AKIM EL SIKAMEYA
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AKIM EL SIKAMEYA

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Voice of angel? Conservatory-trained El Sikameya's high tenor (he hits those top Cs like Pavarotti) soiunds bewilderingly like a 1950s chanteuse on this collection of Algerian-Andalusian pop tunes from Marseille via Oran, the traditional centre of the genreblending rai scene. Gypsy and Arab rhythms are moven together with jazz, hints of flamenco and Philippe Eidel's rocking accordion. DH - MOJO*** SEPT 08


Discography

1999 : Album "ATIFA AINI"
2004 : Album "AINI AMEL"
2008 : INTRODUCING AKIM EL SIKAMEYA
World Music Network/Harmonia Mundi

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Bio

Algerian exile: Arab and Andalusian soundscapes

Born in Oran, a city considered to be the Algerian capital of music, Akim El Sikameya joined a well-known Arab-Andalusian music school at the age of 8. Thanks to his studies, Akim has formed a strong musical background as well as an all-embracing outlook on life, which crosses borders and cultures. At the time, Oran was waking up to a different style of music, raϊ, as the Algerian youth were introduced to artists such as Cheb Khaled, Chaba Fadela and Cheb Mami. While Akim’s lyrics speak out against fundamentalism and the totalitarianism of his homeland, he does not adopt the plain-speaking lyrical customs of raϊ. Rather, he writes in a style more reminiscent of a semi-classical, Andalusian approach, while attempting to remove the elitist reputation of the lyrics to allow them to be accessed by the populace.

This Arab-Andalusian influence was evident in Akim’s first band, El Meya, which he formed in 1990, transforming nubas (extended musical pieces brought to North Africa by Spanish Moors) from their traditional six- or seven-hour performances into much shorter songs. However, in 1991, civil war erupted between Islamic fundamentalists and the Algerian government, sparking a bloody conflict that lasted until 2002. It is estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 people were killed in the civil war, while a strategic attempt was also carried out to eliminate artists and intellectuals, forcing many into exile. Following his brothers, who were threatened by fatwas in their homeland, Akim was forced to leave for France in 1994 at the age of 21.

Arriving in Marseille with a background of sixteen years of musical study, Akim continued to develop his own repertoire. Thanks to his rare top-C voice and a unique fiddle-playing technique, Akim’s musical development flourished. He discovered his extraordinary voice whilst studying at the Conservatory, being singled out as the only student singing with such a high pitch. Despite his teachers expressing concerns about putting too much strain on his vocal cords, Akim has no problems singing in the higher register, which he learned was that of a light tenor. As well as the high notes, though, he can produce the lower tones equally as well.

Adding to his uniqueness, Akim has transformed the traditional Arab-Andalusian technique of singers being seated while performing and being accompanied by a fiddle placed on their knees. Instead, Akim plays fiddle while standing up, resting the instrument on his thighs, which allows for a dynamic performance that enables him to better use his voice and body, while maximizing the space on stage. His performances have made a significant impression, particularly his set at WOMAD in 2005, which BBC’s Martin Longley sums up as follows: ‘He projects a dignified, stratospheric sound, both in the qualities of his impossibly high voice and his ornamented, bittersweet violin.’

Capturing the live energy that Akim exudes on stage was a major theme to consider in the technical aspect of recording this album. Instead of laying down each instrument separately, all the parts were played and recorded simultaneously, in the same spirit of the musicians playing live together in concert. With the studio full of talented perfectionists, this technique posed many challenges, which were fortunately met with a positive response and creative enthusiasm.

As well as a vibrant energy, Akim believes that success lies in the strength of the compositions. Writing all the songs on this album, he explains his process simply: ‘I work first on the core, then on the shape.’ These results have certainly paid off, with his track ‘Ya Waadi’ being awarded second place in the 2007 International Songwriting Competition (World Music category).

Introducing Akim El Sikameya demonstrates the musical history that has come to shape Akim. The music shifts between two countries, two cultures and two continents. It moves between tradition and modernity, between acoustic and electric, as well as between so-called elitist music and Akim’s will to make it popular. While the album explores tradition through its rhythms and melodies, there are also many modern elements employed in the songs. Arab-Andalusian 6/8 rhythms are played alongside colourful gypsy tones, flamenco and African influences, as well as including a measure of jazz, waltz and Latin styles. Rather than a ‘copy and paste’ approach to these elements, however, Akim aims to blend them together in a way that is relevant to his way of life, which embraces cross-cultural dialogue – a blurring of borders and frontiers.

Throughout his development as a songwriter, Akim’s lyrics have evolved. In his younger years, the lyrics presented timid and abstract expressions of love and beauty, typical to the traditional Arab-Andalusian song. Now, he feels as though his songwriting has undergone a true lyrical revolution, as he sings more frankly about his person