We jet through the Internet, we zap through the world. What do we discover? Our knowledge doesn't reach beyond the surface of our computer screens. Hamid Baroudi is a long-standing inspiration to us all to leave behind the world of computers and instead travel and engage with the world for ourselves.
I have known Hamid since he left the group Dissidenten as their lead singer back in 19??. Back-stage interviews moved on to meetings at his record company and then to running into each other on the train from Kassel to Berlin, encounters which were followed by spontaneous telephone calls: 'Hey, what are you doing?'
One recurrent line from these meetings has been the need to travel, explore, engage, discover. Travelling in HamidÂ´s case might start just around the corner, talking to the people in the corner shop. Or it might take him somewhere distant and new. Hamid is a tireless traveller who would have fitted easily into the 17th or 18th century world of discoverers. But Hamid belongs to the present. He has updated the travellerÂ´s journal with DAT Recorder and video camera as he moves between worlds, between his Algerian motherland, Spain, and his lifeÂ´s centre point, the small German town of Kassel. He meets musicians for projects in Egypt, works on remixes in Japan with his friend DJ Krush, visits Paris to check out the Rai scene there, and journeys with the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara. Wherever he is, he talks and listens to people, and records their stories and songs.
Sure, Hamid is a popstar. If you take only that viewpoint, however, you will remain on the screenÂ´s surface. Hamid is an entertainer in the African tradition of that concept, where a musician is being asked much more than just to idle away time. He is a mediator between geographies, generations, cultures and experiences. A song by Hamid about life in the Streets of Algier ('what is it called' from his 199? album 'City No Mad') will lift the veil from the Arab world more than any Reuters report about extremist killings. Flamenco guitars used in a Hamid Baroudi song will teach us more about the cultural and historical connections of North Africa and Europe than any Thomas Cook travel guide. Hamid, however, will not allow random accidents in his music. Even a simple 'groove' - one of his favorite terms - will always be set within a wider context, such as the connecting currents of European Techno and North African Trance music.
ThereÂ´ll be much laughter and cheerfulness when youÂ´re sitting down with Hamid Baroudi for a chat and a cup of North African Nana tea. YouÂ´ll get a completely other side of him, however, when talk turns to new ideas, fresh information, and the search for visions of the future. His earnestness and enthusiasm is infectious. Everything his DAT recorder and video camera can absorb will later on turn into his foremost passion, music. With Hamid, the stale notion of world music' revives into an actual context, which reaches way beyond that tired marketing term.
'Record companies donÂ´t have it easy with me,' says Hamid. 'Some would like to corner me in an ethno-niche. In their imagination thatÂ´s to do with acoustic, exotic instruments and an unplugged session as opposed to electronic music. That, really, is one of the clichÃ©s that Dissidenten and I tried to destroy us back in the1980s. Those taboos are long gone. Now is the time to cross-over, There are no fixed points anymore.'
For Hamid this breaking up of patterns will never mean succumbing to arbitrary influences. 'I love you,' played over a shoobidoo back beat was never his thing. From the start of his solo career he encouraged his fans to listen, participate and dance. His has always been pop with a message, whether explicit or not. His debut 'City No Mad' commented critically on violence and its background in the so called Thirld World, and especially in Arab countries. 'Streets of Algier' and 'Song for Boudiaf' summed up the violent upheavals in his home country in an understandable and emotional way. 'In my country my name has peen put up on the death lists of extremists,' he says. 'But I still travel to Algeria, I give interviews and speak my mind on television. I support my country with my art wherever I can.'
Hamid has taken the easy way out. France would have provided him with a better starting place for his career, where he could have taken his place alongside rai stars like Khaled, Rachid Taha and Cheb Mami. Instead he opted for Germany, a more difficult starting point but one which gave him a clearer personal profile.
'Hamza/Five', his second album from WHEN?, appears more experimental than City No Mad. Songs donÂ´t disappear abruptly, they slide into each other, like someone searching for a radio frequency. A travel across five continents, the album boasted songs like 'Columbus' and 'Anarchie' which searched across five continents for human rights, understanding and the mutual influences between cultures . Amid the travelling, wonderful spaces of tranquillity and rest appeared like an oasis, as on 'Tea in Marrakesh'.
Now omes 'Sidi', his third and most WHAT album. It's a frigging masterpiece. Whatever In the title song a man who buys himself entrance into a society which refuses Him -Sidi can play the game, but he also sees behind false appearances. Guesting on 'Sidi' is Mouhamed Mounir the living Nubian legend of the Egyptian music scene. 'Gourara' uses the rhythms most typical for the ethnic groups living in the South of Algeria (Timimoune as they are called in Algeria, Gnaoui in Marocco); a 6/8 beat accompanied by North-African castanets. This is a party song with HamidÂ´s rock guitar riff hovering above it.
'Afro Bahia' follows the long travel of African Rhythms to Brazil. Hamid is never satisfied with one or two ideas in a song, his aim is multitude and variety. Rap accompanies the Afro Brazilian crossing of the Atlantic, the Makossa Dance Chorus bows to Manu Dibango. and with HamidÂ´s Arabian singing the North of Africa becomes part in the travel. Timbali drums at the end of the song show that the destination has been reached.
'Ghaddar' also demonstrates the multitude of references Hamid uses. 'Ghaddar' is literally a whale of a song: a giant whale hunted by harpooning ships, and was recorded by Hamid straight from the tv news. This really is the 'wailing' sound you can hear on the intro and between choruses, harmonising perfectly on the same pitch with the trumpet in the song. 'Ghaddar', however, is not about ecology as such, the whaleÂ´s sampleis there to supports the atmosphere of a nocturnal Paris, where a lonely trumpet player, stumped where to head at 4 a.m., finds solace in his instrument.
'Ca Bouge' again takes us to Paris, to the red light district of Place Clichy, where an immigrant is yearning to be with the woman of his dreams. 'Barah' is a travelogue experienced through a photo-album, through which an old man is looking, from front to back. When he arrives at the front pages, he has reached his years as a young man: 'Why did she then walk out on me and never come back?' he wonders. Hamid recorded the song with a string section in Egypt.
As an Algerian Hamid connects closely to the Maurean regions of Spain through history and the arts. How can one bring back and recall these rich sources of European culture to a young person today? Hamid melts the Arabian word for 'red', Hambra, with the similar sounding great architecture of the 'Alhambra' in Andalucia and weaves his story from there.
' Water' also reaches back far into history. The instrument heard in the song is an imzad, a forerunner of the European violin and traditionally, among nomad tribes like the Tuareg,one which only women are allowed to play. Hamid surrounds the Imzad with rap, djembe drums and jazzy grooves. With the Tuareg as an imaginaryvoice he discusses the topic that will concern a future world short of resources: water. 'Walah Walha' once more visits the Gnaoui music of Marocco and South of Algeria. 'Helena', scheduled to come up as the final song on SIDI is a final bow to all the ladies in the house.