U-CEF is a tour-de-force which puts gnawa music, dub, sinuous classic Arabic arrangements for qanun, flute & violins, electronic beats, MCs, big drums and crunchy rock guitars into a giant blender to produce something fresh and original… ‘the potential is as limitless as the Sahara’
Clandestinos have to travel light. There’s little space in their kit bags for anything other than hopes, dreams, memories and music. That was pretty much all U-cef, aka Moulay Youssef Adel, had to declare when he arrived in the USA from his native Morocco back in the late 1980s.
Born in Rabat, the Moroccan Capital, U-cef grew up with the riches of Morocco’s traditional music ringing in his ears, from the raw trance of gnawa to the refined sophistication of andalusi and melhoun, from the challenging protest poetry of the Morocco’s new-breed of pop agitators like Nass El Ghiwane and Lem Chaheb to the gutsy roots music of the high Atlas. But very early on, foreign sounds entered the mix, starting with the lush orchestrated scores of Bollywood and Bruce Lee movies and moving through The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zep to disco and funk. Thanks to his music loving uncles, U-cef started learning the guitar before moving on to become a drummer. His group Quark dreamed of achieving the musical sophistication of heroes Return to Forever and Weather Report. But the contemporary Moroccan music scene simply didn’t nurture that kind of ambition, favouring bands who were happy to just play covers in the ballrooms of swanky hotels. Emigration became the only option.
In New York faith kept U-cef suspended just above the starvation line and immigrant courage earned him a foothold in the New York music scene. He ended up gigging regularly with fellow Moroccan exile Hassan Hakmoun, and other reggae and hip hop acts. Meanwhile he immersed himself in hip hop, reggae and R&B, building a solid, profound and first hand knowledge of late 20th century urban music culture. The process continued when U-cef moved to London with his English ex wife in 1994, except this time the input came from drum ‘n’ bass and ragga, styles that were burning up the underground music scene in the British capital at that time.
After brief success with polyglot jazz-funkateers Pan, U-cef decided it was time to plough his own musical patch, and plant the hybrid seed that would evolve into his signature urban Moroccan style. Mutating from being simply a musician to masterminding a project as producer, engineer and all-round studio hound, U-cef invited a huge cast of musician friends to his self-built home studio in West London, where his first album ‘Halalium’ came into being. With its hard urban edge and complex-free marriage of Moroccan roots, hip-hop and drum’n’bass, ‘Halalium’ was definitely ahead of its time. It went on to influence a whole generation of Moroccan hip hop artists, including Fnaîre, the current dons of the scene. But thanks to a number of factors…not least 9/11 and the mutation of his label Apartment 22 from a record label into a management company, U-cef found himself without a record deal and back in his home studio, pursuing his lonesome musical vision like some halal monk.
‘Halalwood’ is the next chapter in this immigrant story. It has been seven years coming and it reflects both U-cef’s evolving love-affair with rock and R&B and his ever widening circle of friends and musical collaborators. But despite the huge list of credits on the album, its making has often been a lonely experience, with solo sessions clamouring for space between odd-jobs, gigs, remixing for others and spending time with his two children Maysoun and Joshua. Still travelling light, still in exile, still struggling, U-cef’s music is the ultimate immigrant adventurer, clandestino warrior, halal pilgrim, living by courage and inspiration alone, busting boundaries and going from strength to strength.
U-CEF & the halal joint sound system (ready now)
MC/BELLY DANCER visuals opt.
DJ set up:
- 2cdj1000MK, 2pioneer1210, pioneer mixer 600/800, 2 mics +2 sets monitors.
- Live Band (the arab league) 6 piece (ready from 03/08):
- Drum kit & Percussion, Programing & BV.
- BASS, KEYBOARDS, GUITARS, MC & DANCER.
