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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Algerian Folk Musician, Moh Alileche, Announces Release of New Album

Moh Alileche is an Algerian-born, U.S.-based folk singer/ songwriter who performs and preserves the music of the Amazigh, the indigenous people of North Africa. Singing in his native Tamazight language and playing the traditional mandol.

Moh has captivated audiences internationally for decades. His repertoire includes authentic Kabyle folk songs, original compositions, and interpretations of Algerian chaabi pop songs. He’s released five albums on his own independent Flag of Freedom label since 1999, and his latest album, Humanity Is Falling Apart will be released on June 25th, 2021, and distributed in the U.S., by City Hall Records.

Humanity Is Falling Apart was recorded at Sami Studio in Algeria in November 2019, but the album’s release was postponed due to the COVID pandemic. Moh was joined in the studio by a crew of local Algerian musicians: Dahmane Ben Dahmane on violin, banjo, and mandol, Karim Hamzaoui on Piano, Djamal Ben Bouchrif on ney (flute), Djamal Dkoune on hand drums and bendir, Ali Togoli on drum kit, Madjid Kouloughli on guitar, and Drifa Hennad on vocals.

The album showcases some of Moh’s most heartfelt songwriting yet. “A Salute to the Women of Kabylia” pays homage to the courage, determination, and beauty of the charismatic women, who still wear the traditional outfits, and keep Kabyle culture alive. They’re the educators who transmit so much of our tradition to new generations.

“I was Only Nineteen” is a deeply personal track, sung in English, that celebrates Moh’s friendship with legendary Kabyle singer/songwriter/activist Lounes Matoub, and recalls a trip the two took together to France in the late ‘70s. The memory of Matoub looms large over this record — a prolific, passionate spokesman for the Amazigh people, who used his music as a platform for his activism. Moh commemorates this album to the memory of his friend.

Moh Alileche (pronounced ALI-lesh), was born in 1959 and raised in a small village near the Djurdjura Mountains in the Kabylia region of Algeria — home to the Kabyle people, one of the largest indigenous groups in North Africa. At the age of nine, he taught himself to play music on a hand-made, single-stringed instrument, later graduating to a guitar and eventually the ten-stringed North African instrument called the mandol.

The mandol, or agember in the Tamazight language, is unique to North Africa, and is mostly played in the capital city of Algiers and in the Kabylia region. Though the agember shares a linguistic root with the Moroccan gimbri, it has more in common with a mandolin, but with a bigger body, flat back, and longer, fretted neck. It can have between 8 - 12 sets of double silk strings.

Moh was soon in demand as a musician, singer, and songwriter; honing his craft playing weddings across the Kabylia region every summer. He made his radio debut in 1980 on Algeria’s Radio 2 with host Medjahed Mouhoub in the capital city of Algiers.

1980 was also a pivotal year in the struggle for cultural recognition for the Amazigh people in Algeria, when the government banned a university lecture on Kabyle poetry and kicked off massive demonstrations and civil actions across both the capitol and the Kabyila region. Known as the “Berber Spring”, this uprising sparked Moh’s consciousness as an artist, and he began writing protest songs filled with political commentary and socially conscious lyrics — a dangerous move in Algeria at the time.

After a decade of increasing repression and frustration, Moh emigrated to the U.S. in 1990. Since then he’s captivated American audiences with authentic Kabyle songs, with their strong, powerful lyrics and simple melodies. Moh also performs original compositions as well as covers of some of his favorite chaabi (Algerian pop) songs.

After the release of his first album, Tragedy, in 1999, Moh made a splash in Northern California, attracting airplay and interview from local radio, including KPFA 94.1 in Berkeley and KALW 91.7 in San Francisco. In 2001, his music was incorporated into the documentary film The Visionary. His third album, North Africa's Destiny? was selected Best World Music Album/ category "Africa", by the Indie Acoustic Project (IAP) in 2005.

In 2009 he released his fourth album, In Memory of a Hero, a tribute to his longtime friend, singer songwriter and activist, Lounes Matoub, who was assassinated in Algeria in 1998 at the age of 42. Music from this CD was featured in the 2012 film Erased (released as The Expatriate outside of the US). His latest album When the Dust Settled was released in 2012. Moh’s music is heard on many public radio stations across the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe. He is currently living in Albuquerque, NM and continues to promote the music and culture of his Amazigh ancestors of North Africa, bringing their joys and struggles to consciousness of even broader international audiences.

The Amazigh (singular) or Imazighen (plural), are the indigenous people of North Africa, with a living history in the region that goes back over 10,000 years. They cover a vast area that stretches from Egypt to the Canary Islands, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the sub-Saharan deserts of the Sahel. Once referred to as “Berbers” — a term derived from the Greek word for “barbarians” — the Amazigh people have been one of the least understood and misrepresented ethnic groups in Africa. They’ve been subject to invasion after invasion throughout history: Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, French and others. Throughout all of this, they've kept their culture, languages, and traditions alive.

The largest Amazigh ethic group in Algeria is the Kabyle people, who dwell in the mountainous region east of Algiers. Fiercely independent, the Kabyle successfully resisted centuries of conquest until French troops subdued the region in 1857. Yet the Kabyle continued to resist their colonizers and played a key role in the struggle for Algerian independence. Despite this, their language remained banned in public settings for decades after independence, and was not recognized as a National Language until 2002.

Moh Alileche was born into this remarkable people, and takes the preservation of the language he grew up speaking very seriously. He says: “It is my duty as a musician to do my best to promote this culture and educate people about this forgotten ancient civilization.”


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