Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Najat in the 90s


After the success of Nouveau 92, Najat Aâtabou did not return to the oud and bendir format of her earlier hits. Rather, she adopted various other instrumental combinations, moving eventually toward a more mainstream chaâbi sound.

I own copies of some of these cassettes (without j-cards), and have lost a few along the way. Also, some of these are available to stream or purchase online. So I'll mainly post here links to existing web resources and try to piece together her discography between Nouveau 92 and Attention Monsieur (2000).


Souaret (1993)


This album came out as a cassette on Edition Hassania in 1993. My copy went missing long ago, but I believe the j-card may have had this photo, which accompanies Amazon's version:

The production sounds similar to that of Nouveau 92, using the same funky synth bass on many tracks. I remember at the time being a bit disappointed with the album, feeling it was less hard-hitting than Nouveau 92, and contained no super-catchy single. Listening to it again now, though, it sounds like a breath of fresh air! It augments the unusual synth and viola texture of Nouveau 92 and fills it out with a more organic early-90s chaâbi orchestra: live strings, bendirs, full drum kit, and an occasional electric guitar. It's a more organic, orchestral overall sound. (Admittedly, I'm a sucker for the chaâbi sound of that era.)

And Najat's singing is spectacular. Those folks over at Edition Hassania really knew how to record her - whether accompanied by a simple oud-and-bendir ensemble or a full orchestra, her voice remains powerful and startling.

Here's a YouTube playlist of the entire album:



The mp3 album is available to purchase and download (or stream) at Amazon for a reasonable $3.99!: https://www.amazon.com/Souaret-Najat-Aatabou/dp/B00ERIW0MW/

Taqi Fia Allah (1995)


This is, I believe, the last album that Najat released on Edition Hassania. I used to have a copy of the cassette. Like the previous albums, this one is also driven by the viola. But the style is different here. Rather than a chanson moderne style of viola playing, hearkening to the smooth sounds of the modern Arab orchestra, here we have a straight-up dance-inducing chaâbi fiddle! The overall ensemble is more simple - bendirs, some oud and melodic keyboard here and there, and what sounds like a drum machine (hi-hat and some fills). Though a return to oud and bendir-s is nice, the chaâbi viola really dominates the mix and doesn't quite work for me. That being said, the tune "Baadou Lhih" is awesome and became part of her live repertoire.

The album's 6 tracks were remastered and released in the US as part of the Rounder compilation CD "Country Girls and City Women", which is out of print. It's worth finding a used copy of the CD - the booklet includes a nice essay, translations of all the song lyrics into English, and an interview with Najat. I can't find any streaming or download options for the album. Here's a YouTube playlist of the album's songs:



Sabara (1996)


I had a dub of this album, and I remember it being on label called something like "Safa Disque". (It wasn't the well-established Sonia Disque, with whom she would later record.) The leadoff track "Aatani Bedhar", also known as "Mali Ana Ma 3andi Zhar" was a smash hit - smooth chaâbi groups were covering it, and with its singalong chorus of "Wa-a-a-a-ayli", it was an instant classic, and one of Najat's biggest ever hits. I love it!

It was around this time that studio-produced chaabi in Morocco started to sound a bit too perfect and precise for my ears. Though rhythms were still driving and percussive, drum sets had given way to drum machines and programming, which could feel mechanical. Electric guitars for rhyhmic and chordal accompaniment were rarely found anymore, replaced by more versatile synthesizers, which could also add a variety of melodic textures. Even oud-s and violas began to sound more processed and perfect. I tend to like my chaâbi (and most music) a little on the sloppy side - I appreciate being able to hear the human interactions and imperfections.

That said, when all the elements come together in a studio production, it can be great, and that's the case throughout this album. The oud remains prominent in the mix, the real or synth strings (I can't always tell which) support without being overbearing, the rhythm section pops and crackles, the synth bass keeps things funky and in the pocket, and Najat and the backup choir sound great! A mega-post on the ARAB TUNES blog has this album, and many others by Najat!

