he has what he wanted he never returns.
B.E.: You have a lot of very sad songs! You mentioned in the beginning that it women weren’t really allowed to sing, has that idea changed?
N.A.: Oh yes, it's changed completely. Now, it’s the parents who tell their daughters they should go out and sing. I feel as if I helped open the doors for other girls. It’s not a problem anymore, even in the rural parts of the country.
B.E.: Wow, that must make you very happy.
N.A.: Yes, yes. Very happy, it’s changed so much. … In the song, “Alala Ihdik Allah,” there is a woman who wants to be with my husband. And I ask this woman to leave us alone, and to leave him be because he is my husband. “Why are you courting my husband? He is mine, not yours.” It’s a powerful subject.
B.E.: When you sing about the challenges women face, how is that generally received?
N.A.: It is a bit shocking, but after it changes everything. Bravo! A woman who says frankly what she thinks and what she feels, it's great. Maybe a woman who isn’t brave enough to speak for herself will like it. Even a woman who has a problem with her husband but doesn’t feel she can speak, she could put this on and let Najat speak for her. Its good, but what’s really good is the men. Even the men, they like it. Because sometimes the men, they don’t want a woman who never speaks, who even if she wants something she won’t ever speak up, who keeps everything inside, which suffer but can’t speak. But not now, the women they speak, they can say whatever they feel. It’s thanks to my music, my songs.
IDIR: Interviewed on eve of her Lincoln Center debut in July 2009
I was born in a little village, and when I finished my elementary schooling there was no high school in my village, and the only high school was in the capital, Algiers. So we had to go there to continue schooling. The lucky thing was that the high school where I was, faced the local radio station, just by chance. Being that I was so far from the Kabylia region of my birth (I only got to go home once a month or so), and I was living at the school, so I played the guitar a lot, and this interested the people at the radio station across the street, and they asked me to play for them and write compositions. So, that’s what I started to do, but I didn’t at all have the intention of starting a career like that, I had just come to study, that’s all. It was there that I composed a song, for a beautiful girl named Nuara, who everybody around knew. It was a lullaby for kids. But, the girl [Nuara] fell ill, and we were producing a show for American public radio. And there the producer told me “You absolutely must sing in her place”, because I had been to the rehearsals, “and you seemed like a good singer, when you showed us the melody [of the song you wrote].” I told him “I’m not a singer!” but he said “Yes you are! I announced the show to the public already, so you MUST do it.” And that’s when I invented the name Idir, which is not my real name, and I started singing.
B.E.: And where does this name “Idir” come from?
Idir: It’s a Kabyle [Berber] name from our region that means “He lives.” It was given to newborns when there were epidemics in Algeria, when there was no medical care, no doctors, no hospitals. And the children, almost as soon as they were born, they were dying. So parents were giving the name “Idir” to their children in the hope that they would survive the sickness.
B.E.: Your first big song was called “A Vava Inouva.” Why was this piece so popular? Was it the lyrics? The melody?
Idir: The lyrics. I was speaking of a time, an ancient time. At that time there was no electricity, no radios, no microphones, nothing like that. And I was describing the members of a family at the fireplace on a winter evening—the moments when the warmth of the people was near the warmth of the fire—when our old women would tell us histories, legends, and fairytales. I was describing that, quite simply. It’s a song I wanted to put under the sign of memory because those moments existed here too. But that’s all. I don’t really know what happened with those people. But I’ll say that if I knew the secret to songs like those I wouldn’t do anything but make songs like that my whole life!
B.E: Is it possible that certain people who heard this song were hearing it as the situation in Kabylia—another kind of nostalgia for a particular time?
Idir: Maybe for the Kabyle people, because I was talking to them about an ancient time, and how people were living at the time, about two or three hundred years ago. But some people don’t understand what it is. It’s music I guess. But I think it’s bringing back things from the bottom, things that people forgot a long time ago, and all of a sudden have come back and now people have come back together with a new identity, which they had lost, and then found again. I think that’s what worked most.
