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Orchestre El Gusto lets sounds of Kashba Blues blow through @hollandfestival like warm desert wind

Holland Festival Holland Festival

They are gentlemen of age and therefore with a history. Grey or bespectacled or bald - or with a combination of all three. Their music has taken them everywhere. And now they are in a packed Carre: the Orchestre El Gusto. To their own delight, as they thank the audience for coming. The musicians from the kasbah of Algiers play the music as it is

sounded in the narrow alleys and shops in the 1950s. Music by Jews, Muslims, North Africans and Europeans, called chaabi (literally:folk). It is the folk music of the 1950s, in which you hear influences from Andalusia (guitar, flamenco) and North Africa and detect Berber characteristics (Berber beats). The revolution and war of independence in the 1950s and 1960s silenced music. Muslims and Jews played together fraternally at first, but after 1950s Jewish musicians fled to France. The ban on smoking and drinking, which also eliminated bars in the kasbah, displaced the chaabi.


But then Irish/Algerian film star Safinez Bousbia stepped into a shop in the kasbah and heard the story of the popular orchestra of the 1950s. She sought out the orchestra's musicians all together, brought them together and made the film El Gusto. Due to the resounding film success, the senior citizens are now on tour with their orchestra and are in Amsterdam. The chaabi is reviving. It is not for nothing that El Gusto is often mentioned in the same breath as the Buena Vista Social Club.

They have brought their string and plucked instruments like the violin, lute, kanun (chopping board), cello, mandolin, bass. Not to mention their rhythm section with the bongo, def and tar (tambourine), darabuka. Flute, accordion and the grand piano complete it. And with all these instruments, this 25-piece orchestra revives the chaabi. The elders - all in their eighties - sit up front and from the first minute it swings. After the first song, the jackets come off. Even if you don't understand Arabic or Berber, the warm sounds and voices touch deeply. El Gusto's music blows into the room like a warm desert wind and still gives you goose bumps. This music comes from afar, they sing themselves. It is not disco or Rythm and blues, but singing and dancing to it is not difficult. They get the whole hall singing along. Which is largely filled with Holland Festival audiences. But North Africans among them stir by shouting at the musicians in Arabic.


It is pride, nostalgia and longing, which the North Africans exude on stage. Proud of their country and the enchanting music they play with such intensity. But they also long for the music of the past, which has been silenced for so long. 'On m'appelle l'oriental, le chanteur sentimental,' sings grey-eyed Luc Cherki with his charming smile. They have been everywhere: Rue de la Revolution and la Place des armees. And that is the core of El Gusto. The professional orchestra from Algeria has fallen apart through history. Wherever their lives took them, the music always went with them. And that their music is now revived fills them with pride. This is the victory of the chaabi. No wonder the muted accordionist Mohamed Ferkioui likes to dance to it, with Robert Castel. It looks a bit stiff and crooked, but the whole room dances along.

Then mandolin player Abdelmadjid Meskou picks up his stick. It's time for the scratchy grunts to leave. The London concert awaits. They themselves can't actually get enough of it. 'I have the impression that you had a very nice evening,' says violinist Robert Castel. 'But I'm sure we had a much better evening than you did.' Well, let's say: even played.

Good to know

Madeleine Red

Madeleine Rood is a freelance journalist and writes interviews, press releases and texts mainly for websites, newspapers and all kinds of publications. She has her own text agency, Bureau Rood. She worked at regional newspaper de Stentor for 20 years, 15 of which on the arts editorial board. Her specialisation is thus in cultural journalism. She lives together and has three sons.View Author posts

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