Also, here'a YouTube playlist of the whole album:



Souvenir (1998)


According to this interview, Souvenir, like its predecessor Sabara, was produced by Najat's former husband Hassan Dikouk. It has a similar overall sound to Sabara, and Najat seems to have comfortably settled into a mainstream chaâbi setting. To my ears the sound is a little less punchy - a bit more emphasis on the viola and less on the oud, and the vocals seem more subdued. But when it works, like in "El Aati Houwa Allah" and "Daba Ytem El Nachat", it still kicks.

ARAB TUNES has this one as well, and here's the whole album on YouTube:



Et Oui Mon Ami, Parle Je T'écoute (1999)


My cassette copy of this (get it HERE) contains a track not available on streaming platforms - a spoken message from Najat to her public, presenting her new cassette, on which, she says, she has tried as always to move chaabi song forward, and that the most important measure of its success is "your entertainment, clapping, and pleasure".

I don't know what prompted the inclusion of this rather apologetic message. Perhaps her moves into mainstream chaabi were criticized by some sectors of the public. Or perhaps she was nervous about the leadoff track, which has a distinct Latin feel and a light programmed percussion track, straying further away from her roots than usual. (This was the era of Amr Diab's smash Egyptian hit "Habibi ya Nour el Ain". Unlike that track, though, Najat's does not include the soon-to-be-ubiquitous-in-Arabic-pop flamenco guitar.) On streaming versions of the album (like the YouTube playlist embedded below, or Amazon's version), there is a bonus track - a chill lounge remix of the title song, with light funk electric guitar and Middle Eastern strings replacing the punchy synth horns of the original.



Outside of the title track (which was not a big hit), the rest of the album features a pretty standard chaâbi texture, though a bit more sparse than the previous two albums. I couldn't quite put my ear on what was different at first. I heard a viola and a synth banjo, some restrained programmed rhythm with a live darbuka. There is a funky synth bass again, though it's very low in the mix as compared to the previous albums. The really key difference here, though is that there is NO BENDIR! Throughout all of her albums, whether based around the oud, the viola, or a full orchestra, the one constant is the presence of the buzzy bendir! On this one, though, the only buzzy timbre you can hear is the occasional taarija. The low percussive tones, are not buzzy booms, but clean synth bass drums. Which is a weird idea, but it sort of works for me.

The viola-centered sound of this album hearkens to 1995's Taqi Fia Allah, but with punchier rhythm and overall sound. Again, the chaabi viola isn't my favorite instrument to hear with Najat Aâtabou's voice, but this ain't bad.

---

I saw Najat Aâtabou do a concert in Casablanca in 1999, and the only songs she did from any of these 5 albums were "Mali Ana Ma 3andi Zhar", from Sabara and "Baadou Lhih" from Taqi Fia Allah. But although these albums may not be packed with hits, there's worthwhile material on all of them. My ear for Moroccan lyrics isn't developed enough to critically assess Najat's 1990s songs in comparison to the earlier hits that brought her to fame. A lot of the same themes seem to pop up - complaints about romantic relationships, trying to keep things cool with mom, patience, acceptance, and calling out hypocrites. Her turn toward a mainstream chaâbi sound strikes me as a way for her songs of support and solidarity to resonate with a broader community of Moroccan sisters. At any rate that's my interpretation for now. Am happy to hear other opinions.

Wishing a blessed Ramadan to you all. Thank you for continuing to visit, even though I seem to only post about Najat Aâtabou these days! I promise I'll get some other stuff cued up soon...

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Najat Aâtabou - Nouveau 92 Videos


Glad y'all enjoyed the last Najat Aâtabou post. I'm working on new post about her recordings from the 1990s - keep an eye out for that soon.

In the meantime, while searching for things online, I stumbled across a set of video clips that were filmed to songs from the Nouveau 92 album. Thanks to YouTube user moussa barça for collecting and sharing these:


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Najat Aâtabou - Nouveau 92 جديد - A Whole New Bag - Hai Hai Hai!


Nouveau 92! A new sound and a new look for Najat Aâtabou. And a huge hit with "Wahdi Feddar" ("Alone at Home"), a.k.a. "Goul El Hak El Mout Kaina" ("Tell the Truth... Death is Real"), "Hadi Kedba Bayna" ("This is an Obvious Lie"), "Kedba Bayna, or "Hai Hai Hai".

