A big dose of Amazigh funk, powered by a single (ribab) string
A feverishly funky sign of a new era, Ribab Fusion celebrates Morocco’s Amazigh (Berber) culture as it flies from ‘70s-style funk to Afropop dance vibes, from slow jams to high-energy call-and-responses choruses. The one-stringed bowed ribab weaves all the madcap diversity together, sometimes gritty, sometimes soothing as a well-played sax. It’s a jazzy mix that wows technically and sets people celebrating.
Different age groups gathered around the main stage by the lakeside at Al-Azhar Park where Ribab Fusion was playing. Some danced to its tunes, while others swung to their sounds. A very successful opening night.
u.s. debut with center stage
Washington, DC - September 13-17
- Ribab Fusion lands in Washington, DC to kick off their Center Stage tour. While in town they will have an orientation and welcome at the State Department and participate in a Google Hangout and various other press interviews.
- They make their U.S. debut with a performance on September 16th at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage along with Khumariyaan in a shared program. Information here.
Providence, RI - September 18-20
- Ribab Fusion will perform on September 20th at the FirstWorks festival as part of a residency that highlights artist-to-artist exchanges -- information here.
New York, NY - September 21-24
- The band will spend several days with The Boston Boys, participating in jam sessions and meetings with other musicians. Ribab Fusion met The Boston Boys in the Spring of 2014 while the band was in Morocco on an ECA-supported tour as part of American Music Abroad.
- They will perform on September 24th at Rockwood Music Hall -- information here.
Gainesville, FL - September 25-30
- Ribab Fusion will participate in a week long residency at the University of Florida Performing Arts including workshops, classroom visits, and a performance on September 27th -- information here.
Cutler Bay (Miami), FL - October 1-5
- Ribab Fusion will open South-Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center's 2014-2015 season with an outdoor free performance on October 4th alongside several other bands-- information here.
- The band will also participate in a number of other activities during their time in Cutler Bay including artist jams and workshops.
Albuquerque, NM - October 6-8
- Hosted by AMP Concerts while in Albuquerque, the band will perform for VSA Albuquerque on October 7th
- They will also perform at the Dirty Bourbon on October 8th -- information here.
Joshua Tree, CA - October 10-12
- Ribab Fusion will finish out their Center Stage tour at the Joshua Tree Music Festival. They will perform on October 11th (information here) and hold a workshop on October 12th (information here).
On tour as part of Center Stage
Foulane Bouhssine Band leader, Ribab, Violin, Vocals
Ouarssas Ahmed Loutar, Guitar
Jamal Boumadkar Bass Guitar
Mohamed Bounit Traditional Percussion
Redouane Maris Keyboards
Mehdi Nassouli Gimbri (Hajhuj), Percussion, Vocals
Youness Teftal Drums
About the Band
To really make a monochord like the Amazigh (Berber) ribab sing, you have to have the chops of Jimi Hendrix. Or so insists Foulane Bouhssine of Ribab Fusion, who’s on a mission to turn the bowed, one-string fiddle into a furiously funky sign of a new era. And Bouhssine is everywhere these days – fronting, playing in or organizing at least 8 different Moroccan music projects and bands.
“We began Ribab Fusion in 2008 with the idea to explore the world, and share with the world what Amazigh music is. To de-folklorize it. The opposite of trivializing it,” reflects Foulane Bouhssine. “We are creating contemporary music with traditional instruments. That’s what we are saying with this new fusion, with this new music.”
The world is listening, in the last two years Ribab Fusion has hit the major festivals in Africa and Europe. As important for the members of Ribab Fusion, the home country crowds in Morocco are celebrating along with the band.
“The Amazigh culture is very strong, elastic, charismatic and very potent,” says Brahim El Mazned, the founding Artistic Director of Agadir’s famed Timitar Festival in Morocco, and Ribab Fusion’s mentor. “Rooted and proud of their culture, this generation of artists understands the sounds and rhythms, the underlying impulses, and this knowledge fuels their creativity.”
The Ribab is a single stringed bowed instrument with a tonal range similar to a violin. This is a key Amazigh (Berber) instrument, native to the Souss region, Morocco’s southern-most area embracing the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Sahara to the south and the anti-Atlas Mountains to the east. Bouhssine puts it simply: The Ribab is simply the backbone, the spinal cord of Amazigh music.”
Making their U.S. debut under the auspices of Center Stage, from September 16 to October 12, Ribab Fusion tours to The Kennedy Center, Rhode Island’s FirstWorks Carnevale, University of FL Performing Arts in Gainesville, South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, Albuquerque’s AMP Concerts, and the Joshua Tree Music Festival in California. The tour also includes a recording session and performance with The Boston Boys in New York City.
Ribab Fusion Center Stage Tour Staff
Denise Wilcke Company Manager
Robert W. Henderson, Jr. Technical & Production Coordinator
Bringing the Big, Bold Funk with a Single String: Morocco’s Ribab Fusion
To really make a monochord like the Amazigh (Berber) ribab sing, you have to have the chops of Jimi Hendrix. Or so insists Foulane Bouhssine of Ribab Fusion, who’s on a mission to turn the bowed, one-string fiddle into a furiously funky sign of a new era.
Classically trained on violin but a huge fan of his musical roots and rock, pop, and even a dose of American country, Bouhssine with his Agadir-based group shake their roots, inspired by the blues, as well as global artists from Tinariwen to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. With wild flourishes of keyboard, a local instrument (outar) that’s a dead ringer for the banjo (“L’Fichta”), and Bouhssine’s virtuosic playing, Ribab Fusion can sound as sweetly Mediterranean as the Gypsy Kings, as raucous and rhythmically intense as the best Afropop, while never losing sight of their distinct Southwestern Moroccan traditions.
