With new titles in their pockets, and still led by the charismatic Amazigh Kateb, this headline group from the French scene returns to Montreal with its reggae-tinged rock, marked by Chaâbi and Gnawa influences.
Driven by the sometimes angry, sometimes humorous lyrics of Amazigh Kateb, Gnawa Diffusion’s songs are an (almost) perfect blend of gnaoua, chaabi, reggae and rock in a skilfully orchestrated blend. And this has been going on for 20 years now!
The group got started in 1992 in Grenoble. Amazigh Kateb was then 20 years old. The son of writer Kateb Yacine, he had arrived from Algeria four years earlier. Amazigh writes lyrics that alternate between angry and funny, on politics, love, exile, inequality, injustice. He surrounds himself with a small group of talented and energetic musicians from varied backgrounds. Together, they form one of France’s most inventive groups, with no limits or boundaries, always prepared to protest and pull things apart.
In 1993, Légitime différence, a five-track CD, came out, a prelude to an international tour. Success was not long in coming. But it really hit in 1997 with the release of Algeria, which included Ombre-elle. A popular and critical success, this album was the starting point for 10 years of recordings and tours. The albums showed greater accomplishment and were also darker, but the stage is where Gnawa Diffusion really shone. Their enthusiasm and conviction roused audiences, and their concerts were events, regardless of country, venue or the audience’s language. This group left nobody indifferent.
After Algeria, two studio albums were released, Bab el Oued Kingston (1999) and Souk System (2003), along with two live albums, Live DZ (2001) and Fucking Cowboys (2007). All these albums bear the Gnawa Diffusion mark, synonymous with protest, awareness, encouragement to struggle and calls for an end to injustice. Sadly, in 2007, the group’s members decided to disband, at least temporarily, to conduct solo projects. The great Gnawa Diffusion project was put aside. Starting in 2009, Amazigh Kateb recorded the disc Marchez noir and gave a long series of concerts.
Relief came in late 2011, with the group announcing it was getting back together and recording a new album in 2012, to come out on the Disques Nuits d’Afrique label. The group now has nine members: Amazigh Kateb (vocals, gumbri), Philippe Bonnet (drums), Amar Chaoui (congas, derbouka, percussions), Pierre Bonnet (bass), Mohamed Abdennour (banjo, mandolin), BLEZ (keyboard), Aziz Maysour (vocals, dance), Petit'moh (mandola, banjo) and DJ Boulaone. As in a fairy tale, all is ending well: Gnawa Diffusion are back and have not calmed down!
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