Among Brothers

Abdelli, 2003

With no preconceived idea, and with the openness of mind of a newborn child, Abdelli and I let our inspiration be guided by signs that capture our imagination. The source of these signs is familiar; we know it through experience. Its name is destiny, fate or coincidence, "that which must be". As with the recording of 'New Moon' (1995, Real World), it is by destiny that our footsteps were guided across four continents, and that we were given to work with exceptional musicians in all the countries where we recorded this album.

Eight years after the release of 'New Moon', 'Among Brothers' was born out of the encounter of Abdelli's music and Berber singing with the music of Cape Verde and Azerbaijan, as well as with the music of Burkina Faso and the Maghreb.

A few thousand years ago, before the Arab invasions, the Berber kingdom stretched from Egypt to the Canary Islands, from the Mediterranean Sea to the desert of the Sahel. Through our work we extended the borders of that ancient kingdom, wedding its music to that of Asia and Africa.

The music of 'Among Brothers' belongs to the borderlands - not so much the geographical frontiers arbitrarily drawn upon maps, but the regions of creative inspiration that emerge from the encounter of different cultures. The music of Cape Verde is not exclusively African, but tainted with hues of Portuguese, almost Brazilian influence; the music of Azerbaijan is the head of a compass tracing circles across Islam and Slavic Orthodoxy, joining East and West.

It took us three years to finish this album. We went looking for musicians on their own ground rather than in places of exile such as West European cities. We avoided recording studios, choosing instead to work at the heart of everyday life, hoping to capture its idiosyncratic energies and transmit their vibrations through those small pieces of plastic called CDs.

We took advantage of natural acoustics, and of the infinite variety of sounds emerging from places unrestricted by man-made structures such as churches, concert halls or studios. The subtlety of natural acoustics makes them far more difficult to digitally reproduce than concert hall or studio acoustics; a forest after the rain, in the mist, or covered by snow, will on each occasion produce a different sound range.

In the world today, being sheltered from the noise of human activity, such as road or air traffic, it is increasingly difficult. We attempted some recording in the great Canadian forest, but silence was hard to find as our space had to be shared with flies, mosquitoes and... aeroplanes. A careful listen to 'Svar', recorded in Cape Verde, reveals the presence of a goat on a distant mountain.

We preferred to work in places where the atmosphere was highly charged, looking for soulful surroundings with a rich history. Among these were the volcanic valleys of Cape Verde that bore witness to the 'Ebony', the African slaves waiting to be shipped to America; the desert stone-carving sites of Qobustan in Azerbaijan once inhabited by prehistoric people endowed with exceptional craftsmanship skills; the court of Mani Sanou (Farafina) and his family in the middle of the Bolomakote - the area where all the musicians of Bobo Dioulasso live, the big city located south of Burkina Faso; the castle of Voorde in Belgium; the cultural centre of Baku which lived through a hundred years of Azerbaijan's tumultuous history, and where even closet ceilings are over eight meters high...

The technical production of 'Among Brothers' was highly unusual. A simple, pre-recorded basis, consisting of Abdelli's voice and a guide percussion track, provided a foundation of melody and rhythm for the recordings of musicians with whom we worked in various countries.

The whole album was first recorded at Praia de Santiago, Cape Verde. Once these recordings were over, we set them aside and left a few months later for Azerbaijan, where we started again from the simple basis of Abdelli's voice and the percussion track. This process was once more repeated in Burkina Faso with Farafina's rhythm section, who did not hear any of the hundreds of other tracks recorded during our previous travels, and carefully stored on hard disc. To finish, the same technique was used again at the castle of Voorde in Belgium, where we worked with Abdelli's Argentinean, Chilean, Moroccan and Tunisian musicians.

All participating artists added their unique musical skill and tradition to the music of Abdelli, unaware of what had been done elsewhere and simply responding to the voice/percussion basis. Individual musicians each kept to their own style without seeking to fuse it with that of other cultures. The end result consists of a controlled fusion, or even a complete absence of fusion!

Abdelli and I also played the game: once all recordings had been completed in the various countries we worked in, we still had no idea what the final result would be, as we had never heard all the tracks together. We knew for certain, however, that all artists had played in the original key, following the appropriate rhythm for each piece. We only heard all the musicians together at the time of mixing the album, and this moment we so eagerly awaited turned out to be truly magical: it was the discovery of a completely new musical colour. In separating the different cultures, I attempted to preserve their authenticity; Abdelli's melodies are universal, and all the cultures of the world can make them their own. The most important task was to protect the roots and individual style of each.