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“Toukadime is an initiative of us — two DJs with a love for the Maghreb. Krimau’s interest lays in the soul and funk world, while I focus mainly on hip-hop. With our collective love of original and classic music, we began collecting records and decided to dig the music bins of North Africa. We’re both the sons of North African immigrants, and this project was a way for us to give Maghrebi culture to those who have no easy access to it.”
That’s Bachir, who together with Krimau make up the duo Toukadime (تقدم in Arabic). The name means “to present” — and that is exactly what these France-based DJs do: they share with the world some of the North African diaspora’s greatest songs from times gone by. This is mainly songs with a vintage feel, predominantly of the chaabi genre, which are featured on their regularly updated SoundCloud radio channel.
Take caution though. Those with an MTV attention span — and ears for the Rotana pop thrillers of the Arab world — stay away. For the most part, chaabi songs go on for the better part of half an hour. But most often, when people speak of the music of North Africa, they’re talking about rai, the infectious blend of Arab, African and Western rhythms that has long been a staple in both Europe and the Americas. What Toukadime are doing is bringing to light the other side of North African music, like rai singers singing in chaabi style or old gems from the Jewish Maghreb.
The SoundCloud shows are recorded in French, with an attention to detail and conversations in between each track, describing the geography, history, religion and society involved in the creation of each musical piece. And, they don’t stop there. The DJs make regular trips to North Africa to collect and explore vintage record and music stores all over the region. As with Europe and America, record and music stores in the region are on the decline due to the online availability of music — but these shops are not only a musical treasure trove that make the perfect old school soundtrack, they are also usually owned by true musical enthusiasts who come from the generation of chaabi music. They have all lived, breathed and tasted the atmosphere and rhythms of people like Mahieddine Bachetarzi, El Hachemi Garwabi and Hadj Muhammed Al Anka.
While chaabi in dareja means “people’s music,” it is nowadays usually reserved for old tape players and the ears of an older generation. However, once upon a time, it was the crown of North African melodies, with stories of love and loss, society and youth. There are still chaabi concerts playing ode to the era of traditional Maghrebi clothing, when red berry coloured fezes adorned the singers. Actually, Toukadime’s website paints the perfect image of a chaabi-style setting, with Moroccan poofs designed to look like DJ sets and the deep colours of rooms smelling of amber. Earlier, it was from the smoke-filled corners of Maghreb’s casbahs that chaabi music would pour out — now it’s available directly through your earphones.
As of late, chaabi has received more attention because of the recent turmoil and uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, which has caused journalists and DJs alike to pay closer attention to the role of music in protests. In general, this has been a welcome development, especially considering that once upon a time, chaabi music and its cousins were simply an afterthought of old-school nostalgia. Nowadays, the themes of independence, freedom and societal love, with which chaabi serenaded its audiences have gained a reinforced place in society, and modern-day rappers are clearly influenced by late 1960s and 1970s protest artists like Nass El Ghiwane, Jil Jilala, and Lemchaheb. That has been hard to ignore for acts like Toukadime, who never fail to leap at the opportunity to showcase rebellious music from Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
There is a cultural blend of Moorish Spain, Berber Africa and Arabic, which has continued to evolve throughout North Africa, with Muslim, Jewish and other musicians playing side by side and absorbing various influences. Toukadime, and the internet, means that such treasures can now be captured for the modern audience. The duo says that, as sons of North African migrants, what they want to do is making Maghrebi culture accessible. And what better way to do that than through music.
All visuals are from Toukadime’s Facebook page.