Meet the Director: Safinez Bousbia and El Gusto Orchestra

June 3, 2013

By Nick Dyson

Filmmaker Safinez Bousbia describes El Gusto as “the story of a group of musicians – Jews and Muslims – torn apart by history and brought together today by music”. In reality it took more than music alone to bring these musicians back together; rather the director’s own extraordinary efforts over a two year period to hunt down and reunite a group of friends separated for 50 years.

5F658119-88C4-411A-93D1-A59916626680_mw1024_n_sThe story of El Gusto begins in the casbah of Algiers in 2003, with a chance encounter between a young architect holidaying in the country of her birth and an 83-year-old mirror vendor and former musician, who had lost his band members during the Algerian War of Independence. At that time, Bousbia had little inclination towards filmmaking – “At the beginning, I just proposed to help him find his friends.” It was only midway through the search for Mohamed Ferkioui’s friends, as the number of remarkable sub-stories began to increase, that the necessity to document their journey became apparent.

“Once I found the musicians, I heard they had amazing stories to tell. Then I thought it was worth a film. I didn’t think I’d be the one doing it, because I was an architect at the time! I did not have a clue as to how films were made.”

In many ways the story of Safinez Bousbia is almost as intriguing as those of her musicians.

Born in Algeria, raised in Switzerland and educated at Oxford and Dublin, her transition over the course of the project from architect to investigator, band manager, film producer and director, is an indication of her extraordinary versatility. Her journey is made all the more remarkable when considered alongside battles against near-bankruptcy and cancer. These threatened to derail not only her life but also the band, the film project and the livelihoods of the men whom she had reunited.

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There is certainly gratitude among her musicians for the transformation in their lives. Ferkioui describes the moment he first met Bousbia as like a “beautiful angel” who had been “sent from God”. Rachid Berkani, the band’s 75-year-old lutist rejoices: “Look at us at our age – traveling, eating great meals, staying in three- and four-star hotels, getting paid.”

Bousbia’s motivation for creating El Gusto remains clear: “Whenever we talk about the Algerian War of Independence, it’s always versions told by either soldiers or victims. It’s never just by simple people, simple musicians, who maybe never gave a damn about the war. They just wanted to play music and have fun and be friends.”

The War of Independence was literally something you couldn’t avoid. You could not talk about their lives without talking about that war. It was the thing that made their lives pause; the reason that their friendships were torn apart, their music stopped. Their life completely took another turn.

“Their lives were stuck in the past, their music was lost, they deserved to be reunited and have their stories told. I decided to go for it.”

On Tuesday 4 June, El Gusto will be screened at the Frontline Club followed by a Q&A with director Safinez Bousbia.