Souad Massi: Well, I have still got my regular group. We tour all the time. But at the same time, in parallel, I am working with a flamenco guitarist named Eric Fernandez. Together we a group called Choeurs de Cordove (Voices of Córdoba), after the city of Córdoba. The inspiration was Córdoba. We launched a project, and so far we’ve had great reception. We’ve toured little in France and a little bit outside. I’ve always loved flamenco, and also the singing of Andalusian music. So I’m putting them together.
S.M.: Yes, of course. We have created a lot of new songs. Some of them are homages to a lot of poets. Of course we speak about Córdoba, and about the great poets and thinkers of Andalusia, people like Ibn Zaydún, for example. I sing some of his poems in the repertoire. It’s really an homage to the great writers of the ninth, 10th, and 11th centuries in Córdoba.
S.M.: That’s great. It’s very rich. For anyone who wants to do the research, there’s a lot of inspiration there.
S.M.: In Algeria? Yes, we have Andalusian music. There is traditional Algerian music, Sha’bi music—that’s the traditional singing of Algeria. There is rai. It’s a big country. So it’s very, very rich in music and rhythms. There’s the music of the Tuareg in the South. And you have Berber music. And then there’s the music of the East, Chaoui music, another language, and another tradition. The Andalusia and music of Constantine is very well-known. For those who want to look into things, and findings, it’s very, very rich. There is everything.
S.M.: I was very lucky, because I grew up in a family that listened to traditional music, classical music, Universal music, but they also listened to James Brown for example. All that was in my family. My parents were already very open people. They let us listen to any music we wanted. For me, as a woman, it was a little difficult, for sure, in the society in general. But on the other hand if you don’t fight, you don’t get anything.
S.M.: For sure. For sure. I talk about the message at the beginning of each concert. What I love about the town of Córdoba is that the 10th century, this was the capital of culture for the world. That was in the 10th century. I learned about this, and I’m very proud of the intelligence of people of different sorts, Jews, Muslims, Christians, even atheists, and who worked together. They were doctors, writers, translators, jurists, artists, people of different backgrounds and different religions, and together they made an evolution of culture. That was how the city developed. And we in our group are also a mix of Muslims, Jews, atheists, Armenians, French, gypsies, Arabs. And there you are. The message is there. Why can’t we in our time do the same thing that was done in the 10th century? That’s the message. And it’s the truth.
S.M.: We are nine on the stage. You can see us on the Internet if you like, on Facebook or YouTube. Just enter Choeurs de Cordove. Voices of Córdoba.
S.M.: I would love that. It’s different. Some people wonder whether audiences in America would like it. It’s very different. There is Spanish music in it, but also classical music in Arab music. It’s very very mixed.
S.M.: I adore flamenco. And I adore folk. These are different worlds, but I refuse to choose between them.
S.M.: Listen, I read a book by the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun. He wrote an introduction to his work, and frankly, I had not had access to this kind of philosophical literature, something I regret. But now nothing prevents me. I can read what I want. But the book really astounded me with the dimensions of this man’s intelligence. He was a great thinker, and really a visionary.
S.M.: Yes, yes. Ah, you are well-informed. I was really charmed by his intelligence. You know, in the beginning, when you’re young, you are impressed with people who are superstars are millionaires. But now, when I read something like this, or when I meet people who are very intelligent or visionary, I’m impressed. And Ibn Khaldun, when I read this book, I understood a lot of things. There are other personalities like this who have inspired me a lot, but him, when I read his book, I saw so many things. He spoke about the changes in the world, the mentality that people had, and wanted, how individuals were demanding their rights. The struggles of people. In fact, he analyzed so many things. And there was something I imagined that there could be a great change in the Arab world. It’s true that this was something that just stayed in my imagination, but there are many things that can prevent us from seeing what is possible.
S.M.: For me, yes, I wanted to write songs about freedom.
S.M.: Yes, after these things happen, I did a lot of interviews where people said I had seen something that was going to happen, and friends of mine said the same. But really, I was surprised, first of all. At the same time, this is something very unusual, when you sing a song and then the thing happens afterwards, that’s very rare. I can’t say that happens all the time. But at the same time, I think that what happened is some we have to really think about. Each case is different, and I can’t say I really know what is happening in some of these countries. Things don’t arrive just like that. There’s a lot of work to be done. Do you understand what I’m saying? It’s too soon to know, especially now.
S.M.: Listen, just today, I was in the studio working on a demo. These are the first songs of a new album. What I do is I make demos, and then I bring in the musicians to work on songs. In the writing, I make the songs very rough. I like to be alone to write, all alone. And then I work with the group to do the arrangements and I need their participation.
