Majid Bekkas was in Fayetteville (Arkansas) last week, as part of the Caravanserai program. He performed in a number of venues, together with his Gnawa ensemble and the multi-talented Brahim Frigbane ('ud, percussion) -- at Fayetteville and Bentonville High Schools, for several classes at the University of Arkansas, and at the Walton Arts Center. I was out of town for the WAC performance, alas, but I did see him perform at Fayetteville High, and I also got to spend a couple hours hanging out with him and Brahim at Arsaga's cafe on Dickson.
I had seen Bekkas perform with a Moroccan jazz ensemble (a kind of Gnawa-jazz fusion) at the Salé festival in Morocco in summer 1999, and since then I've acquired a number of his recordings. But seeing him perform again here as well as speaking with him made me appreciate even more how serious and multi-talented a musician he is. At the high school, besides performing his Gnawa repertoire (singing and playing guimbri), he also played the kalimba (the African thumb piano), and played it incredibly well. (And I think his vocals might have been in Zulu. Not sure.) No doubt he learned to play on one of his tours of sub-Saharan Africa. Here's a taste, from his performance in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
He is also a very accomplished 'ud player, as demonstrated below, as he performs the song "Louhid," from his latest album (highly recommended), Makenba.
Another of my faves from Makenba is this song, "Bambrouia," which features Majid on guimbri. On the album the song has a very African feel. Here it sounds somewhat different, as he performs with a sax player and a drummer.
Majid has recorded three albums (Out of the Desert, Kalimba, and Chalaba) with the very talented and respected German jazz pianist and saxophone player Joachim Kühn, with Ramon Lopez on drums. So far I've only heard Out of the Desert, which is very, very fine and one of the best gnawa "fusion" recordings ever done. I asked Majid how he started working with Kühn. He said that Kühn saw him in concert in Europe, came up after the show, introduced himself, and suggested that they try working together.
Here's the trio playing live, performing the song "Sandiye" (recorded by Majid on his African Gnaoua Blues album).
Finally, here's a photo of Majid and his group performing at Fayetteville High School on October 17. He's in the center, on guimbri, and Brahim Fribgane, on 'ud, is at the left.
Here are his qarqaba players and dancers.
Majid at Arsaga's cafe, Fayetteville, October 16.