Sunday, May 13, 2012

Najat Aatabou - The Orchestral Album

Here's another goodie from Najat Aatabou, the siren of Khemisset, whose first album I posted here some time ago. As I mentioned then, my favorite recordings of hers keep the texture simple. In the early days, this was an oud and some percussion (bendir-s & maybe darbuka). This album, from around 1987, was, I believe, the first time she broke out of that style.

And what a way to go. You can tell this tape is something special because it has an extra fold-out panel at the right side of the j-card. The only Moroccan cassettes that get this sort of treatment are of the chanson moderne genre, where it is customary to list the lyricist, composer, and singer, in that order. (See, for example, the tape of Latifa Raafat I posted a few months back.)

Indeed, this is Najat Aatabou singing chanson moderne with a large, modern orchestra. Sort of like Hank Williams singing with the Nelson Riddle orchestra. Improbable, but it sort of works! The sharp, country edge of Najat's voice makes a nice contrast with the lush arrangements and melodies of Ahmed el Alaoui (who's written some nice stuff for other singers, including the song "Nasyak" on the aforementioned Latifa Raafat album.) It's an interesting combination, and I wonder what was the backstory to this cassette - Whose idea was it? How did it come to fruition?

Oddly, the j-card omits track 3, "Lillah Ya S'haba". It's listed on the cassette shell, so why isn't it on the j-card? It's the only track not written by lyricist Ali el Haddani and composer Ahmed el Alaoui. The out-of-print Globestyle album "The Voice of the Atlas" credits this song to Najat herself. She tends to compose her own material most of the time, but most chaâbi cassettes do not list composer credits.

"Lillah Ya S'haba" is an interesting song of Najat's. Unlike most of her compositions, which follow a simple verse/refrain form, this one is an extended long-form composition with several discrete sections. Yep, it's basically a chanson moderne form. Well done, Najat! The version on this album appears to be a live performance (dig the feedback at about 4:35). Here's a performance of the song with a more typical Najat backing group:

If you have the "Voice of the Atlas" album, then you already have all 4 of these tracks. Perhaps it's understandable that a western release included these orchestral tracks - its target audience might get bored with a whole album of just oud and bendir-s. Or perhaps the folks over at Editions Hassania, when approached for international licensing, chose to pitch these more "serious" tracks of Najat's. But these orchestral tracks are not what made Najat Aatabou famous - it was the stripped-down stuff like this. Don't get me wrong - I love this album, it's just not the most "representative" of her work. If you like the tape, you should seek out a copy of the Globestyle album - much nicer digital transfers from the master tapes than my garage transfer from an old well-loved cassette... (but you can hear the love, can't you?)

Discographic note. The first song, Baghi Nertahuh, appears on both the Globestyle album (where it is listed as "Baghi Nerjah") and the Rounder CD "Country Girls and City Women" (where it is listed as "Ar-Rih").

01) Zourouni Lillah
02) Baghi Nertahuh
03) Lillah ya S'haba

04) Feen Triqi

Get it here.


  1. Najat's earlier post by you Tim, was enough but now with this new drop... oh, man! This is beautiful.

    Thanks a lot.

    Note: Oddly, the j-card omits track 3, "Lillah Ya S'haba". It's listed on the cassette shell, so why isn't it on the j-card?
    Answer: space. They can't cram these titles on such a small space as a Cassette's tiny cover. And, instead they place it all on the J-Card.


  2. I played often in a DC club run by a Moroccan guy. As soon as we finished our last set, he would blast music like this for the staff and his buddies to enjoy. My colleagues and I were mesmerized and repeatedly asked him over the volume who we were listening to. We never got a straight answer, though. Thanks for filling in some of the gaps. Peace...