New sound: We've shared several of Najat Aâtabou's early, oud- and bendir-driven albums here at Moroccan Tape Stash. (See here.) That stripped-down sound launched her to stardom in Morocco in the 1980's. (The one exception to this formula, in her early years, was a fascinating orchestral album in the chanson moderne style.) With "Nouveau 92", Najat went in a different sonic direction: the viola leads the melodic accompaniment and a funky synthesizer bass underpins a synth string section, while the rhythm section is driven by a darbuka and what sounds like a hi-hat. (If a full drum set is present, it's being played very lightly.) It's an unusual sound - not your typical viola-driven chaâbi texture. Top it off with Najat's fierce vocals, and you have something nouveau!

Huge hit: "Hadi Kedba Bayna" was an instant classic! The refrain features the repeated line "Hai Hai Hai", which is both a great singalong and an interjection expressing disbelief or annoyance, something like "whoa" or "oi" in English. And the verses were basically rhyming couplets, calling out her man for cheating on her and then lying about it. It's the type of song that can easily be incorporated into any group's repertoire and to which other singers can add new, amusing, and thematically appropriate lyrics.



"Nouveau 92" was the first Najat Aâtabou album I ever heard. When I first visited Morocco in 1992, the album was huge, especially "Kedba Bayna". The album was at one point published on CD in France (now out of print). "Kedba Bayna" was included (as "Just Tell Me The Truth") on the 1995 US compilation Morocco: Crossroads of Time (also now out of print).

In 2006, I had returned from a summer in Morocco and was watching a ball game on American TV, when during a Budweiser commercial I heard the violin riff from "Kedba Bayna" over a techno beat. Fearing I was having hallucinations, I incredulously emailed some folks and found that "Kedba Bayna" had been sampled in the song "Galvanize", released the previous year by the Chemical Brothers, featuring Q-Tip! That, at least, is still in print! (And you can find the commercial on YouTube.)

Reissue notes, for the discographically inclined: Here at Moroccan Tape Stash, I usually give you the running order of tracks exactly as they appear on the tapes. Sometimes this running order differs from what is printed on the j-card. I usually prefer to be faithful to the way the tapes were heard in thousands of Moroccan cassette players rather than the way one person transcribed the song titles when the j-card was going to print. For this album, though, I am going to go with the j-card running order. The copy I'm sharing here is not my original 1992 copy of the cassette - that one is long gone - but rather one I obtained several years later (probably in the late 1990s). I have a strong memory of this album beginning with "Wash Nsiti?", and of "Wahdi Feddar (Kedba Bayna)" being buried somewhere in the middle of the side, as is listed on the j-card. On this cassette, however, "Kedba Bayna" leads off side A.

I'm guessing that once "Kedba Bayna" became a big hit, the song order was switched so that it would appear at the beginning of the cassette, where it could be more easily found. In those days, if you went shopping for cassettes and wanted a particular song, the tape seller would pop the cassette into a deck and play it, so you knew you were getting the correct tape. That's much easier to do when the song isn't somewhere in the middle of the tape.

So... I've resequenced the running order to match what is on the j-card, because that is closer to my memory of my original 1992 copy than running order of the copy I digitized here. (And also I like it better.) For the record, the running order on this late 90's copy is: A1-Wahdi Feddar, A2 Sir Dmou3i, A3 Wayli A Lalla, A4 Ya 3achiri, B1-Wach Nsiti?, B2-Parle je t'ecoute, B3-Marad al 3ali.

Najat Aâtabou نجاة اعتابو
Nouveau 92 جديد
Edition Hassania cassette EH1460 (1992)
1) Wash Nsiti? واش نسيتي؟
2) Sir Dmou3i سير دموعي
3) Wahdi Feddar (Hadi Kedba Banya)
       وحدي في الدار (هادي كدبة باينة)
4) Wayli A Lalla وايلي الالّة
5) Parle Je T'Ecoute
6) Ya 3achiri يا عشيري
7) Marad al 3ali ماراد العالي

Get it all here.