Hey DJ! Friday Q&A: Cheb i Sabbah
Certain DJs claim to have paid their dues, but few turntable artists can claim to have gotten their start in the '60s. DJ Cheb i Sabbah first took to the decks in Paris in 1964, where the DJ didn't own his music, but he did get a month's paid vacation. Sabbah is based in San Francisco, where he spins every week at Bollyhood Café and he continues bringing the Asian Massive sound that he helped coin to the masses. Tonight Cheb i Sabbah celebrates "The Return of the Asian Massive" at 1015 Folsom, but before he hits the club, he gave us a little rundown on a life spent with an ear to the globe.
How has the concept of Asian Massive music changed/evolved since you coined
the term? Since the Asian Massive scene has grown, more traditional South Asian musicians have come forward to work with us on albums and live performances. This concept which was initially underground has spread worldwide and has spawned similar parties that represent the massive sound.
You started out DJing in Paris in 1964: what's the most significant difference between being a DJ in that time and place and DJing music in San Francisco now? In those days in Paris, the format and structure of the music you DJed was very clear. During that time anyone had to play American soul music if one wanted to keep that job. Although here and there, whenever I introduced some new music like Jimi Hendrix, the club owner would go wild and ask me what the hell was I doing. You also had to DJ six nights a week, the club owned the music you spun, and you got four weeks paid vacation.
Now in San Francisco or anywhere else, you may get a regular weekly gig or do a one-off but there is no format to the music you DJ, you can spin whatever you want.
In all your travels, what has been your greatest musical discovery? Being able to spin worldwide and the willingness of the dance floor to discover and share the magic.
You spent a lot of time in India to create your Devotion record: what are the most significant differences and similarities between the club life there versus in the U.S.? When I toured India in 1999, to promote my Shri Durga release on Six Degrees Records, the scene was mostly trance music because of the Goa vibe. It actually took a few years, with Karsh Kale, Midival Punditz, Talvin Singh and I to insist on presenting a different kind of electronic music. The difference was that the music was established in the States, but we had to work hard to develop an underground electronic music scene in the clubs of the major cities of India.
Name of a track you can¹t get out of your head: I don¹t know why but it's an old track from Everything But The Girl called "Wrong."
Is there a specific ancient south Asian tradition that's made it into your
music recently? As with all previous albums and touching upon classical music of the subcontinent, I would say: Ragas rule!
Dream DJ partner: Pearls Before Swine.
Favorite DJ experience: 30,000 people jumping on the beach at the Gnawa Music Festival in Essaouira, Morocco.
Musical mantra: Shanti music shanti music shanti music...
What new projects are you currently involved with? Remixes of tracks from the Devotion album and touring India, Indonesia, and South East Asia.
Question we didn¹t ask you but you often ask yourself: What more can I do to help stop hunger, poverty and all wars in the world?
Next time we can see you spin: The Return of the Asian Massive featuring Karsh Kale, Midival Punditz, and Cheb I Sabbah at 1015 Folsom, August 1, 2008.