“We went with this music to explore the world and explain what Amazigh music is. To de-folklorize it. The opposite of trivializing it,” reflects Bouhssine. “We have contemporary music with traditional instruments. That’s what we are saying with this new fusion, with this new music.”
Agadir, a beautiful beach town on Morocco’s southern Atlantic coast is the largest coastal city north of the Sahara, with the soaring Atlas Mountains directly to the east. “The Amazigh culture is very strong, elastic, charismatic and very potent,” says Brahim El Mazned, the founding Artistic Director of Agadir’s famed Timitar Festival, and Ribab Fusion’s producer. “Rooted and proud of their culture, this generation of artists understands the sounds and rhythms, the underlying impulses, and this knowledge fuels their creativity.”
This creativity will be in full effect as the band makes its U.S. debut tour as part of Center StageSM. Center Stage is an exchange program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Exchange programs initiated by the Bureau support U.S. foreign policy goals and engage youth, students, educators, artists, athletes, and rising leaders in the U.S. and more than 160 countries. Center Stage uses the performing arts to support cultural understanding between American and international communities; participating artists experience the U.S. first hand and cultivate lasting relationships.
Ribab Fusion’s music flies from ‘70s-style funk to Latin dance vibes (“Afoulk”), from slow jams (“Inahana”) to high-energy call-and-responses choruses (“Les Foulani”). The ribab weaves all the madcap diversity together, sometimes gritty, sometimes soothing as a well-played sax. It’s an accomplished mix of carefully considered tracks, meant to wow technically and get people celebrating.
Bouhssine and his band mates all met as music majors back in the 1990s. A close-knit group of friends before they joined forces in Ribab Fusion, they trained as professional musicians in European forms, but were increasingly interested in the music of their own people and region. On the Atlantic, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, it’s a region of rich soil, stunning coastlines, and long history of interaction between cultures.
Though a majority ethnic group and a mainstay of Morocco’s diverse culture for ages, the Amazigh and their language, customs, and music were not represented equally on the national and international stage as much as Morocco's other traditions. Now, with official recognition and growing government support, the language is being taught in schools, broadcast on television, and spoken in Morocco’s parliament. And the musical culture is seeing a passionate new flush of interest. “We had an energetic national movement that began back in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” notes El Mazned, “and musicians were involved, but what we’re experiencing right now is an amazing new revival, thanks to musicians like Ribab Fusion.”
It is this original era of Amazigh ethnic awareness that Ribab Fusion hints at with its funk and prog-rock sound. “Funk and rock were worldwide movements,” El Mazned explains, “and that music speaks to the freedom of expression and progressive spirit we feel, in an era where conservatism is strong.”
On the avant garde of the new revival, Bouhssine and his bandmates found fresh approaches to traditional music and musical instruction. “I was very strong on the violin, but then I started to study ribab by myself,” recalls Bouhssine. “Normally, you learned ribab not from formal study but from a teacher. I asked a master ribab player to teach me more by ear, traditionally.” Bouhssine went on to study with four highly respected elder musicians, an unorthodox move that gave him the broadest possible base for developing his lightning-fast style and distinctive sound. However, he and his bandmates knew that sheer virtuosity on a traditional instrument wasn’t enough to change people’s minds.
“Traditional music is not appreciated very much by young people, and so we had to create traditional music but with a contemporary feel,” Bouhssine opines. “But we had to do it very seriously, not shallowly, to bring new audiences and new life to this music.”
Instead of cavalierly adding an old instrument to some ready-made pop or rock form, Ribab Fusion decided to expand the traditional sonic palette, to imagine something that would take the ribab out of the small, homey circles of the past and into stadiums and television studios. “This is the kind of music that is often only for a few people, in an intimate space,” explains Bouhssine. “I can touch more people with a bigger, bolder sound.”
Ribab Fusion’s approach is gaining ground, as evidenced by the growing scene in Agadir. Young musicians can be found jamming together four nights a week in a basement space in the city, and more experienced and elder musicians perform with newcomers to encourage them and push them to the next level. “At least two bands are working there every day,” El Mazned says. “In just a few months, we’ve already had a lot of bands join the same movement. I’m really thinking we’re building something crazy and new in Amazigh culture in Agadir, and Ribab Fusion are the driving force behind a lot of this energy.”
Foulane Bouhssine: Band leader, Ribab, Violin, Vocals
Ouarssas Ahmed: Outar, Guitar
Jamal Boumadkar: Bass Guitar
Mohamed Bounit: Traditional Percussion
Redouane Maris: Keyboards
Mehdi Nassouli: Gimbri (Hajhuj), Percussion, Vocals
Youness Teftal: Drums
Center Stage will bring seven ensembles from Morocco, Pakistan and Vietnam to the U.S. for month-long tours from June-November 2014, connecting artists with diverse communities across the country. Residencies will include performances, workshops, discussions, people-to-people exchanges, and community gatherings. Keep up with Center Stage on Facebook (www.facebook.com/CenterStagePage) and on Twitter (@centerstageus) and at www.centerstageUS.org
Center Stage is a public-private cultural exchange program initiated by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, with additional support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Asian Cultural Council. General management for Center Stage is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.
Telquel, Foulane Bouhssine, "I'm Still a Student" (pdf)
Star Du Maghreb, In stores: "The Fichta"
billing and crediting information
On tour as part of Center Stage
The following credit is required on the title page in all printer performance programs. We appreciate its use wherever else it's practical: brochures, posters, ensemble-only promotional materials, press releases, advertisements, etc:
The presentation of [name of ensemble] is part of Center Stage, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, with additional support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Asian Cultural Council. General Management for Center Stage is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.
Center Stage logo placement is greatly appreciated. On web-based materials, please link from the Center Stage logo or written name to www.centerstageus.org.