I was doing a search on Cheb i Sabbah, mainly to find if there are any new and noteworthy reviews of his new album Devotion (I didn’t really find any) and also to see if he’ll be playing my town anytime soon (yes, at Drom on March 15 -yea!), when I stumbled upon this interview in Jewish Journal. And this is a particularly interesting interview, because, with their perspective, they brought out some comments and information from Cheb that you probably won’t find in most other publications (or, I should say, most of the other not-so-many publications that interview him). Here are a couple of good excerpts:
JJ: Most of your music has a heavy Indian influence. Why?
CS: I was exposed to Indian music in the 1960s, while living in Paris. The French were really into ethnomusicology, so I always heard music from around the world. I’d grown up with North African Andalusian music, which is based on times of day, seasons, longing, separation, sadness, joy, all of that. Classical Indian music is the same thing, so it wasn’t a big leap.
JJ: How did you grow up with Andalusian music?
CS: It was developed in Spain by the Jews, Berbers and Arabs, and after the Spanish Inquisition, it traveled throughout the Arab world. In Algeria, the whole tradition of Andalusian music was largely maintained by the Jews, and it just so happened that my mother’s cousin was married to one of the master musicians. So I grew up right in the middle of that.
JJ: How long has your family lived in Algeria?
CS: We trace back 2,600 years – to the Babylonian conquest of ancient Israel. Following that exile, Jewish refugees migrated throughout the region, many settling in North Africa. At the time, the Berbers of North Africa were pagan, but many were influenced by the Jewish idea of monotheism and converted. Since that time, there were numerous invasions throughout North Africa – including that of the Bedouin Muslims. The Berbers fought the Bedouins but lost, so many converted to Islam. My family is among those who stayed Jewish.
. . .
JJ: Do you feel at home in San Francisco?
CS: No. That is one symptom of displacement. Once you’ve been displaced long enough, nowhere is home – not even where you were born. If you look at it from an Indian point of view, in a way it’s good, because you can’t be attached to anything – even your country, your roots and your culture. I feel it’s good to practice nonattachment, because in the end, when you go, you can’t take anything; so why be attached?