A beautiful rhythmic cocktail of Andalusian, Berber, Arabic, and Flamenco traditions, chaabi music was the heart and soul of cosmopolitan Algiers in the 1940s. When the war of independence tore apart the peaceful Muslim and Jewish communities that came together to play this joyful, sometimes scandalous music, its greatest practitioners were flung back to France or scattered across an austere and increasingly authoritative Algeria. Fast-forward to 2003, when filmmaker Safinez Bousbia serendipitously discovered some old photographs of a music class from the ’40s in an antique shop in Algiers. Inspired, she spent the next several years tracking down a group of friends kept apart for five decades to stage an extraordinary reunion concert.
This spirited documentary is a celebration of the power of music to transcend national, social, and religious boundaries. Bousbia’s still-fiery subjects, now 70 to 100 years old, pour all their pent-up emotion into both their music and an enlightening chronicle of the antithetical effect liberation had on the region’s multicultural dialogue. She and cinematographer Nuria Roldos make gorgeous use of Algeria’s crumbling casbah, winding the camera through its labyrinthine passageways and soaring above it for sun-dappled panoramas. [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.]