Famous French convert singer takes bayah
Abd al Malik
Abd al Malik might best be described as a deconstructionist rapper. Indeed, his radical style is much in keeping with the groundbreaking work of the deconstructionist philosophers whom he studied at university. The pioneering young rapper introduced a totally new aesthetic to French hip-hop, pushing back musical borders and transcending styles on his second solo album "Gibraltar", released in 2006. The Sufi poet-rapper, who began his career with the Strasbourg crew New African Poets, has won a number of prestigious awards in the course of his career and his thought-provoking songs are now enjoying increasing success on the musical mainstream.
Régis Fayette-Mikano - the future Abd al Malik - was born to Congolese parents living in Paris on 14 March 1975. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Brazzaville where they lived for the next four years before returning to France in 1981, setting up a new home in Strasbourg. Growing up in the city’s Neuhoff neighbourhood, the young Régis was a troubled teenager who soon became a juvenile delinquent. He was saved by his thirst for knowledge, however, which motivated him to get good grades in school, and his quest for spirituality, which led him to convert to Islam at the age of sixteen and take a new name, Abd al Malik.
Soon afterwards, Abd al Malik went on to form the rap group New African Poets (NAP) with five other music-minded friends from his neighbourhood. The group released a self-financed, self-produced EP "Trop beau pour être vrai" in 1994. They also recorded an album together, but never managed to gain distribute for it. Undeterred by this early setback, the group went on to re-emerge in 1996 with an album entitled "La Racaille sort un disque". The album was well-received and NAP followed it up in 1998 with a second album, "La Fin du monde", featuring guest appearances by a number of leading French rap stars including Faf La Rage, Shurik’n (IAM), Rocca (La Cliqua) and Rockin’s Squat (Assassin). NAP’s third album, "A l’intérieur de nous", followed in 2000.
Abd al Malik’s burgeoning music career did not distract him from his studies and while continuing to perform with NAP he attended regular university lectures and gained a double degree in classics and philosophy. The young student flirted with religious fundamentalism for a while, but finally found his calling in Sufism after meeting the Moroccan sheikh Sidi Hamza al Qâdiri Boutchichi who became his spiritual guide and mentor.
Meanwhile, in 1999, Abd al Malik married French-Moroccan R&B singer Wallen and the couple had a son, Muhammed, in 2001.
2004: "Le Face à face des cœurs"
In March 2004, Abd al Malik branched out on his own and released a debut solo album called "Le Face à face des cœurs." The album, which Abd al Malik described as "a date with myself", was named after a book written by the Sufi intellectual Faouzi Skali. Interestingly enough, the fifteen "audaciously romantic " tracks on the album were preceded by an innovative intro where French journalist Pascale Clark got the singer-songwriter to talk about his musical approach. Aïssa (from the group NAP) was involved on a number of tracks and other guest stars included Marco Prince, Souad Massi and Abd al Malik’s wife, the R&B singer Wallen.
The last song on the album, "Que Dieu bénisse la France" (God Bless France) featuring Ariel Wizman, was a coded reference to "Qu’Allah bénisse la France", a book Abd al Malik published simultaneously with his album in which he explored his own personal road to faith and defended the concept of Islam as a moderate, tolerant faith. The book went on to win the Prix Laurence-Trân in Belgium.
Later that same year, Abd al Malik was invited to attend a slam poetry session in Brussels. Intrigued by what he heard, the young rapper began thinking about ways of integrating this new aesthetic into his work.
Abd al Mailk’s second album, "Gibraltar", released in June 2006, marked a radical departure from his first album. In working on material for "Gibraltar", Abd al Malik had stripped rap back to basics, deconstructing the very notion of rap as he worked towards a totally unique new sound fusing elements of ‘chanson’ and jazz with slam and rap. Bilal (a member of NAP) was responsible for most of the compositions on the new album and Jacques Brel’s former pianist, Gérard Jouannest, wrote three pieces for the rapper.
Abd al Malik had been inspired to contact Jouannest after seeing a television report about him. While remaining deeply passionate about rap, Malik had also started listening to Brel and had been struck by the force of the Belgian star’s on-stage performances. Abd al Malik arranged to meet Brel’s former pianist, Jouannest, and the pair hit it off immediately, the latter scribbling down lyrics as he listened to the pianist play.
Abd al Malik’s second album featured musicians from an impressive diversity of backgrounds, attracting artists who would never normally have found themselves involved in the making of a rap record. These included bass-player Laurent Vernerey, the accordionist Marcel Azzola and the drummer Régis Ceccarelli who was responsible for instrumentation and the eclectic choice of samples (Keren Ann, Nina Simone, Fairuz etc.). Thanks to the innovative musical arrangements on "Gibraltar" Abd al Malik’s poetic lyrics appeared to acquire even greater force.
"12 septembre 2001" was chosen as the first single release from the album and followed by a second single "Les Autres" (a clever reworking of Brel’s "Ces gens-là") in November 2006. "Gibraltar" proved to be a huge hit, going gold in December 2006, and double gold in March 2007. It also won an impressive collection of awards including the Prix Constantin and the Prix de l’Académie Charles-Cros in 2006 which were followed, in 2007, by a coveted Victoire de la musique award (in the “urban music” category) and the prestigious Prix Raoul-Breton awarded by the Sacem.
In February 2007, accompanied by a jazz quartet which included Laurent De Wilde, Abd al Malik kicked off an extensive tour. Over the next thirteen months or so the slam poet/rapper would perform over 100 concert dates across France, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada. He also put in appearances at all the leading music festivals such as Le Printemps de Bourges, Les Francofolies (in La Rochelle, Spa and Montreal), the Montreux Jazz Festival, Les Eurockéennes and Musiques Métisses in Angoulême. In March 2007, Abd al Malik brought the house down when he performed in Paris at La Cigale and Le Cirque d’Hiver.