B.E.: Your career is one that’s always presented along with the story of the Amazigh [Berber] people in Algeria and their political problems. You are a musician, but also a man with a political cause of sorts. How do you balance these two sides?
Idir: Politics is one thing, apart really. It’s a job. The music is something that one can only succeed in if one is aware of the problems of the audience, the listeners. Political singer? No. But politically engaged? Yes. I’m a child of the Algerian revolution of independence. We were leaving French colonialism and gaining our freedom when I was little. We were following Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. But soon Algeria was not letting me express, sing, in my native tongue, and so there was something that was still giving me pain. Thus, I began to struggle for this right [to sing n Kabyle], and that opened the door to other issues to struggle with, like militarism, racism, etc. I began to get involved in these struggles with certain friends, and since then have participated in certain political actions. There you have it.
B.E.: Were there certain periods, moments, etc. that made you realize you were in the middle of a cultural struggle?
Idir: That’s hard to say. After Algerian independence, the important task was to define the country territorially. Yet, then a personality had to be defined and thus the “Arab” world was attached to us, which is silly because I think someone who is Arab lives in Arabia, as there are people in Quebec, Canada, who speak French, but are not French. If I had never left my village I would never have learned a word in Arabic. We are, in fact, a Mediterranean country, a country with a Muslim, Christian, Jewish history, and ties between us all because of financial relationships. The Berber cause is not really a cause, because we were never gassed, massacred, it’s not that, but a movement against integration into the cultural envelope, against repression, which are the essential elements of a cause, and about which I sing in my songs.
Idir: The Tuaregs of southern Algeria with whom I’m acquainted somewhat, give me inspiration. These people, you see them in the photos for travel agents with their masks and they look beautiful, yet where they live is one of the richest areas on Earth from the gas and oil there, but their children are some of the poorest ones around. That’s not normal. So I have that injustice in mind in my songs.
B.E.: At the level of the Berber language, Tamazight, are you able to communicate with them?
Idir: Absolutely! Their language has evolved somewhat differently than ours, but it’s a matter of accents. It’s less a difference than in the Celtic world, where a Scots speaker may not necessarily be able to communicate with an Irish speaker or Welsh speaker. But all of us Berbers—the Chleu and Rifis of Morocco, the Kabyle, the Tuaregs—at the end of 15 days at most, one can grasp the differences and speak one with the other.
B.E.: You left Algeria all the way back in 1976. Have you been back much?
Idir: Not in the last ten years, no. I haven’t had a reason lately because I brought my mother, to care for her, but after that I will return for a few days of a week, because I miss the mountains of my homeland. I won’t go back for work, but for spiritual reasons. [Idir returned with the Berber soccer star Zidane in his moment of World Cup triumph. This happened after this interview took place, but Idir did not perform.]
B.E.: At the level of Berber identity in Algeria right now, what’s their situation?
Idir: It’s strange. It’s written in the Algerian constitution now that Kabyle is one of the national languages, but they won’t make it an “official” language. As in Switzerland or Belgium, where you have several languages—French, German, and Italian are official in Switzerland and French and Dutch in Belgium—one can go to school in those languages, and that’s what we [the Kabyles] want in Algeria. We want Kabyle as an official language and as a medium of instruction in schools. Why not?
B.E.: I’ve read in my notes that you, Matoub Lounes, Ait Mengelet, you all sang of Berber culture and its point of view. Before the death of Matoub Lounes were you all friends and if so, what was the feeling of that relationship?
Idir: Matoub Lounes lived with me for seven months. Our relationship was great. I mean, we shared the same ideals, and we had no reason to get angry or agitated with each other because were doing taking different perspectives but coming from the same musical background: he was more traditional, more local, focusing on Kabylia and the region, and I was more modern. I guess I was getting at something at something larger with my music. But I really admired his artistic fiber. He was a charming guy, he had a good humor about him that you just couldn’t turn off. He reminds me in a way of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, in the way he expressed his sadness. I had a lot of affection for him.
