Saïd Tichiti is a Morrocan-born musician based in Hungary since 1998. There he founded the fusion ensemble Chalaban, which released six albums over a 20-year span. Their music has always been based in Gnawa and chaâbi rhythms and melodies, but with his Eastern European collaborators, he’s updated these venerable sounds with elements of dub, funk and psychedelic rock. Chalaban’s 2018 album Gleiman is a fine example of their rootsy fusion, fueled by the urgent pulse of a Gnawa ceremony, enriched with jazzy brass and rock instrumentation. Gnawa music in particular is a wide open palette, lending itself easily to blends with foreign styles, as many East-West collaborations have demonstrated over the years, from Dissidenten in the ‘80s to Bab L’Bluz today.
This EP, under the name Saïd Chalaban, is more personal as it grows out of the artist’s return journey with two Chalaban members from Budapest to his southern Moroccan birthplace in Guelmin, the “Gate of the Desert.” Rachid Kasmi’s film Echos du Sahara documents the trip including lively performances with musicians they meet along the way, notably their encounters with the hospitable Hassani people.
The four brisk songs on Jarama continue the Chalaban magic. The title track unfolds in a slow, pendulous 12/8 with subtle guitar sounds adding intriguing harmonies that extend the stylistic range of a Gnawa groove, without violating it. Tichiti’s voice is the star in all these tracks, strong and soaring with passion. “Ya Weylou,” a song about jealousy, begins with a solo vocal, a mawwal, accompanied by what sounds like the percussive plink of the Amazight (Berber) lotar lute. The accompaniment enters with warm embrace of a fat bass line and gentle electronics.
“Ya Weylou,” the one 4/4 track here, is a Hassani take on the popular song “Ya Leyli (Oh, My Night).” The music’s engaging lope conveys a sense of movement and the sound at times pans slightly from side to side. Tichiti sings in his lowest register here. The closer, “Fulani,” recognizes the Gnawa’s sub-Saharan ancestors in rapid 12/8 time with a riot of chattering sounds and a moaning electric guitar, all grounded in the propulsive clack of the qaraqib castinets, Tichiti’s ever-authoritative vocal commanding center stage.