I once spent some time in the Balkans. At first I was not much taken with the region. Perhaps because of the horrible war that saw concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and the siege of Sarajevo, those rugged ancient lands seemed a cursed and ugly place.
But as I travelled across Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and parts of Croatia my resistance fell away. The hatreds and blood feuds ran deep, for sure, but so did one of the world’s most original and heterogenous cultures. The amalgam of Turk, Slav, Russian, Bulgarian, Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox ways has thrown up a society that is amazingly fissiparous but also deftly interwoven. When things go bad, like they did in the early 90s, all hell is unleashed and misery stalks the hills and valleys. But in times of peace there is nothing quite as lovely as an orchard in Gorazde, the wide plain of Drvar or snowfall on one of the great mosques of Sarajevo.
3 Mustaphas 3 are a musical collective who specialize in the ethnically blurred melange of Turko-Albanian-Slav-Arabic-Indo-bellydance-gypsy-jazz-dance balladry that is part of the Balkan atmosphere.
Core members are Ben Mandelson (under the name Hijaz Mustapha), Tim Fienburgh (1954–2008) (under the name Niaveti III) Colin Bass (under the name Sabah Habas Mustapha), and Nigel Watson (under the name Houzam Mustapha), around which orbit many other Mustaphas – all supposed to be the nephews of Uncle Patrel Mustapha. They claim to originate from the Balkans, but play music from almost every continent; their slogan, “Forward in all directions!”, is an expression of this musical diversity. Active at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, they have now stopped producing and performing together, but haven’t officially disbanded.
Liner notes from their albums would have it that the band was created in a Balkan town called Szegerely, where it played at the Crazy Loquat Club, before the members were transported inside refrigerators to England.
In truth however the creation of the band began in 1982 when guitarist and musicologist Ben Mandelson, also known as Hijaz Mustapha, and Uncle Patrel, also known as Lu Edmonds, started playing together, along with Patrel’s other “nephews”, namely Houzam, Isfa’ani, Oussack and Niaveti III. Before World music became a genre, they were already playing musical styles from all around the globe. According to band members the first concert was held in a London restaurant that year. The early 3M3 lineup was noticed by BBC radio’s John Peel, for whom they recorded several Peel Session broadcasts. A concert in Berlin made them more, and two mini-albums were subsequently released, but their first full length album, Shopping, was recorded in 1987. The album covered a wide array of genres also including a cover of Moroccan Najat Aatabou’s Shouffi Rhirou. By then Oussack had left the band, but bassist Sabah Habas Mustapha, who may in fact be Colin Bass, and accordionist Kemo Mustapha had joined.
Their second full length album, Heart of Uncle, was released in 1989 and showed Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Irish and even Latin American influence. Soup of the Century, released in 1990, was their most acclaimed success however. With tracks ranging from a Country song in Japanese to a Mexican traditional sung in Hindi, and going through a mix of Irish, Scottish, Greek, Albanian, Klezmer and many more styles, the Mustaphas had broken the last barriers separating ethnic music styles.
Daoudi joined during the recording and performed woodwinds. The Mustaphas had also been assisted on occasions by Lavra Tima Daviz on vocals and Expen$ive on trumpet, while guests Israeli singer Ofra Haza, and kora players Dembo Konte and Kausu Kuyateh from Gambia and Senegal respectively have played alongside them in the 1980s.
The band toured extensively in Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, the USA and Canada, playing clubs and international festivals (Moers, Glastonbury, Winnipeg).
A final album, Friends Fiends & Fronds was released in 1991, although it contained mostly remixes from previous albums. By the end of the year the band was no longer playing together. Sabah Habas pursued a solo career, releasing albums as Colin Bass, or performing with his band Camel as well as the Jugala Allstars from Indonesia, and Hijaz became a producer. The two were featured, together with Houzam, in an album from Zimbabwean artist Stella Chiweshe. Between 1988–1992, Hijaz, Houzam and Sabah Habas worked together on further recording projects with renowned artists from the World Music scene: Tarika Sammy (Madagascar), Rinken Band (Okinawa), Dembo Konte & Kausu Kuyateh (Gambia). Oussack (Ray Cooper) joined the Oysterband under the name Chopper.
Another 3M3 album was released in 1997 containing live performances, and Sabah Habas and Hijaz came together again in 2001 to pick songs to include in their final live album, Play Musty for Me.
During the height of their fame, the invited audiences to bring ripe cheeses to concerts, which the Mustaphas would attempt to identify on stage. An onstage refrigerator holding fresh fruit which could be offered to the audience was an essential item demanded by the band from any serious concert promoter. Indeed, the fridge itself was a revered item for the Mustapha family (as it keeps food fresh) hence the cry often heard in intense moments of performance: “Can we take it to the fridge? Let me take it to the fridge!” (Wikipedia)
The record we share today, Shopping, is their debut. Full of fun, humour, odd twists and turns and incredible music, this is a ‘must have’ for anyone interested in music beyond the radio dial.
01 – Medley
02 – Medley
03 – Shika Shika
04 – A Night Off Beirut
05 – Selver
06 – Voulez-Vous Danser
07 – Darling, Don’t Say ‘No’
08 – Choufi Ghirou
09 – Valle E Pogradecit
10 – Musafir Hoon Yaaron
11 – Szegerely Farewell