If Algerian-born singer, songwriter and mandola player Abdelli's musical aspirations don't pan out, he can take comfort in the fact that he has a great future as a movie-of-the-week subject.
Abdelli's life story is hair-raising and would be dubious were it not corroborated by apparently sane and rational people.
It starts with him as a music-mad member of North Africa's ancient Berber tribe, and then moves on to a chance encounter with Belgian-based producer Thierry Van Roy.
Then there's the agonizingly slow, piecemeal assembly of his astonishing debut disc, New Moon, his record deal with Peter Gabriel's Real World label and subsequent participation in the WOMAD festival, plus Real World-sponsored workshop sessions and collaborations with Natacha Atlas and members of the Led Zep-endorsed Egyptian Ensemble.
It makes a fine fairy tale. But it's actually true.
As the French-speaking Abdelli explains through Van Roy over red wine and couscous salad, fate led him to be deported to Brussels from Denmark in 86. Fate led him to randomly call producer and studio operator Van Roy to record some music during his 24-hour Belgian layover.
And fate continues to smile down, leading Abdelli, Van Roy and their entirely portable 16-track, 20-kilo field recording studio to Cape Verde and Azerbaijan, among other far-flung locales, to work with other musicians on his forthcoming second release, tentatively due later this year.
When Abdelli, Van Roy and a mix of musicians from Morocco, Tunisia and Chile spin out wiggy, vaguely Arabic-sounding hypnotic grooves during their Toronto debut at Ted's tonight, know that the performance is happening simply because it's meant to. At least that's what Abdelli will tell you.
"We believe in letting destiny set our agenda," Van Roy offers on behalf of his musical partner. "And it hasn't failed us yet."
"It's important to understand Berber tradition," Abdelli explains. "Our people have lived in North Africa for thousands of years. In the eighth century, in order to escape invasion by the Arabs, we went into the mountains. The Berbers must constantly strive to protect the culture and our language, which is suppressed. So in a sense, I have to fight to show Berber culture through my music."
"We really had no commercial ambitions with this," Abdelli says. "It was never about making money. It was always just about finishing the project and working with different musicians.
"That's why we approached Real World. They were interested immediately, but they couldn't pin Peter Gabriel down to make it official. We waited for a year and a half, and every three months they would call us and say, 'We're still interested. Please be patient.'
"Finally, there was a very bad period in Algeria in 93, 94 -- a civil war -- where many people were being killed. Thierry sent a fax to Peter Gabriel at that time saying, 'If you're going to be something, do it now.' Gabriel listened to the tape, and a week later we were signed."
Blame it on fate.
ABDELLI, at Ted's Wrecking Yard (549 College), tonight (Thursday, May 11). $15. 928-5012.