One Fantastic Ride of a Life: Dub Mission's DJ Sep Remembers Cheb i Sabbah

chebisabbah_djsep.jpg
Cheb i Sabbah and DJ Sep.

[After hearing the sad news that DJ Cheb i Sabbah passed away last week, we reached out to DJ Sep, producer/promoter and founder of Dub Mission, who was also a friend of Sabbah's. She wrote back with this remembrance.]

On my computer is an 82-page "worksheet" document, an absurdly long to-do list. On page 11 is a reminder to send Cheb i this email:

So I discovered something interesting the other day....."Cheb" means young. "Sabbah" means morning. "Cheb i Sabbah" means young of the morning. Sepideh [my full first name] means white, used to describe dawn, as in white of dawn....WE HAVE THE SAME NAME!  :)

I never got the chance to send the email.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, many words will be written about Cheb i Sabbah and his remarkable contribution to world music. His massively influential, self-coined "outernational" style of mixing Asian, Arabic, and African music together in one set will be emphasized. His indelible mark as a pioneering promoter will be noted. Many will talk about his 1002 Nights, those uniquely memorable events that brought world-class musicians to the Bay Area, often for the first time. Many will mention his long-running Tuesday night dance party at Nickie's. "He turned me on to so much music I'd never heard before." We'll continue to hear that over and over again. And it's all true. His impact was global.

I always thought of him as a local DJ. It was a privilege to be able to think of him that way which made it even more fun.

By any standard Cheb i had one fantastic ride of a life. A Jewish Algerian kid moves to Paris as a teenager, discovers DJing, manages Don Cherry, delves deep into Hinduism, records an untold number of talented world musicians, releases seven cherished records...and that's just his official biography.

"As both a DJ and a promoter, I have a massive amount of respect for Cheb i." That was one my quotes from an article on him written by Billy Jam in 2011, a few months after he was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer. It's still true, but the memories that keep coming back now have to do with Cheb i the person, not DJ Cheb i Sabbah. The signature mix I keep remembering was the mixture of his opposing characteristics. Cheb i could be very gentle and generous, especially to the musicians he championed, or curt and withholding, refusing to tell a fan the name of the song he'd just played before shooing the guy out of the DJ booth.

It was his character, not just his music, that drew so many to him. It was rewarding, being in his company. I once spent more than four hours at his apartment, having one of the most memorable conversations I'll ever have. I know my experience is not unique. And yet, he could be exasperating to work with, his insistence on doing things his way causing avoidable hassle and stress. My experience is definitely not unique there either.

His stubbornness could be funny too. Once when we were producing and DJing a show together, he was told by the owner of the venue that he wouldn't be able to smoke during his set. Cheb i calmly informed the owner that it would be impossible for him to DJ without smoking, he'd never done it before. Needless to say his set that night was accompanied by his usual chain smoking, with one concession. Between puffs, he held his arm down instead of up.

Google "the measure of a man" and many variations come up. This one by Peter Nivio Zarlenga struck me: "The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune." Perhaps Cheb i's greatest misfortune came at the end when he faced a painful fatal illness. And here I find his most important and, hopefully, lasting influence on me. He faced mortality with grace and quiet determination continuing, stubbornly, to do what he loved until the end, death and smoking regulations be damned.

-- DJ Sep / Dub Mission



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