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Kafé Groppi: jazzman Khalil Chahine's album of memories

By Alison Hird

On his latest album, Kafé Groppi, French composer and guitarist Khalil Chahine was inspired by childhood memories of an old, mythic café in Cairo. He talks to RFI's Alison Hirdabout making 'an album of memories' beautifully evoked through music which, ultimately, speaks for itself.

Kafé Groppi was founded by a Swiss Italian patissier in Cairo in 1905.

As a young boy Chahine remembers going there with his Egyptian father and American mother before they moved back to France.

"Kafé Groppi is a childhood memory, I used to go there with my family very often when I was a young kid. But you know it’s the concept of the café that was very interesting to me because it’s a place where you meet people and you talk about many things, heavy things but also light things."

Cairo has changed a lot in recent years, and Kafé Groppi has closed, but in its hey-day in the 50s and 60s it was the place to be, and be seen in, for artists and politicians alike.

"You always meet people you knew, maybe from San Francisco or New York. You meet them there, it’s funny. It used to be funny."

Khalil Chahine's early inspiration was Jimi Hendrix ©Maike Venzi

Mother's blue eyes

Kafé Groppi is Chahine's eighth album. Recorded with André Ceccarelli (drums), Kevin Reveyrand (Bass) Christophe Cravero (piano) and Eric Seva (saxophones).

Previously he's composed filmscores (Vénus Beauté Institut, Monsieur Batignole...), jingles for the news and weather forecast, and music for the 1925 Adventures of Prince Ahmed.

But while the album builds on scenes and stories inspired by Kafé Groppi, he doesn't see it as a soundtrack.

"Composing for movies is a very different thing, because you compose as a technician more than artist. This is an album of an artist, I suppose, so it’s quite different. But I try to talk about things through music."

The piece Ojos de cielo pays tribute to his mother's blue eyes. "My mother used to date a Colombian guy and she had very light blue eyes and he said 'you have [eyes] the colour of the sky'.

"So it’s a hommage for my mother, who died last year."

Kafé Groppi is out on Turkhoise/Socadisc records.

Kafé Groppi quintet play Sunset jazz club in Paris on 2 March 2019.

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