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Barbés is a piece of Africa stranded in the heart of Paris, at the foot of the Sacre Coeur. It is a neighborhood of couscous and chicken, of smoke-filled bars where dominos click on tabletops, of dish antennas transmitting floods of Middle Eastern music through TV sets. In Barbés, you could have met the late Cheikha Rimitti, the grand dame of raï, on the Rue Myrrha walking back to her hotel. Or a band hired to sing at a wedding stopping to pick up their musicians at a café- The Oasis, The Délice, or The Danton.
People from every corner of Africa have crowded into Barbés, a refuge for exiles that directed Larbi Dida's raï towards Fateh's shaabi, and that brushed Aziz's guimbri up against Youcef's bass. It is encounters su...