Really nice story from yesterday’s Morning Edition:
Then it all fell apart during and after Algeria's war of independence from France. The Jewish musicians, considered French citizens, fled to that country. After independence in 1962, the government forcibly relocated many Muslim neighborhoods.
Some of the musicians went on to professional careers. Some played only for themselves. Others stopped performing music altogether — especially during the 1990s, when Algeria was racked by a civil war between the government and Islamist groups and playing music became a dangerous profession.
Forty years later, a young woman of Algerian descent living in Ireland decided to visit Algiers on vacation. Safinez Bousbia was wandering through the souk — the bazaar — where she met an artisan who made and decorated mirrors. She decided to buy one as a souvenir of her trip.
"I was complimenting the mirror that I was going to buy, and I was like, 'Oh, it's so beautiful, it's hand-painted and stuff,'" she says. "And I said, 'Oh, you're such an artist.' And he goes, 'Of course I am! But I'm not only an artist here, I'm also an artist in music.' And I'm like, 'Really?' And he goes, 'Wait a second.' And he pulled out all of this memorabilia of his years as a musician.
"And then I start asking him again about the mirror," she says. "And he says, "Tsk! Leave the mirror! Let's talk about this now!' So it was quite hilarious."
The mirror maker's name is Mohamed Ferkioui. He plays the accordion and piano. And, as his story unspooled, Bousbia got a crazy idea. She didn't know anything about music; she was 23. She was supposed to finish her master's degree in architecture back in Ireland after this vacation. But she canceled her flight and decided to track down all of the surviving chaabi players.
She was going to get the band back together.
Listen to or read Anastasia Tsioulcas’ whole story, Reunited After 50 Years, An Algerian Buena Vista Social Club Makes Its U.S. Debut, at NPR.
You can download two of the band’s albums, El Gusto and Abdel Hadi Halo & The El Gusto Orchestra Of Algiers at Amazon.
Photo of El Gusto oud player Rachid Berkani courtesy of the musicians via Morning Edition.