B.E.: I know about his death and it’s a real tragedy. But it says something, that the authorities were afraid of him, as an artist, right?
Idir: Well, in our culture poets have more power than politicians. That stems from the fact that our culture is one of oral tradition. 200 years ago, you would find that when two tribes went to war, each side had its poet, and the poets fought with words. The one who could throw out the most beautiful word won, and the war would end, because the word is above economics, politics, business, etc. Poets have a position of choice in our society. We had a poet named Si Moham in the 18th century, and in 2008 all his poetry is still known [in Algeria], even when people lacked a written language. It was all transmitted by the oral thread, from mouth to ear. That’s fabulous.
TAKFARINAS: Central Park Summerstage, July 2006
Update: In May, 2011, Takfarinas will release his 18th album, El Waldine (Parents). It comes out in France initially, but he is looking for a US label to license it. A great opportunity. It’s hot!
I don’t remember when I learned music. I was born “Musician.” I don’t remember anymore starting to learn my first song – I don’t remember! But I remember the first time I held a guitar, a real guitar. I didn’t study music theory (solfege). Back then, we learned songs from the radio, directly from the radio, not even from CDs – well, there weren’t CDs, there were 33s and 45s.
B.E: Where were you? In the city, in the village…?
Takfarinas: The village, the village. Tixeraine. It’s a traditional village, a suburb of Algiers. The capital. Yes. I was born in ’58. I began in ’76, very young, to make my first cassette, my first recording. In ’76 or ’75, I did the first broadcast directly on the radio, broadcast of amateurs – we call that “Broadcast Of Young Talents.” So I did that show the first time, the very first time, I won the first prize.
B.E: And you sang in Tamazight, as well as French and Arabic, right?
Takfarinas: I usually sang in Berber. Tamazight. Yes, yes.
B.E: My impression is that there weren’t all that many artists who were doing this. Did you have many models, like Matoub Lounes, for the idea of singing in Berber?
Takfarinas: Initially, it was Idir, the first time. It was he who was the first, he was my idol, in some sense; the modernism, it was he who modernized Algerian music, and who made Algerian music be sung beyond Algeria in all of Africa. So that was my model; there was also Jil Jilala, there were also the Freres Magrebes of Morocco, and Les Ibranis, they were rockers. Yes. And then there were also traditional songs, shaabi, that there was at this time, it was modern popular music as well.
B.E: The music of the streets.
Takfarinas: Shabbi. Yes. My school was shaabi music. And shaabi is a large school. A lot of rhythms, it’s very geometric, it’s very measured, it’s very organized – shaabi music is very structured, rhythmically and melodically. And there are many styles, each style has its rhythm. It’s very profound, the style of shaabi music.
B.E: Is that where the instrument you play, the mandol, comes from?
Takfarinas: That instrument, it’s very traditional. It was made in the '40s, by someone named Shaffa. It was his father, first. Rashid Shaffa is his son, he who makes them now. Now, the mandol, Greece passed it on first, and then it was Italian, it was Greek.
B.E: And how did it come there? It’s the preferred instrument in the mountains, I’ve seen that with other Kabyle musicians.
Takfarinas: Well, it was Al-Hajj Mohammed, it was a singer called Al-Hajj Mohammed, who played with this, and that worked, and then there was an American who came, he worked on a boat, and he had a banjo, they tried to mix the sound and that worked, and it’s from that that he got the shaabi sound. It’s the banjo and the mandol.
B.E: Okay, the mandol and the banjo came in through shaabi music. And that happened in the cities?
Takfarinas: In the cities, not the village. Aside from the banjo and the mandol, shaabi became the popular music, modern, of this time, the 40s.
B.E: But it wasn’t specifically connected to Berber music, or was it?
