The bodega has reopened for business!
Those of you who have been following us know that, a year or so after we joined WFMU's Give the Drummer Radio, our posting of new music here slowed down until we ceased offering new rips at all. I'm not going to bore you with the reasoning; it doesn't matter. What matters is that we're back, and -- inspired by fellow travelers Tim Abdellah Fuson and Peter Doolan -- we're going to kick off our reboot with a series of newly discovered cassettes.
First up, a live recording on cassette by Ali Salhien (على صالحين), with thanks to the aforementioned Tim for translation, transliteration, and most of the context below.
According to a posthumously created Facebook memorial page, Ali Salhien (also transliterated Aly Salheen) was considered The Star of Mawwals and Star of Maghagha, an Upper Egyptian city about 120 miles south of Cairo. The page was created on March 13, 2011, presumably not long after the singer's untimely death. We've not been able to determine his birth date.
This is the sole live video of the performer I was able to find -- fair warning that the sound quality leaves much to be desired. That said, it gives you a great sense of Salhien's energy and magnetism; near the end of the video you'll see a succession of audience members, all male, leaping onto the stage to dance together.
The cassette retains all of that energy, but with superior sound quality -- considering that it's a live performance, most likely in Salhien's hometown. I've ripped it at 320kbps and separated out distinct mawwals into individual tracks. It sounds something like a grungier, less electronic version of Islam Chipsy.
I found this cassette at Nourdine Bahri's Nassem Halal Meat & Mediterranean Grocery in Astoria, Queens.
I've been visiting this particular bodega for at least 15 years. Long before I moved to the neighborhood, I made frequent trips up here from Brooklyn, visiting Nassem, the Nile Deli across the street, and a no longer extant Lebanese market run by a poet who seemed to have a story about at least one song on every single CD that I bought.
Astoria is home to more than 75,000 residents; the population of this single neighborhood dwarfs that of the approximately 15,000 Algerian Americans spread across Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami, and New York City. Yet, there are somehow enough in the area to support Nassem, which up until 2010 sold hundreds of original CDs and cassettes. (Most of my Algerian CDs -- my entire Cheb Hasni collection, for instance -- were bought at Nassem in the aughts.)
The few CDs that remain are pirated copies with paper labels that you risk destroying your player or DVD drive playing, let alone taking the time to rip. Last year, when Peter Doolan came to visit, we took a tour of the neighborhood, stopping by the bodega, where each of us picked up a couple of cassettes.
I went back last week and, after talking briefly with the Latino guy who has managed the butchery there since 1996, convinced him to pull out all of the remaining tapes for me. There were about 40 titles left. Spoiler alert: I bought them all.
As I make my way through these Algerian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Moroccan, and Syrian rarities -- some of which have been sitting on Nassem's shelves since the late 1980s -- I'll be posting those of special sonic interest here. Expect a new one once a week or so for the foreseeable future. If you know anything about the music (or at the very least, the language) I strongly encourage you to share your insights in the comments or by email.
This Wednesday's Bodega Pop Live show, by the way, will be focused on cassettes from around the world.
Link to Ali Salhien's تلاعبنى الاعبك in the comments.