Idir: Ici et Ailleurs

Trading Voices

Listening Post 122. How many goals can one album achieve? Idir, the soft but steadfast voice of Berber/Kabyle culture, may not have posed that question when he conceived Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere), but a partial list would include putting his native language—which has long struggled for official status in Algeria—on a bigger stage; expressing his love for the French soundtrack of his 40-year exile; and, not least, adding a new chapter to Charles Aznavour’s storied career. The album’s organizing idea was to invite icons of French chanson to perform their work in bilingual duets, with original arrangements lightly Berberized by adding mandole and other North African instruments. In addition to Idir and each partner singing in their own language, they also reverse linguistic roles, so the opening sound of La bohéme is Aznavour’s textured and recontextualized voice chanting in Kabyle (video 1, the song; video 2, the language lesson). Idir chooses themes that parallel his own experience, starting with the aging artist’s nostalgia of Aznavour’s anthem. He recalls walks to school on snowy mountain roads in Les matins d’hiver (Winter Mornings) with Gérard Lenorman (video 3). He does a Kabyle-only duet of Né quelque part (Born Somewhere), Maxime Le Forestier’s song of tolerance (video 4). His choice of Francis Cabrel’s La corrida, with its anti-bullfighting message, rests on the similarity to cadences of North African music (video 5). He also joins Patrick Bruel in Les larmes de leurs pères (Tears of Their Fathers), inspired by the Tunisian Spring; and does a voiceover with the late Henri Salvador in Jardin d’hiver (Winter Garden). One more benefit of Idir’s sense of “here and elsewhere”—where he lives and where he is from—is offering his French peers, fans and neighbors an imaginative sonic reflection of their most cherished songs. (Sony Music Entertainment)

 

La bohème/The Bohemian: “I’m talking about a time that today’s young people can’t understand/When Montmartre was hung with lilacs right under our windows/And even if the humble room, our love nest, wasn’t much/It was where we met/Me starving, you posing nude”

 

 

Les matins d’hiver/Winter Mornings: “I remember those icy winter mornings, in the dark/When I walked with my brother on the way to school/Our bodies numb from sleep, shivering under the wind’s assault/Having snowball fights/Laughing”

 

Né quelque part/Born Somewhere: “We do not choose our parents/We do not choose our family/We do not choose whether we learn to walk/On the sidewalks of Manila, or Paris, or Algiers”

 

La corrida/The bullfight: “As I wait patiently, in that dark room/I hear the crowd, having fun and singing/Down the corridor, someone unlocks the gate/And I plunge into the arena/I see the fanfare, the barriers and the people all around…/Is this world serious?”

 

 


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