Throwback Thursday: Remembering Hassan Hakmoun’s ‘The Fire Within’

Updated 25 April 2018
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Throwback Thursday: Remembering Hassan Hakmoun’s ‘The Fire Within’

  • 1995’s “The Fire Within” marked a pointed return to his roots
  • In The Fire Within, Hakmoun strips everything back to the same earthy instrumentation his forefathers used for generations

ROTTERDAM: North Africa’s Gnawa music has long held a powerful sway over international ears. In the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix visited Morocco to take lessons with “The King,” Mahmoud Guinia, while “The Traditionalist” Brahim Belkane played with members of Led Zeppelin. Decades later, thousands of curious listeners continue to descend on Essaouira every year for the Festival Gnaoua et Musiques du Monde, which celebrates a 21st edition in June.

Riding the 1980s’ first wave of interest in so-called “world music” — a term most international musicians find structurally hierarchical — Hassan Hakmoun found fame representing his tribal traditions on a global stage and was soon working alongside Western luminaries, including free jazz pioneer Don Cherry. The Moroccan musician’s story is remarkable: The son of a renowned mystic healer, by the age of four Hakmoun was, legend has it, performing alongside snake charmers and fire-breathers on the streets of Marrakech.

But unlike the patchy rock and reggae fusions of Hakmoun’s breakthrough “Trance” (released on Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records two years earlier), 1995’s “The Fire Within” marked a pointed return to his roots. Gone are the electric guitars and trippy dub beats — here Hakmoun strips everything back to the same earthy instrumentation his forefathers used for generations: Hand-claps and clacking hand-cymbals (krakeb) drive these primal grooves.

The sole instrumental melody comes from Hakmoun’s sintir, a three-stringed lute which emits deep, throbbing, syncopated riffs in the spine-shaking lower registers. It’s deeply communal, but Hakmoun is master of ceremonies, leading the stirring call-and-response chants based on Sufi poetry.

These group recordings are balanced by the sparser-still solos. Released from the beat, Hakmoun’s playing further assumes the lilting cadences of human speech. For any audience, “The Fire Within” is a magnificent primer to Gnawa’s immutable musical foundations.


‘Gold’ whips up India’s patriotism through hockey

Updated 21 August 2018
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‘Gold’ whips up India’s patriotism through hockey

CHENNAI: Sports films seem to be the fashion in India. In recent times, there has been “Soorma,” “Chak De! India,” “Mary Kom,” “Sala Khadoos” and “Lagaan.” And now it is Reema Kagti’s “Gold,” a fictional story loosely based on India’s first gold medal as an independent country at the 1948 London Olympics.
Bollywood bigwig Akshay Kumar, who has in recent years taken on the role of a patriotic Samaritan with movies like “Padman,” “Toilet,” “Airlift” and so on, portrays Tapan Das, a Bengali coach and manager of India’s field hockey team.
Dhoti-clad Das is passionate about the country’s national game, which has now been eclipsed by the glamorous and money-spinning cricket. A bit of a clown and an alcoholic, he somehow manages to convince the hockey federation that he can assemble a winning team and clinch the gold at the London Olympics, just a year after India became a free country. Putting together a team of players (Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh, Vineet Kumar Singh and Sunny Kaushal among others ), Das raises a battle cry: Let us avenge 200 years of British slavery by winning the hockey gold on their home turf!
The script and the way it has been narrated capture the essence of a newly independent India, struggling to cope with the blood and gore of the Partition, and it is a heart-rending human tragedy. What is more, “Gold” is a brutal reminder of how the division of the Indian subcontinent into two nations not only split the people, but also its sports and players. There is a poignant moment when we see Pakistani players cheering Indians on the field in what was to be one of the last examples of such unity.
Admittedly, Akshay carries the film with his antics, bordering on buffoonery, and an almost obsessive earnestness. But he appears to be playing this nation-building patriotic card a little too often, pushing us into a bit of boredom. “Gold” is not in the same league as “Chak De! India” or “Lagaan.” A certain novelty we saw in these two movies seems to have been lost.