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The big mix: Tunisian star's global stance.



Most Records

Cat: MOST1001

Smadj (aka Jean-Pierre Smadja) is a product of the Parisian dance scene, though Tunisian by birth. He has successfully blended his roots with his musical tastes to combine North African and electronic music with latin, jazz and oriental sounds.

To complement this unusual approach, Smadj has drawn on the talents of some of the most exciting musicians currently recording outside of the mainstream in contemporary music.

Smadj took up the guitar as a teenager, and at 15 was awarded a place to study at the ARPEJ, one of Paris' most prestigious jazz schools. He soon began to develop his own style of playing, inspired by the folk-jazz sound of Cat Stevens. By his early 20s he was featuring regularly at jazz clubs in and around the city, whilst gaining a reputation as a sound engineer through the mobile studio he had set up.

As the sound of electronic music spread throughout Paris during the early 1990s, Smadj began to feel constrained by his chosen genre. His first reaction was to start to fuse jazz with the North African sound of his birthplace. The name he gave to the project was 'Tatoom', which combined a number of musicians.

Tatoom began life as an instrumental group, focusing on a jazzy world-groove sound. It later experimented with a more pop-based approach by adding a vocalist. The project was noticed in 1996 by a small French label, Moby Dick, which would go on to release the album 'Tatoom presents Tatoom' later that year.


During the mid-1990s, Smadj collaborated with a number of high-profile musicians as a session guitarist, such as the American singer Jane X, Busy, and Tony Allen (the late Fela Ransome Kuti's drummer). Smadj's main inspiration at the time, though, was the less traditional sounds of drum and bass and breakbeat, which he had encountered at jam sessions in a small Parisian club, Le Cithea. And by 1998 Smadj had developed his new sound to include a host of Europe's most prominent jazz musicians.


One of the many people who Smadj had been impressing with his music was Robert Trunz, the South African owner of the progressive MELT2000 record label. In late 1998 Robert signed him to record an album, 'Equilibriste' which featured many of the musicians Smadj had been working with. The title is a reference to the boundary he treads on the album between drum and bass and jazz. Smadj spent much of 1999 touring Europe to promote the album.


As Smadj's musical horizons have broadened he has also been developing his mastery of the oud--a six-stringed Arabic incarnation of the lute. His second album for MELT2000, 'New Deal' was the first work to feature him on the instrument, and it marked a departure into more experimental and diverse territory.

The album represented the music of many African, Arabic and Indian cultures yet it is set against the environmental noise of Paris and New York. Soon after the album's release, Smadj was introduced to Mehdi Haddab, the virtuoso oud player who, despite his more traditional approach to the instrument, encouraged Smadj to continue his experimentation and collaborated in recording sessions. 'Take It and Drive' is therefore the culmination of many influences and Smadj's very personal vision. The recording features a global cast with its blend of European electronica and influences from Africa and beyond. It's unlike anything else you're likely to hear in 2004.

Amongst those contributing to this project are Smadj's oud mentor Mehdi Haddab as well as Mercury Award Winner Talvin Singh, and Amit Chatterjee who guests on guitar and vocals. Alongside these fine musicians is one of the great vocal finds of recent times--Mali's Rokia Traore (see African Business November 2003). She contributes on 'He Said' and 'Fatwords', two of the standout tracks on this album, which are likely to be released as singles over the coming months. Aside from these collaborations, 'Take It and Drive' also features a number of more personal, intimate and minimalist tracks from Smadj.

Most Records is a new London based record label that has determined to release music with an experimental, electronic edge whilst wearing the myriad of global influences it represents firmly on its sleeve.
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Title Annotation:Music; Take It And Drive
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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