S.M.: Well, there is an old poem, it’s not mine, but it’s one that I’m bringing back that talks about these things. In fact, I’m going in artistic direction where I’ll use poems written by others, and set them to music. I read a lot, a lot of great philosophers and poets. I love to work with their poetry.
S.M.: Yes. When you talk about someone who is powerful, like a politician, or even an artist who is well known internationally, there is a certain power, and you have to be very careful with your discourse. Because the words, the discourse will affect those who want to follow. So you have a responsibility. What is best for an artist is to have a universal message, like a message of peace. That is good. Afterwards, yes, it’s important to sing about liberty, about revolution, and to denounce dictators, and to work for rights. Of course, every artist has his way of writing. That’s important. But for me, when I go, for example to Egypt, they don’t know my songs. But some of my songs are very engaged, and I never had problems before the revolution, or now.
S.M.: I’ve made two Middle East tours. We’ve been in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Ramallah, other countries too. Lebanon.
S.M.: Yes, yes, happily. You know when you start writing songs come afterwards they really come to life on the stage. They grow, they change, they evolve. There are a lot of artists who tour the songs before they record them. That’s a nice thing to do. It’s good to do that, because you have time to explore the songs and let them grow. Me, I do the opposite, record them in the studio and then I take them on tour. Maybe I’ll change someday. I’ll have to see. But what I can say is when the songs are new, they’re like a baby. I’m not sure I want to expose them right away. I like to protect them, let them grow up, before I let people hear them.
S.M.: Yes. Yes.
S.M.: Well, we’ve been friends for 10 years. All that time, the same team. We have fun together. We amuse each other. That’s important. If you have problems among the musicians, it affects the music.
S.M.: Yes. We feel that from the people too. It’s important. We make mistakes. That’s normal. True. But it’s no problem.
S.M.: Yes, it remains strong because I grew up in Algeria, I did my studies in Algeria. I sing in Arab. I’m always in contact with my family, and I read the press from Algeria. So I stay in touch. It’s still my home.
S.M.: Yes. I hope to go again soon. I’ve been waiting for these elections to be over. I have a lot of fans who want to see me.
S.M.: It was about two years ago.
S.M.: Yes. Happily. Algeria—I always tell people that it’s not like the other countries in the region, like Egypt or Tunisia. I mention those countries because I know them a little. We already had the right to express ourselves. We have plenty of newspapers that denounce things going on with the government. It’s not the same as in those other countries. We had quite a lot of stability. Of course, we do lack certain things. We were very much traumatized by our Civil War. We don’t want to go back to that. The people of Algeria had enough of that. Most of the people I speak with they want to move ahead. They don’t want to live in suffering and division. I think there are moments for really looking at what you want to do and what you want to win.
S.M.: Well, it’s a film that takes place in Ramallah. It’s about a Palestinian who falls in love with an Algerian woman. I think that’s why they chose me to play that part. It talks about war and love. Happily it’s more about love than war. It’s a little bit funny. We will be starting to film on August 20.
S.M.: Yes. This’ll be the first time. The director saw me on stage and said, “You look good. Your personality. You look like my character.” But it’s something else, with the camera. It will be another experience. But I have confidence that it will work out.
S.M.: No, no. Not at all. I just did music, never theater. Frankly I don’t know how this will go. But I figure, why not?
S.M.: Well, I’m going to do it, and we’ll see afterwards. You never know, but I’m going to try.
S.M.: I don’t know. I’m starting to work on the new album. You’re the first person I’ve told that, because I just started today. I just started writing new songs. So far I’m very happy. We will be playing festivals this summer. And I’m looking forward to it returning to the American public, because it’s a super audience.
S.M.: Thank you.
S.M.: Yes, yes, yes. Universal is interested in having us record. It’s in process. I think we will probably record in September.
S.M.: The problem is I would also like to grow the ensemble, with violin, and the guitars, and all these things, but the problem is it’s very difficult to tour. We don’t have enough of a budget. The ideas are there, but it’s difficult.
S.M.: Yes, this is what I say. We might not tour very much. This will be something for people who love literature and theater. It might be more for intellectuals and so on. You understand?
S.M.: That’s true. Frankly, I’ve been very lucky. You know if you read, and you travel…. For me, in discovering Córdoba was something new. I saw it, and thought it was beautiful. Afterwards, I started researching on the Internet, and in libraries. I found books. I spoke with friends. And then we started playing like this at home, and that led to composing. At first it was just among friends, in Italy. Then we set up some dates, pictures, videos. It grew. By now, we’ve worked very hard on this project.
S.M.: The Fourth of July. That’s great. That’s great.
S.M.: Very good. I am happy to hear that.