Halalium represents the new wave of Arab electronica, from Morocco by way of New York and London. U-Cef keeps it all well rooted, however, with the Maghreb running deep throughout his music and acoustic instruments playing an important part in the sound; the closer, “Gnasaid,” for example, is largely acoustic, revolving around the sintir with its flat desert tones. But listen elsewhere and there’s plenty of house and hip-hop in the mix (check out “Aalash Kwawna” with its English rap and curious violin playing by an old Arab) and a flamenco influence that pervades “The Moorish Matador.” A lot of the disc, however, returns to the Moroccan Gnawa sensibility, as on “Hijra,” possibly the most complete piece on the album, which brings together all the elements — the English and Arabic rapping and desert guitar from Justin Adams — in perfect harmony with U-Cef’s beats. He takes music into a territory that’s new, with the vista completely open and available, and charts a first, exciting course through it. Where U-Cef will take it from here remains to be seen, but the potential is as limitless as the Sahara.
~ Chris Nickson, All Music Guide
“One of the most ambitious and best-executed fusions of ethnic traditionalism and urban futurism I’ve ever heard” – Chicago Reader.
“U-Cef is a drummer and a perfect creator of distant voices and magnetic sounds” – Il Manifesto.
“U-Cef melts technological dance rhythms and big beats with the strength of the trance elements in the halal rhythms from Morocco” – World Music.
“Here comes the world music of the new millennium” Oor.
“He represents what the term world music really means today more than anyone else” – L’humanité.
“The dance floor is a natural habitat for U-Cef” – Time Out.
“U-Cef hasn’t just combined these elements to jump on the ‘world music’ bandwagon, he’s done it to bring the honoured tradition of Arabic music into the 21st century. Needless to say, he does it with finesse” – DJ Magazine.
“A lesson in subtlety for all worldbeat remixers” – BFM.
“In the same way that Outcaste did with Indian music, U-Cef has managed to show that dance music can be morphed into the most unlikely of places” – Music.
HALALWOOD U-CEF’s new album.
Morocco’s first and foremost digitalizer delivers his debut album for Crammed Discs.
‘Halalwood’ is a tour-de-force which puts gnawa music, dub, sinuous classic Arabic arrangements for qanun, flute & violins, electronic beats, MCs, big drums and crunchy rock guitars into a giant blender to produce something fresh and original. U-Cef has all the legitimacy and inspiration needed to navigate between cultures without any prejudice, disrespect or fear. Born and raised in Rabat, he absorbed much of his native Morocco’s multiple traditions before moving first to New York and then to London, immersing himself along the way in the Western world’s electronic & rock scenes. His first CD ‘Halalium’ (2001) was a milestone in Moroccan urban dance music, and has inspired a whole generation of rappers, b-boys and pro-tools adventurers, from Tangiers to Taroudant and Melilla to Marrakech.
‘Halalwood’ boasts an exciting cast of high-profile guests including Damon Albarn, Natacha Atlas, Rachid Taha, Mirror System (Steve Hillage & Miquette Giraudy), UK Apache, Amina Annabi, Justin Adams and rap duo Dar Gnawa.
1. Hilal (feat. Mirror System)
2. Boolandrix (feat. Bizmatik & Said Damir)
3. Ouddamak (feat. Natacha Atlas)
4. Stick (feat. Damon Albarn)
5. Hamdou’llah (feat. Oum & Arabingi aka UK Apache)
6. MarhaBahia (feat. Said Damir & Pastel)
7. Rachid Taha’s Ya Rayah [Urban Fix] (feat.Rachid Taha)
8. Mo’ Rock’n’Roll (feat. Mbarka & Justin Adams)
9. Idman (feat. Dar Gnawa, Sweetman & Staiffy)
10. Kalzoom (feat. Amina Annabi)
Produced, recorded and mixed by U-cef at Halal Joint Studios, Marrakech, London & Paris.
From Halalium released 2000 by Apt 22 rec:
1. The Moorish Matador
2. Aalash Kwawna
5. Gazel Fatma
6. Halal Monk
7. DJ Faisal On The 1’n’2
19. Marrakech Raggamuffins
11. Sonic Moor
Remixes & 12″ release:
also many compilations around the globe… and more.