|More about this Artist|
Cheb i Sabbah started spinning in Paris during 1964, and by 1968 had hooked up with The Living Theatre where he made some of the earliest attempts at turning the spinning of discs into an art form. Then in the late '80s he became a fixture on the club scene in San Francisco through his 1001 Nights. In recent history he has released two albums Shri Durga and Mahamaya - and is now in the process of releasing Krishna Lila. A man with so much experience and talent and yet, he actually responded to my request for an interview. I couldn't believe it. So here it is, ENJOY!
AV: Lets start with how you got into music back when you started?
CiS: Well I come from a family of musicians, so there was a lot of music around. But, I never learnt or played an instrument myself. Being around music all that time I decided being a dj would be much easier than learning an instrument myself (laughs). So I became a dj when I was seventeen. So from there I started spinning and when I wasn't spinning I was working in theater - so I was always involved with music and musicians.
AV: Is this the time you were involved with the Living Theatre?
CiS: Yes, that was set up in Europe and New York City. So I was touring Europe and the States all the time.
AV: So was it traveling with them that got you to San Francisco?
CiS: No, I went there by myself and started a theater group there, called Tribal Warning Theatre. And that's when I really started to do soundtracks for theater. I started with using one of those Tascam, cassette four-track thing and then moved on to an eight track. At that time industrial music was really big. So through this experience I learnt how to mix and match a lot of different samples and sounds but as a theater soundtrack. The music I was producing was cued up to the actors and actresses on stage so as to play precise sounds and music along with the performance.
AV: So you were using the MIDI concept before it was even a viable option?
CiS: Yes, precisely. The soundtrack contained not just the music but also effects that one couldn't do in a live performance. It was all cued up on tape. Also along, with that I was using a lot of multimedia; slides, fires and things to that affect - a little bit ahead of its time.
AV: So did that theater lead you to set up 1002 Nights?
CiS: No, that came later when I stopped doing that theater and went back into spinning again.
AV: What caused that change why did you switch back again?
CiS: It was easier, and you weren't too dependent on other people showing up on time (laughs). I mean theater didn't pay too much money so it was very hard to get people motivated. So spinning gave me a chance to be involved with music and be creative also. So along with spinning I loved this concept of putting on live shows along with the music - using people from different continents and to present these artists within their elements culturally and musically and it has been very successful. So far there have been 56 concerts done.
AV: So the show is almost a theatrical performance?
CiS: Well no, we might have artists performing or have them do dances but the concept was the five senses. There would eating, tasting, smelling - we had food available. Completely based on the five senses.
AV: So how is the name 1002 Nights related? What does that signify?
CiS: Well it came from 1001 Nights, the famous novel. I just added one night so as to not confuse with the book (laughs).
AV: Changing gears here, since your philosophy for working on music that is foreign to you is that you learn by going to the people who live and practice that tradition, so what exactly is your role when the final product is laid down?
CiS: Well my role is mainly production, manipulation, adaptation and mixing. I don't play any instruments so I let people who know how to do that do that. Considering the kind of people I have been working with I can't pretend that I will be able to add anything with my hands or my voice. So what I do is start with an idea, from that I produce the musicians in the studio with a certain concept, a specific raga or composition and once its done and recorded then I take that and on top of that I add my work.
AV: So you must have some knowledge of Hindustani, Muslim music for you to know which raga or composition to work from?
CiS: Yes, but all from listening not playing. One develops a listener's ear that I think is as important to composing music as a player's.
AV: So lets talk about Shri Durga a bit. That's, a very devotional title considering it's the name of a Hindu goddess - why that title, considering the album consists of both Hindu - Muslim musical elements and singers.
CiS: Well having spent a lot of time with Ustad Salamat Ali Khan I knew they used to do raga durga all the time, so we actually started with that raga when starting the album. So with that I decided to do the whole album around Durga - that idea was kind of in and out - considering "Kese Kese" a love song doesn't have anything to do Durga. As far as the Hindu Muslim aspect is concerned, I am Jewish from an Arab land, I kind of have the same perspective when trying to figure out how does one unify or how does one work out this problem between Hindus and Muslims and, Jews and Muslims - so the idea was that it can be done through music, at least where I come from you always see Jews and Muslims playing together and in India it's the same thing. So using both the artists and the elements was an attempt to present that aspect which I thought was important.
