Cheb i Sabbah
Douglas Heselgrave's #15 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2008, Volume 15, #3
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Tue, March 18, 2008, 07:00 AM CDT
Temple bells ring in the near distance. The full measure of their sound richly reverberates as voices in prayer drone and echo. Meanwhile, percussion and gently stirring keyboards establish a sense of space and dimension. Devotion, the seventh, full-length outing by the Algerian-born and current San Francisco native, Cheb i Sabbah is his most completely realized work to date.
As the popularity of world music-based electronica has increased, the market inevitably has been flooded with releases. Such is the nature of the game. With more than 40 years of experience, however, Sabbah is peerless, standing alone as a fully mature artist. Since leaving his native Algeria in 1964, Sabbah has worked as a DJ and — long before it became the popular thing to do — he has been blending music from all over the world into dance mixes that are designed to be both physically releasing and spiritually uplifting. While this description may describe the aim of many musicians who try their hand at creating soundscapes in this style, the subtlety of Sabbah’s production and the depth of his understanding of South Asian and North African devotional music give his compositions levels of sophistication and flow that are sorely lacking in the works of others.
Devotion has been in the making for nine years, and it represents Sabbah’s finest, most complete exploration of India’s musical and spiritual landscapes. His first three albums for Six Degrees (Shri Durga, Maha Maya: Shri Durga Remixed, and Krishna Lila) reflected the junction of modern recording technology and Indian classical traditions, and they subsequently became contemporary world music classics. Sabbah demonstrated not only that non-Western themes could be integrated into the main body of a song, but also that they could dictate and comment on its melodies, rather than simply be overlaid as an exotic augmentation or texture. Consequently, these outings have stood at the pinnacle of thematic and compositional unity for awhile.
On Devotion, Sabbah has developed his approach toward integrating traditional and modern musical sounds to an even higher degree. He avoids using obvious grooves or mechanized beats as a way of bridging musical ideas that seemingly are incompatible. Instead, he follows an understated path by blending sounds with levels of deftness and fluidity that allow him to avoid having to make jarring transitions between passages. In every instance, there is a seamless fusion between the found and captured sounds and Sabbah’s own textures and mixes. His new compositions are well-considered, and they contain an edge that is both physical and intellectual. Thankfully, he never once veers into the vapidity of new age music or indulges in the limitations of techno.
Although Sabbah’s first three, Indian-influenced albums focused on mythology and music from the Hindu tradition, Devotion contains a scope that is much wider because he also incorporates calls to prayer from Sikhism and Sufi Islam. One can only hope that Sabbah’s subject matter doesn’t scare away potential listeners. It would be a shame if it did. While each of Devotion’s compositions is based upon holy music, these truly are songs that can be enjoyed anywhere — from a quiet meditation hall to a noisy club on a Saturday night.
In an age where such sentiments have become far too rare, Devotion is a joyful, delightful call for religious and cultural tolerance. Avoiding the shallowness of much of the world electronica oeuvre as well as the stuffiness and overly earnest ambience of many world music discs, Devotion is a remarkable achievement. Through an album that is beautifully mixed and recorded, Cheb i Sabbah has proven once and for all that there is a place for warm and intelligent dance music. For those who have struggled to find a way of dipping their toes into this delightful slipstream, Devotion is a truly wonderful place to start.
Of Further Interest...
Devotion is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box