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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Thinking About Mustafa

Thanks to the comment of an anonymous reader, I found this page by a "Ya Mustafa" fanatic in Switzerland, Messioun.

I now have another CD to track down. Think About Mustapha is a 1994 French album that features nine covers of the song, including (in the words of a reviewer):

"- two silly rock N roll (described in the APC website as psychedelic surf!) or punk rock interpretions by Greg Garrigues and Jean Touitou himself.

"- two versions close to the original single (but less kitsh, perhaps) by Jonathan Richman and french pop-rai star Rachid Taha.

"- a semi acoustic minimalist performance (very hard to describe, in fact) by Pascal Comelade.

"- a slow dark dub track by Solo (with two bonus beats at the end of the CD). Perhaps the most hard to recognize version and the weakest track of this compilation.

"- at last, the best (of course), a beautiful, 10 minutes long version by Skopelitis and Laswell (with others musicians that are not listed in the CD sleeve). This is the most serious interpretation of Mustapha, more close to the traditionnal melody than to the sixties hit. It is fascinating to hear what BL and NS can do with just a nice pop song : a beautiful, ambient jewel, certainly the best moment of this CD."

Bill Laswell resurfaces at an opportune time for me, since his work with Gnawa musicians back in the 1990s was absolutely key.

Additionally, this "chase the covers" game has become a legendary form of sport for UT-Austin graduate students in ethnomusicology. The journey made by a melody and chorus through the winding back alleys of lounge-singer repertoires and throwaway pop singles can be absolutely stunning and yield high-quality grist for the mill of global-culture analysis through music. If you don't believe me, see the terrific example of Steven Feld (1996), "Pygmy POP. A Genealogy of Schizophonic Mimesis," Yearbook for Traditional Music 28:1-35.


At 11:51 PM, Blogger dagger aleph said...

This is *so* weird, because during a long train trip today I listened to my ipod and had the idea of doing a post about cover songs in Arabic.

Namely: "El Bint esh-Shalabiya": wonderful versions by both Fairuz and an instrumental by Munir Bechir.

"Rock el Casbah" by Rachid Taha.

"Daiman" by Taha, Cheb Mami, and Khaled (cover of "My Way" by Sinatra).

When I was first in Egypt in 1996 there was a ubiquitous Arabic version of "Wild World" by Cat Stevens; don't know who did the cover.

I could go on.

Thanks for the article reference, which I will definitely check out. And your last paragraph there is spot-on.

At 4:08 PM, Blogger John Schaefer said...


Another cover, which I'm going to get to one of these days, is Natacha Atlas' cover of "I Put A Spell On You"--Screaming Jay Hawkins is the memorable version.

A lot of critics hated it, but I think it's great, specially with the lyric "Ana bkhatrak"--"I bewitched you." Of course, magic and witchcraft are always near and dear to the hearts of anthropologists...

At 7:36 PM, Blogger dagger aleph said...

Yes! That was another one I listened to yesterday, but I have to admit that I'm not that fond of it. The instrumental intro is great though.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger John Schaefer said...

Yes it is. Hey, get over on Hawgblawg (in my blogroll) for the latest on what Natacha has been doing!

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Pol Dodu said...


Tracking down this CD shouldn't be too difficult as the label still has it up for sale on its site :



At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Dagger Aleph:
you should also check out a very cool "Arabicana" rendition of "El Bint el-Shalabiya" by the band NO Blues. Haytham Safia is actually the oud player. I got to see them in Amsterdam last month, they were great!


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