Rendez-vous Barbès: Music Review

“Barbès is like an antechamber before arriving in the West. It’s a piece of Africa!” says Luis Saldahna of l’Orchestre National de Barbès (ONB). Indeed many African immigrants end up in this multicultural neighbourhood of Paris, where they can find local products and most of all, revitalise.

But Barbès is also the meeting point of the lively Orchestre National who, with Rendez-vous Barbès, throws an invitation out to anyone willing to discover the very eclectic Barbès sound.

Nine years had been necessary to finally see them release their third album, Alik. Many were surprised by the darker rock orientation of the music. Just two years on and a brand new release, we can definitely say that ONB is back!

The band doesn’t waste any time on its latest rendez-vous. Sidi Yahia-Bnet Paris starts up with a heavy bassline and a synth melody in their own unique style.

ONB explores various ambiences, blending genres from reggae-based Chorfa to Maghrebi chaâbi of Jarahtini-Marhba-Jibouhali, via the gnawa mood of Laâfou and its vibrant, bewitching sound of stringed bass lute, gumbri.

Nothing from the North African heritage has been forgotten, as demonstrated by Denya that displays a touch of Arabic Andalusian flamenco. If No No No is reminiscent of some of Alik’s lighter compositions, the rest constitutes the logical continuation of the group’s previous work done in the nineties.

However, ONB is never short of surprises. The unexpected Chkoun flirts with a bouncing ska-like beat reinforced with Arabic singing and a dash of French-mannered accordion.

It’s a real journey through the streets of North Paris that is presented here. With this new album, ONB remains as energetic and vivid as ever. Recommended with an Algerian tajine dish followed by a glass of mint tea. Rendez-vous in Barbès!

Listen to some tracks from Rendez-Vous

About Nicolas Roux

Nicolas specializes in writing on African and Arabic arts and is currently based in France, but has previously worked in Canada and the UK. He is a former co- host of Amandla, an African current affairs programme in Montreal and is a regular contributor to the online magazine Touki.

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