Cheb i Sabbah was the original DJ. Born in Algeria to a Jewish-Berber family, he moved to Paris at 15, dropped out of school and in the mid-60’s made his name spinning American soul music in Parisian clubs.
He moved to NYC in the mid-70’s, where he met friend and mentor Don Cherry, the visionary jazz/global fusion trumpeter. In 1984, he moved to San Francisco where he lived until his passing, from stomach cancer, in 2013. Yesterday, August 7th, would have been his 70th birthday.
With a deep, reverential knowledge of music from India and North Africa, he was one of the first — and always one of the best — to mix those sounds with cutting edge electronics. But rather than simply sample traditional recordings from old records and then add beats, he’d go to the master musicians themselves, sit at their feet recording them, then build modern soundscapes around these wholly original performances.
I was introduced to Chebiji just before his first release for Six Degrees, Shri Durga, came out, and had the honor and pleasure of spending time with him on several occasions, smoking cloves and drinking mint tea, eating his homemade halva and talking about and listening to music. Between those sessions and hearing his incredible live sets, he had a profound influence on my approach to music — a sense of gratitude shared by many who met him. Without Cheb i Sabbah, there may never have been a TerraSonic (radio show or Conduit channel). Who knows? There may not even be a Conduit.
RIP and Happy Birthday, Chebiji. Thanks for the music. Ma’a Salama.
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