We Are the World

Global fusion takes club music to outernational heights

Maybe so, but the globetronic scene wouldn't be where it is today without S.F.'s original world beatnik, Cheb I Sabbah. Still warmly remembered for "1002 Nights," his long-running residency at Haight St. watering hole Nickie's, Sabbah — who refers to himself as "58 going on 25" — has made the transition from DJ to producer with a series of albums on S.F.'s Six Degrees (which, in turn, has emerged as one of the nation's top international labels). His latest offering, La Ghibra, is a collection of remixes drawn from his 2005 release La Kahena, which itself was built around the traditional music of the Maghreb region, a Saharan stretch of land populated by nomadic tribes and connecting Morocco, Algeria, and Mali. Arabic hip hop also appears on La Ghibra, on the "Filles de Marrakech" mix of "Sadats," while the rest of the album further funkifies the North African-inflected original source material, turning it into a dubby, trance-y, big beat-laden journey into a multifaceted, multicultured sound — fulfilling the promise hinted at by Coldcut's sampling Ofra Haza on an Eric B. & Rakim remix almost 20 years ago.

Sabbah calls what he does the "outernational" sound, which to him means "music without borders" and includes Arabia, Africa, and Asia. House, trance, hip hop, and dancehall, he says, are "universal" templates, onto which traditional music has been grafted. From a global perspective, "hip hop is the biggest thing happening," he says, although dancehall might be a close second in terms of its influence on other genres. "Hip hop and popular music has been getting into the bhangra sound and the Arabic sound" for some time, Sabbah relates, adding that his 29-year-old son is a hip-hop artist who calls himself Opium (because he's dope, get it?). "It's working. You need something fresh."

One reason it works, according to Nader, is because with Arabic melodies, "you can put them on top or in between every single beat you come across. The Arabic beats can even go between drum 'n' bass beats. It's percussion, and it's percussion with a beat. That's the beauty of it. When you hear percussion, you get movement."

DJ Nader dropping global dance floor bombs.
Juan Carlos Pometta
DJ Nader dropping global dance floor bombs.

The tabla — a long, double-sided drum ubiquitous to both southeast Asia and Arabia — is particularly adaptable to club music because of its deep, resonant bass, he adds. "I think the bass is the basic component of music, basically. You can't beat good bass. The bass alone becomes boring if it doesn't have support." That's where the tabla comes in, Nader explains. "If you're into house music, you're into rhythm. House music is basically about the bassline kicking in and the beat kicking in and the buildup. The tabla allows the house song to be prolonged." It also sounds familiar to hip-hop listeners, who are used to hearing the low-end timbre of the Roland 808, which, when detuned, produces a tone similar to the tabla or the African djembe.

While the Bay is definitely a breeding ground for cutting-edge world music, global fusion is rapidly spreading to other regions. Nader reports that he's been received enthusiastically in places like Denver, while in Chicago, the birthplace of house music, electronic music labels like Deeper Soul are pushing the progressive aesthetic of broken beat and IDM one step beyond by mixing house, jazz, and West African music. Listeners are "definitely" getting more sophisticated, says Deeper Soul's Josh Muthart, aka Josh Deeper. "You constantly want to dig in deeper and reach a level of authenticity." To that end, he's been releasing records that blend technology with live instrumentation (like an upcoming remix project by Kahil El'Zabar and Ethnic Heritage Ensemble) and throwing club nights that, much like Dhamaal's eponymous Club Six events, feature DJs and live musicians, together and separately.

"Information and technology are moving so quickly, people have so much access to information, it's just natural for these genre lines to be broken down," Muthart explains. His hope is that one day, there will be "one global audience" spanning "multiple generations" and "multiple demographics." Interestingly enough, that's Sabbah's wish, too: "We try to make it one party."

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