Kamel, about ten years ago, Orchestre National de Barbes kind of disappeared from radar. What were you guys up to in that period?
Kamel Tenfiche (vocals, drums): "Most of all, we really needed to digest the success we had experienced in the preceding period, so we reduced the concerts we did to about a dozen a year. A lot of band members had also gotten involved in other projects, leaving very little time to work together as one band. Eventually the urge to collaborate again and record a new album became too big to ignore and here we are."
The new album, 'Alik', has a distinctively different feel compared to its predecessors. Was that your intention from the start?
Kamel Tenfiche: "Yes, absolutely. We wanted to give 'Alik' a rock flavour. We all loved rock music, but none of us ever put the idea forward to integrate that vibe into our own music. Interestingly enough for the kind of music we play, we use a traditional flute called a gasba, which makes a really unusual sound giving it also that rock feeling."
On the album you included three dedications to singers that are probably massive stars in the Maghreb, but whose names might not ring a bell here in Europe.
Kamel Tenfiche: "One of them is Mohamed Larbi, who was a great singer or as we say "un grand chir" ("a great master", red.) and we really recorded the song as an ode to his work. Then there's Slimane Azem (born 1918 in Kabylie, Algeria and passed away in 1983 in Moissac, France, was a poet and Algerian singer of Kabyle music, red.), who is a real monument in Kabyle music; I guess you could call him the Algerian Jacques Brel. He's loathed by the government, but a true hero to the people. The last one, Mohamed Mazouni (Algerian singer, born 1949 in Aït Lahcène, Kabylia. In Kabyle language his stage name means "he will live". He's most well-known for his rendition of 'Adieu La France, Bonjour l'Algérie', a song expressing the joy felt just after Algeria declared independence, red.), always put a lot of humor in his songs. He was already a rocker before rock was even invented really. (laughs)"
Orchestre National de Barbes was named after a neighbourhood with the same name in Paris' 18th arrondissement. What gives that area its uniqueness?
Kamel Tenfiche: "To begin with, that area unites about eighty languages and cultures. If you visit the local market you will find nearly all imaginable nationalities represented. It's also a place where there's a lot of smaller independent musical activity; underground labels from Senegal, Algeria or what have you. The area was discredited a bit by certain people, but it's still a place where you can have a bit to eat for next to nothing and where you still see the people talking to one another on the street. For me it's one of the most wonderful little corners in Paris."
The album also contains a cover version of The Rolling Stones' 'Sympathy For The Devil'. Where did the idea come from to cover that song?
Kamel Tenfiche: "On their 1999 or 2000 tour, The Rolling Stones requested Orchestre National de Barbes would be played as warming up music for their concerts. We heard about this from our record company and it really gave us a boost of confidence, so we thought it might be a nice idea to cover one of their songs on our new album. We already liked 'Sympathy For The Devil' a lot and strangely enough, the content of the song has a lot of parallels with what goes on in the Maghrebi community."