They have been performing all over the world for twenty-five years. The list of stages trodden by these ten musicians from the Maghreb as well as from Europe is long. From New York to Cairo, via Constantine and Algiers, they number in the thousands. But this year, the Orchester National de Barbès saw about thirty dates being canceled due to the global health crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. For this merry fundamentally scenic troupe, the news was hard to take. “We all found ourselves confined when we had to release our new album. However, we are used to working on our new songs by bringing them to life on stage ”, recognizes Kamel Tenfiche, historical member of the group, happy to meet his comrades on this last day of the Arabesques festival in Montpellier (south of France). The opus, which will finally see the light of day this fall, will be imbued with “sounds from sub-Saharan Africa”, reveals bassist Youcef Boukella, founder of the ONB, ex-musician of Cheb Mami. This new project offers the services of Cameroonian drummer Brice Wassy, recognized for having played with renowned musicians ranging from the late Manu Dibango to Selif Keita and Miriam Makeba.
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A new album continuing the mix of styles
More than 20 years after its debut on the Parisian scene of the New Morning, the Orchester National de Barbès continues to reinvent itself, while doing what it knows how to do best: mixing styles. Gnaoua sounds from Morocco, Algerian châabi, Oran rai… An oriental sauce infused with a twisted mix of reggae, funk and rock. The recipe works wherever this azimut combo goes. “We evolve like a great chakchouka, ironically Kamel Tenfiche. We are all united by the same socio-cultural history, regardless of our differences in terms of regionalism. And, when we meet abroad to play, the public sees it straight away. It is France which allowed us this openness ”, concedes the singer and percussionist. Composed of Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Portuguese, all mostly immigrants, and French, the group was formed in the mid-1990s in Barbès, land of Maghrebian immigration. “The music of the National Orchestra of Barbès is part of the heritage of the song of exile,” analyzes Naïma Huber-Yahi, historian of the cultural history of the Maghreb, also present at the Arabesques festival. When the intelligentsia fled civil war and violence, it was in Barbès that it took up residence, this small country within the great country. “
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Playing for the convergence of audiences
The National Orchestra of Barbès: at the time of its creation, this baptismal name resonated like a snub to the National Front (far-right party in France). But the ONB refuses the militant label that we want to lend it. “The Zebda group, for example, whose members were born in France, has always led a political and social struggle through its texts. We, it is through our music that we bring together audiences, ”Youcef Boukela nuance. But, for Naïma Huber-Yahi, the very existence of the group is political. “By believing that its audience has no borders, the ONB is already adopting an eminently political posture,” she said. Which also lies in this heritage pride of which the group was the first to claim. “By drawing on tradition and” the ball repertoire, in the noble sense of the term, “Kamel Tenfiche would like to point out, the group unites an audience as cosmopolitan as its music. It is besides on a revisited musette atmosphere that the orchestra left the spectators of Arabesques, thus making waltz Montpellier, Algiers, Kabyles, Oranais …
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