AV: So the remix cd MahaMaya was that released because Shri Durga itself was not a very dance club sound album?
CiS: No, actually what happened there was that Aki at Nation Records knew half of the remixers out in England so it was an easy thing to set up. I personally knew Bally Sagoo and Aki had deals and records with TJ Rehmiand Transglobal Underground. The idea was basically to do a remix album - all the artists who remixed it seems that they really liked Shri Durga and thought it was very innovative. Aki actually told me that he had been considering making an album like Shri Durga but since I had already done it he didn't have to do it any more (laughs). I think at the time everyone one was sampling South Asian sounds in England and for someone to actually use live artists and then work with the music they created was something that was innovative. And, they all enjoyed it and wanted to add to it.
AV: So being that you are of Jewish decent, have you attempted to bring that element or culture into your musical production?
CiS: Well I am trying but it is more difficult to actually get artists who produce music like that. I am thinking of it for a future album. The element would be something that is very little known generally - it's classical music from North Africa, which actually exists in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and is known as Maluf music or Andalusian music but it's not Spanish music in that sense. It was developed in Spain when the Muslims, Moors and Jews were in Spain. So that element I will try to bring into record form in the future.
AV: So that's something you are considering for your next album after "Krishna Lila"?
CiS: Well from the next album I would like to focus on the "women," of the Maghreb; The Maghreb being the five countries making up North Africa.
AV: Well talking about "Krishna Lila," can you give us some more details about that - where that came from and how was it set up?
CiS: First off the idea was to work with a live classical style or bhajan. On Shri Durga I worked with K. Shridar who played the sarod on the album. He introduced me to his niece who is a bhajan singer in Bombay and I did a session with her there. Her name is Radhika and she has a beautiful voice - so from there I got the idea to do a whole album of bhajans. But, the thing that is in a way a little unusual was that we went to Madras and recorded Karnatik bhajans. So the end product is that Krishna Lila is five different bhajans in five different languages: Marathi, Vrajbasi, Kannada, Tamil and Sanskrit. So it started with one singer and then it was decided to do a Krishna album thus, all the bhajans are Krishna bhajans. So that's why it became Krishna Lila.
AV: So being that you worked in five different languages, how did you meet up all the different artists and singers who performed for the album?
CiS: Well in Bombay the singer was Radhika and K. Shridar's brother K. Shivakumar plays the violin and lives in Bombay so he was also part of the session. In Bombay, I also met Pandit Ulhas Bapat and did a session with him - he plays the santoor. Then in Madras, K. Shridar introduced me to other musicians - who ended up being a singer with her group and then, another veena player with her group and that added the Karnatik element to the album.
AV: So, being someone who has been in the "scene"- what would your suggestion be to someone trying to do something similar? To the new artists out there?
CiS: Well my suggestion would be to really "listen" to the original music that's the source of it - and be respectful to that source.
AV: Ok then what would your sentiment be towards sampling? To a dj or an artist who takes from another source and then simply adds beats to it?
CiS: See that's what I mean. First, one has to listen to the source. For example to use sarangi in a song one has to understand how a sarangi player works. So if you listen to the source and have respect for what they do - considering those musicians start from the age of five or something and they just keep playing all their life - there is a lot of effort and devotion that goes into that. So to come in and to sample to make a song out of it is ok I guess - there is room for everything out there but the new songs capability to age well with the times will be considerably lower. For example if you listen to a raga recorded yesterday versus something recorded forty years ago - it's the same. The inspiration is the same. I mean if you create a song to be modern or the hot thing for the moment then you still have to realize where the source of music or melody is from and not just work with the beats. I think some people get too wrapped up in the beats, but the emphasis shouldn't be there. I mean it's taken thousands of years to develop the traditional sound to what it is now and that's where the emphasis should be.
AV: So that's all I had to ask you. Is there anything else you want to share with us?
CiS: Well I hope for a better world - that's really the focus here. And, I think we do need music for a better world - its necessary to provide inspiration.
AV: Well thanx a lot Cheb for your time. And to all our readers check out Cheb's Site for more up to date info.