Takfarinas: Yes it was! Yes, Berber music! That’s what we call Yal music. Yal music, it means “each.” You sing it “a-yal-ay a-yal-a ya” – [Sings to demonstrate yal music] It’s Morse code! That’s the Idir melody. [Sings more] Yal. That’s what we call the music of the language, before there were instruments. What replaces instruments is a-la-yal a la la. It’s Morse. After instruments came, it stayed. Why did it stay? Because it’s pretty! The melody swings, and the rhythm swings. For example: when I sing no matter what song. It’s a bouquet of roses. There’s every color and every scent.
B.E: Your mandol has two necks. Was that your idea?
Takfarinas: It’s my idea. The first mandol that was made like this was in '86. It wasn’t this one here; it was acoustic. So I changed it and made an “elecrocoustique” mandol. That was in ’99. The higher neck is masculine, the lower neck is feminine. So they make, they’ve made a lot of children, a lot of songs. [LAUGHS] One gives a high sound, serious, energetic, that’s shaabi. And in wood it makes songs of love, it’s very soft. Voila.
I’ve sung about everything in my songs. Everything you’ve thought, I’ve sung it. Everything, love, drought, even countries where there is always war, I talk about the planet and why there are always wars, why the only solution, the only solution that there is for the world economy, for world politics, you have to have wage war to have an economy, but why? That means, in my mind, that we’re still in savage times. From the moment that man has no ideas apart from war, then we’re in savage times. I mean, we’re already here to die, basically. Already there’s sickness, so many problems in life, how did we find the means for the atomic bomb? It’s craziness! It’s crazy! Instead of taking care of each other, in contrast, instead of only doing good in life …why do we always find ways of starting wars, of organizing wars?
Because today, when we look at the real problems facing us, for example AIDS, today, to make love to your girlfriend you need a condom. It’s serious! It’s serious! We put the soul, we put the soul, our souls, you put it in plastic. That’s serious stuff, so we have to work on that. It’s become economical. It’s become, ah! you have to keep looking for money, finding money, to make condoms, and everything, it can’t stop! It’s very complicated. Man has a complicated life. But you see, life is simple. Pleasure is simple. It’s to live in love, have children, be responsible for your family, to work, to work and find a job to live! And it’s very simple, the pleasure of life. Happiness is so simple.
B.E: Do you sing about the Berber situation in Algeria? Because I know that in Algeria it’s more complicated, that maybe there’s more tension than in Morocco or… ?
Takfarinas: Algeria, North Africa…it’s Berber. It’s clear. Algeria, North Africa, North Africa is Berber. No Arab! No Arab. And that doesn’t mean we’re anti-Arab – no! Arabia, it’s a large civilization as well, it’s a large culture as well, yes sir, but we can’t be something else. We’re Berber. One day, when we return to the source, obligated, the real Arabs, of Saudi Arabia, they don’t see us as Arabs in every fashion. Real Arabs, that speak Arabic, they don’t see us as Arabs, they see us as people who are Muslim or who want to become Arabs. No. We aren’t Arab. We’re Berber. We can’t be anything else. It’s impossible. That doesn’t work. When someone wants to change himself, wants to change his story, who will be able to depend on him? One day he won’t be able to depend on himself, not even he himself! No.
No, but it was hard! Twenty years ago, it was hard, hard, hard to make music, to say “Berber,” to say “Amazigh,” it was difficult. The 80s! The 70s—harder, even! Yes! But not anymore. Now everyone says, “We are Berber. We are Amazigh.”
B.E: You live in Paris now, is that right?
Takfarinas: I live in Paris. I was born in Algeria, I live in France, my name is Takfarinas, my identity is music, my country is the planet! I adore New York as well. I love you. It’s magnificent, I’ve discovered. But Paris, too, Paris is love.
B.E: Even with all the problems, it’s worth it.
Takfarinas: Yes, yes, there are lots of problems, but after, we have the objective, and that’s Paris. When we go into political details, it’s very heated. Right now, there are truly a lot of problems, yes.
B.E: It was great to get a chance to meet you.
Takfarinas: Thank you so much, thank you, thank you. I love you New York!