Les chemins qui montent
Listeners like an album that tells a story, and Amel Brahim-Djelloul likes to tell stories when she sings. This story is beautiful because it describes an almost perfect life curve.
It is above all the story of a young girl born in Algiers. At first she learns to play the violin, an instrument that her older brother has already chosen, but she swiftly decides to take up singing. Her talent remarked upon, she is advised to continue her training in France. So the young girl crosses the Mediterranean, arriving in Montreuil, where she studies at the National School of Music, before joining the National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris.
This is the story of a young woman who, over the years, has blossomed on French and international opera stages: at the Opera de Paris, of course, but also at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, the Théâtre du Châtelet and the Philharmonie de Paris, at the Opéra de Lille and the Opéra de Nice, as well as at the Capitole de Toulouse, the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, in Lausanne, Geneva, Brussels and Berlin. Her subtle soprano voice lends itself perfectly to the baroque repertoire, she is also an ideal Mozartian and many people remember her unforgettable Hélène alias Véronique in André Messager’s opera of the same name, singing from a swing on the Châtelet stage. It is now the story of a woman, just out of lockdown, who decides to take a look at her journey, through music, reinterpreting the traditional repertoire, the Kabyle music she has heard since birth and which has accompanied her throughout the years. It all began in June 2020, with a cover of the song Wi bɣan by Idir, an artist for whom she had a great affection, with whom she had sung in a duo, and whose recent death had deeply marked her. Recorded at distance with simplicity and emotion in the company of guitarist Thomas Keck and her brother Rachid on the violin, this video, released in the midst of so many others while concert halls around the world remained closed, immediately touched the hearts of its viewers.
«Wi bɣan» means «the one who wants», and from then on Amel knew what she wanted. She wished to record an album: an album that reflected all her love for the Kabyle repertoire, but also an album that ressembled her.
This recording is conceived as a work of the present: not only the recollection of a whole past repertoire but also its projection towards the future. Amel uses traditional songs in order to return to the essence of this repertoire, inspired by the approach of the singer and writer Taos Amrouche, the first guardian of these ancient songs in the 20th century. She also chooses to give pride of place to those authors who, from the end of the 1970s onwards, embodied the emergence of a new generation of popular Kabyle singers: Idir, as well as Djamel Allam. The third part of the album focuses on the present and the future of Kabyle music by presenting previously unreleased songs. In order to achieve this, Amel chose to sing works by the poet Rezki Rabia, also born in Algeria and now living, like her, in France. The compositions and arrangements were entrusted to the guitarist and composer Thomas Keck, who is equally at ease with early, contemporary and traditional music, and who had the ideal musical ear and sensitivity to give cohesion to the globality of the programme concocted by the soprano.
The choice of these two artists, one from Algeria like her and the other from the Paris Conservatoire, perfectly illustrates the second aspect of Amel Brahim-Djelloul’s album, that of the meeting of cultures: the meeting of Algerian culture and the Western culture she sings throughout the world, on the one hand; the interpretation of traditional repertoire, on the other hand, sung by an artist who has completed her apprenticeship and acquired an operatic technique. Contrary to belief, returning to or switching to popular repertoire is not an easy task for classical artists, as their technique sometimes prevents them from accessing the simplicity or essence of the music. Those who succeed are the few who, like Amel, have always been immersed in a dual culture. The respective codes of each are part of their artistic DNA. From then on, the combination of disciplines enriches the interpretation, the lyrical technique is at the service of the traditional and popular repertoire and contributes to embellish it.
To do this, Amel returned to the scene of her youth and chose, along with Thomas, to record in Montreuil where she surrounded herself with friends and relatives from Algerian and classical cultures: Thomas plays the guitar, her brother Rachid the violin of course, and other artists, classical and traditional, who Amel has met over the years enrich this project with their identity. On the Kabyle side, Rachid is supported by Noureddine Aliane on mandola, Damien Varaillon on double bass, Adrien Espinouze on ney and Dahmane Khalfa on percussion. Several of them are members of the ensemble Amedyez, with whom Amel has already recorded and performs regularly on stage. On some tracks, they dialogue with artists from the classical sphere whom Amel has met throughout her career: Stéphanie-Marie Degand on violin, Lise Berthaud on viola, Raphaël Merlin on cello, François Joubert-Caillet on viola da gamba, Vincent Beer-Demander on mandolin, Vincent Penot on clarinet and Stéphane-France Léger on harp. It is this fine blend of traditional and classical instruments, sometimes baroque, like the singer’s vocal style, that gives unity and coherence to «Les chemins qui montent».
From pure a capella singing to tracks mixing all the instrumentalists, passing through magical moments of dialogue between the voice and the viola da gamba, or the clarinet, or the ney, the album unfolds with simplicity, like a journey, a meditation where each track finds its place in a seemingly perfect balance. And it is by taking these «climbing paths» between the two sides of the singer’s musical culture that we discover places we did not know we could go, into a musical and imaginary realm to which, until now, only Amel had the keys.
«Les chemins qui montent» by Amel Brahim-Djelloul is therefore the portrait of a woman, steeped in these two cultures, who invests the Kabyle repertoire with the experience of her lyrical career: let us listen to the end of the song Amedyez as a symbol of this fine pairing, where at the end of the magnificent vocal duet with the clarinet, Amel concludes her musical curve with a gentle appoggiatura typical of the baroque tradition that she so loves to sing. For her, these cultures are one and the same.
Yann Ollivier, artistic director
1. Axxam n ugellil T. Keck - R. Rabia
2. Tella D. Allam - A. Blek
3. Tameɣra T. Keck - R. Rabia
4. Wi bɣan H. Cheriet
5. Ajeǧǧig H. Cheriet - F. Metadjer- A. Mouheb
6. Akala n xali Meḥmud T. Amrouche
7. Amedyaz H. Cheriet - F. Metadjer
8. Ur iyi –d qqaṛ ayɣer T. Keck - R. Rabia
9. Lmut T. Amrouche
10. Ay a Lxir-inu H. Cheriet - F. Metadje
11. Tilelli T. Keck - R. Rabia
12. Taxewnit T. Amrouche
13. Ur ttru D. Allam
14. Mara d-yuɣal D. Allam
15. Tahuzutt D. Abouda
Amel Brahim-Djelloul - soprano
Thomas Keck - arrangements, compositions and guitar
Rezki Rabia - texts and kabyles translations
Rachid Brahim-Djelloul - violin and viola
Stéphanie-Marie Degand - violin
Lise Berthaud - viola
Raphaël Merlin - cello
Damien Varaillon - double bass
François Joubert-Caillet - viole de gambe
Noureddine Aliane - oud and mandole
Vincent Beer-Demander - mandoline
Stéphane-France Léger - harp
Adrien Espinouze - ney
Vincent Penot - clarinet
Dahmane Khalfa - derbouka, daf, bendir, tar