His name may not be familiar to Americans, but for millions of people in North Africa and Europe, his name is synonymous with “Yal music.” At a time when all the youth of Algeria were caught up in raÃƒÂ¯ music, Takfarinas was forging his own sound, a sort of musical esperantos deriving from the Kabyle songs of the last century. He named it “Yal music” after the rhythmic vocalized syllable “yal…laaa yal…lalala,” which is inseparable from Kabyle song, from children’s music to the great songs of the past. Zaama-Zaama, Zaama-Zaama, the chorus of his latest smash hit single, is on everyone’s lips nowadays in France. Among the North African community in Europe, he is the prince of Kabyle, who uses his double-necked mandole and a powerful voice to deliver his message of love and universal understanding.
Tinder Records is now introducing “YAL”–the album, the music and the artist–to North America. Takfarinas is the new pop superstar of North Africa, who has earned the respect of European music critics. His album is a huge success among Algerian and other North African communities since its release in France. “Yal music” has reached such popularity that it has become a worthy rival to raÃƒÂ¯ music.
Takfarinas’s music is a fusion of traditional Amazigh melodies, American soul music, a pinch of flamenco, a funk and European rock flavor spiced with other musical elements of his native Algeria. He borrows Texan harmonicas, gypsy rhythms, Turkish violins, and gospel choirs from the tangled web of sound which makes up our world.
Takfarinas was born to a family of musicians in Tixerane, a town perched in the heights of Algiers. Tixerane has always been home to the Kabyle-speaking Amazigh (Kabyle is one of the dialects of Tamazight, the original North African language). His great grandfather was a traditional singer, well-known in Kabylia in the last century. In 1986, Takfarinas had a hit called Way Thelha (she’s so beautiful), which was successful on cassette throughout North Africa. During that time, he played to sold-out stadiums in Algeria, accompanied on a double-necked acoustic mandole he called takfa. It is a lute-like instrument originally with a single fingerboard indigenous to Algeria. He modified the instrument, added a second neck and two colors; each neck offering two different distinct sounds, one feminine, the other masculine. He has since replaced the takfa with an electric half-drum mandole, again with two fingerboards, a unique model created in Marseille, France, on which he can achieve the grand concert sound.
At the age of six, Takfarinas began learning and performing the popular music of North Africa on his own makeshift guitar, which he built using a motor oil can, a wooden stick for the neck, and his father’s bicycle brake cables for the strings. On his sixteenth birthday, his father bought him a brand new guitar. Unlike many other parents, his father was very supportive of his young son’s artistic passion, and encouraged him to practice more often. Accompanying himself on this guitar, the young boy won first prize in a singing contest on Algerian radio. He interpreted popular songs of the time, notably those of the artists that have inspired him: El Hasnaoui, Slimane Azeem, Ahmed Saber, and Mohamed El Anka, among others: “We did not have records or cassette tapes; all the music we heard was from the radio. We had a Kabyle radio station, Arabic radio, and a French radio. The latter played English and Spanish songs as well.” He got hooked on all three radio stations and listened to Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, and Stevie Wonder, among others. In his neighborhood, they often had a contest to see who would be the first to learn the new songs on the radio.
Around 1976, with the savings earned from doing odd jobs, he made his first recording with “Mahboubahti et l’Oasis” in Algiers. Three years later he recorded the same tracks again in Paris for his first album, Yebarenane. It was at that time he met a fellow countryman, Boujemaa Semaouni. Together they founded the group “Agraw.” The collaboration yielded two albums. He then moved on to a solo career that allowed him to create the “new Kabyle song” style. The Sidi-Bel Abbes ballet joined him on his concert tours. His audience grew tremendously and he found himself touring with 5 coach buses and 86 cast members, including dancers. It was a show that completely revolutionalized the structures of the local scene, filling up stadiums, American style.
In 1979, when the political situation in Algeria radically changed the status of live performances, Takfarinas, like so many Algerian artists, had no choice but to leave his country. He emigrated to France where he reaped the benefits of a far richer professional environment. In July 1987, he played at Paris’s prestigious Olympia music hall. It was one of the memorable moments in his young career: “For me, it was like a coronation. It was as if music has given me a ‘passport’ that accepted me in the music community. I was elated.” Takfarinas has since played Olympia several times and has performed in major music festivals all over Europe. As a musician, he says he feels at home everywhere because music is a universal language, and when an artist speaks it well, he is welcomed in many places. He dedicated two of his albums, Romane (1994) and Salamet (1996) to murdered or missing artists: “When you kill an artist, you kill the sentiment of humanity; when you murder an artist, you kill the voice of the people. The artist is the voice of a nation; he sings of their sentiments, their happiness, their sorrows, their hopes, and their dreams.”
Takfarinas has an undeniable love for the common people. Once in Algeria, he played in a sold-out theater for an audience of five thousand people. While waiting in line to purchase a ticket to the show, a woman gave birth to a child, a boy she named Takfarinas. His songs have metaphorical qualities like the Tamazight language–a repertoire rich in humor and including wisdom. His themes include village traditions, the economic crisis, the many trials and tribulations of destiny, love, etc. He dreams of a world without *****ries, a visa-less world with justice and no capital punishment: “Only God is able to take away life.” Another one of his dreams is to see the cultural diversity of the world come together in harmony. “Like a bouquet of flowers with many colors, it is beautiful to see and smell.”