After its release this January in French cinemas, Algerian documentary El Gusto is now set to be released in its home country this Ramadan.
This release was made possible after the film’s international sales agency Fortissimo Films met with Algerian distributor Hachemi Zertal at Euromed Audiovisual’s film distribution workshop in Jordan last July, and the latter decided to distribute the film.
Dubbed Algeria’s Buena Vista Social Club, El Gusto is the incredible story of its Algerian-born director Safinez Bousbia meeting 42 musicians from the Algiers Conservatory’s first sha’abi music class, now reunited 50 years later in an orchestra named “El Gusto”.
“Sha’abi” means “popular” in Arabic, and refers to a type of music invented in the middle of the 1920s in the Algiers Casbah by Hadj El Anka, one of the greatest musicians of the time. When he started a class in the basement of the Algiers Conservatory to teach this new form of music inspired by Berber music, Andalusian music, and religious chants, the space soon proved to be too small for the hundreds of students, both Arab and Jewish, who flocked to learn from him. The class had to move up to the fifth floor where there was enough space for everyone.
Sha’abi music gave rhythm to the childhood of the 42 musicians whose story is told in El Gusto. Their friendship and common love for this music, said to make you forget about misery, hunger, and thirst, for years bound them at the heart of an orchestra, until the Algerian war of independence from 1954 to 1962.
Over 50 years later, Safinez Bousbia, the director of the documentary El Gusto, met one of the musicians by chance. The latter had decided to bring the orchestra back to life, and to become its manager to take it on a tour of legendary concert venues: the Barbican in London, the Palais Omni-Sports in Paris Bercy, the Gymnasium Theatre in Marseille, and the Opera of Algiers. They released their first album in 2007.
The documentary is the moving, good-humoured tale of how music reunited these men again after fifty years, as told by sixteen of the 42 reunited musicians, many of whom returned from France to play in the orchestra once again.
After obtaining the required operating visa, the film’s Algerian distributor Hachemi Zertal has decided to release the film in the middle of the month of Ramadan.
It’s usually a difficult time to promote a feature film, but, after the film’s 50,000 admissions in France and with the orchestra’s continued success, the film should have no trouble finding an audience in Algeria.