Sunday, November 12, 2017

Houssaine Kili - Great Gnawa Fusion in the Early 90s

Houssaine Kili is a singer, songwriter, and string player (bass, guitar, guinbri, mondol, lotar...), originally from Agadir, who notably collaborated with the German rock group Dissidenten for a series of albums and tours in the 1980s.

The origin of these collaborations is recounted in the notes to Kili's first solo album. Kili has released 2 solo albums, produced and recorded in Germany: Safran (1999) and Mountain to Mohamed (2001).

From what I could find online, Kili appears to have led and toured with his own band throughout the 2000s, and he did some touring with jazz pianist Omar Sosa after participating in the latter's album Sentir in 2002. I couldn't find much online trace of Kili more recent than 2009.

Although I can't fill in his more recent history, I can share a fantastic live tape that gives an idea of what he was doing between his departure from Dissidenten (1988) and the release of Safran (1999). The Safran notes state that "Kili left [Dissidenten] in 1988 and started working on a solo project", but no details of this project are given. If this tape is any indication, it's a shame that this project did not result in an album.

The tape reveals a fully realized fusion band, drawing heavily on Gnawa source material, and performing thoughtful, tight, punchy arrangements. The tape came into my hands in Marrakech in 1992, and I was told it was recorded in Germany. That seems likely, though the introductory narrration to the first song, "Marrakech", is in French, and some of Kili's banter is in English. (Sometimes it's "danke", sometimes it's "thank you".)

Strangely (and disappointingly to me), none of the material from this concert tape shows up on either of Kili's two albums which, to my ear, were good but less exciting than this live tape. Some tracks on Mountain to Mohamed come close, particularly, the fantastic "Kfaya":

Both of Kili's albums, however, aim for a broader mix of textures and Moroccan source materials than the repertoire of the focused, Gnawa-centric live performing unit. I could find barely a trace of this band or these songs online anywhere. The closest I got was a live clip of Kili in 1998 leading a band in a performance of "Ya Sandi".

While the 1998 performance retains a couple elements of the arrangement performed on my tape (particularly the short instrumental transition phrase that begins/ends some sections), it is missing many delightful features of the early 90s version: call/response and harmony from a second vocalist, intricate rhythm guitar work, middle-section breakdown, and overall propulsive rhythmic drive:

I would love to know more about this early 90s band, and about this tape:
  • Who are the musicians? The only person introduced by name is Roland Schaeffer on saxophone and guitar (and ghaita). Schaeffer was a member of Embryo, the group from which Uve Müllrich and Michael Wehmeyer broke away to form Dissidenten, and with whom Kili collaborated as well. Who is playing keyboards and drums, and who is singing the Arabic backing vocals?
  • Where and when did this concert take place? Though my copy has quite a bit of tape hiss, the overall mix is very good - it sounds like a professional soundboard recording. (I would looooove to hear a clean version of this recording, and one that fills in some of the portions missing in my tape)
  • Where else and how often did this band perform? Did they ever make studio recordings? If so, why did they never see the light of day? 
  • Why did Kili abandon these songs and arrangements when he recorded his 2 albums?
Some clips of Kili's bands in the 2000s do retain the excitement and energy of the early 90s band, for example, this great 2002 clip:

It's not easy to keep a North African fusion band going outside of France or North Africa. (Believe me, I've tried!!) It's too bad there's not more recorded music available from the talented and creative Houssaine Kili, and that he wasn't able to find sustained international success over the years. His website remains active, but contains no news or recent updates. I hope he'll resurface with something new and interesting! The most recent clip I could find of him was something very different and very nice:

Houssaine Kili Band, featuring Roland Schaeffer, 199X-XX-XX, Germany
tape obtained in marrakech in 1992
01) Marrakech (baniya)

02) Jilali
03) Ya Sandi
04) rai song (contains fade out and in)
05) Roland Schaeffer instrumental
06) Of Course One Day the Sun Will Shine (contains tape flip)
07) Ah Wlidi
08) M3a Mourad Allah
09) Negsha (incomplete - fades out)
10) Yobati
11) Jilala (encore)

Get it all here.