News / Arts & Entertainment

After 50 Years, Muslim-Jewish Band Reunites

Muslim, Jewish Musicians Reunite After Decades Aparti
|| 0:00:00
X
November 21, 2012 9:11 PM
Every year, the Arabian Sights Film Festival in Washington, D.C., presents new movies from the Arab world. This year’s highlight was El Gusto, a documentary about a group of Muslim and Jewish musicians torn apart by history 50 years ago and reunited recently by their common passion. VOA’s Julie Taboh has a report.

Arab, Jewish Musicians Reunite After Decades Apart

A new documentary from the Arab world focuses on Muslim and Jewish musicians who reunite thanks to their common passion, after being torn apart by war 50 years ago.

The film "El Gusto," showcases the group performing together in concert after the half-century of separation.

The men play Chaabi, a traditional Algerian music they learned as young students at the Music Conservatory of Algiers in the 1940s.

Side by side

For decades, the Muslim and Jewish friends played music together and lived side by side in the hilly neighborhoods of the Casbah.

“Whether you were Jewish, Christian or Muslim, it didn’t matter,” says filmmaker Safinez Bousbia. “These men that used to hang around in all these underground bars and drinking and jamming all night, with Africans, with Western Africans, with Corsican people, with Maltese. It was just a boiling point of meeting all sorts of people.”

Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia during the filming of "El Gusto." (Courtesy Quidam Production El Gusto)Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia during the filming of "El Gusto." (Courtesy Quidam Production El Gusto)
x
Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia during the filming of "El Gusto." (Courtesy Quidam Production El Gusto)
Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia during the filming of "El Gusto." (Courtesy Quidam Production El Gusto)
Bousbia, who was born in Algiers but grew up in Europe, hadn't heard much about the music which originated in the land of her ancestors. But she's learned quite a bit about it over the past decade.

Chaabi music comes from the word "Chaab", meaning "people," according to Bousbia.

“Chaabi music is a bit like jazz,” she says. “It actually originates from different influences where there’s Andalusian, there is Flamenco, Spanish, there is a lot of African beat and there is Oriental tunes and melodies. It’s mixing all these styles together with a lot of improvisation.”

Separated by war

In the mid-1950s, three decades before Bousbia was born, the Algerian War of Independence forced the group of Chaabi musicians to disperse.

The Jewish members fled to France, while the others scattered throughout Algeria. The men didn’t see each other again for more than 50 years.
Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia with Mohamed Ferkioui, the mirror maker who inspired her to make "El Gusto." (Kays Djilali)Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia with Mohamed Ferkioui, the mirror maker who inspired her to make "El Gusto." (Kays Djilali)
x
Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia with Mohamed Ferkioui, the mirror maker who inspired her to make "El Gusto." (Kays Djilali)
Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia with Mohamed Ferkioui, the mirror maker who inspired her to make "El Gusto." (Kays Djilali)

In 2003, during a trip to Algiers, Bousbia met one of the group's original members in his mirror shop. Along with his old photographs, Mohamed Ferkioui shared his story about the fellow musicians he'd become separated from.

“I just was so touched by this man’s passion and story,” she says, “that I wanted to help him find his friends.”

It took her more than two years to find his long-lost friends, mainly by searching through the conservatory's registration records. Soon after, she started organizing a reunion concert for the group, now called El Gusto, in Marseilles, France.

Going through the ardous and emotional process of reuniting the men gave her the idea for a documentary.

El Gusto - the film

Since she had no experience as a filmmaker, the young architect sold her home and jewelry to finance the project. The entire adventure, from start to finish, took nine years.

Bousbia says it was all worthwhile.
The El Gusto orchestra during filming in France. (Courtesy Quidam Production El Gusto)The El Gusto orchestra during filming in France. (Courtesy Quidam Production El Gusto)
x
The El Gusto orchestra during filming in France. (Courtesy Quidam Production El Gusto)
The El Gusto orchestra during filming in France. (Courtesy Quidam Production El Gusto)

“For me, it was the attachment of the men. I was fascinated by these men that were just full of passion,” she says, especially given their age. “The youngest was 72, the oldest was 96 or 97."

Despite the challenges of age and distance, the musicians travelled from Algeria and all parts of France to reconnect with their old friends in celebration of their shared passion.
 
Life was very difficult for these men, says the filmmaker, “and that’s why it was important for me to show it through the film, and for people to understand what these people went through.”

“What was fascinating about these men,” she adds, “is no matter what ordeal they went through, they weren’t bitter about it. It was a page of history they didn’t choose.”

Labor of love

While El Gusto might have started as their dream, she says, at some point, it became hers as well.

“I saw these men change and open up and for me it was important to understand.”

"El Gusto," the documentary, was recently presented at the Arabian Sights Film festival in Washington DC. The sold-out crowd gave Bousbia a standing ovation.

“Chaabi is something really unique to the city of Algiers, to the Casbah,” said Abdallah Baali, Algeria's ambassador to the U.S., who attended the film’s opening. “And this music, which is intended to really please a category of Algerians in Algiers, has become the music of everybody.”

As for the El Gusto orchestra, the men are currently on a sold-out European tour and recently produced their third album. A U.S. concert is planned for the near future.

Bousbia says she hopes El Gusto will remain as a Chaabi orchestra and that her film, and the music of these passionate men, will inspire future generations to continue the Chaabi tradition.

Extended Interview with 'El Gusto' Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia by VOA's Carol Castiel
Extended Interview with 'El Gusto' Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia by VOA's Carol Castieli
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Rob Swift from: Great Britain
November 24, 2012 8:50 AM
Excellent. A mention of the true open society. This is the way.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

At Washington’s Blues Alley jazz singer Jane Monheit and her quartet perform songs made famous by Judy Garland. Monheit sits down with "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten to talk about her music, the singers who influence her, and her life traveling with family on tour.