U-CEF - Short Biography
By Andy Morgan.
Clandestinos have to travel light. There's little space in their kit bags for anything other than hopes, dreams, memories and music. That was pretty much all U-cef, aka Moulay Youssef Adel, had to declare when he arrived in the USA from his native Morocco back in the late 1980s.
Born in Rabat, the Moroccan Capital, U-cef grew up with the riches of Morocco's traditional music ringing in his ears, from the raw trance of gnawa to the refined sophistication of andalusi and melhoun, from the challenging protest poetry of the Morocco's new-breed of pop agitators like Nass El Ghiwane and Lem Chaheb to the gutsy roots music of the high Atlas. But very early on, foreign sounds entered the mix, starting with the lush orchestrated scores of Bollywood and Bruce Lee movies and moving through The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zep to disco and funk. Thanks to his music loving uncles, U-cef started learning the guitar before moving on to become a drummer. His group Quark dreamed of achieving the musical sophistication of heroes Return to Forever and Weather Report. But the contemporary Moroccan music scene simply didn't nurture that kind of ambition, favouring bands who were happy to just play covers in the ballrooms of swanky hotels. Emigration became the only option.
In New York faith kept U-cef suspended just above the starvation line and immigrant courage earned him a foothold in the New York music scene. He ended up gigging regularly with fellow Moroccan exile Hassan Hakmoun, and other reggae and hip hop acts. Meanwhile he immersed himself in hip hop, reggae and R&B, building a solid, profound and first hand knowledge of late 20th century urban music culture. The process continued when U-cef moved to London with his English ex wife in 1994, except this time the input came from drum 'n' bass and ragga, styles that were burning up the underground music scene in the British capital at that time.
After brief success with polyglot jazz-funkateers Pan, U-cef decided it was time to plough his own musical patch, and plant the hybrid seed that would evolve into his signature urban Moroccan style. Mutating from being simply a musician to masterminding a project as producer, engineer and all-round studio hound, U-cef invited a huge cast of musician friends to his self-built home studio in West London, where his first album 'Halalium' came into being. With its hard urban edge and complex-free marriage of Moroccan roots, hip-hop and drum'n'bass, 'Halalium' was definitely ahead of its time. It went on to influence a whole generation of Moroccan hip hop artists, including Fnaîre, the current dons of the scene. But thanks to a number of factors...not least 9/11 and the mutation of his label Apartment 22 from a record label into a management company, U-cef found himself without a record deal and back in his home studio, pursuing his lonesome musical vision like some halal monk.
'Halalwood' is the next chapter in this immigrant story. It has been seven years coming and it reflects both U-cef's evolving love-affair with rock and R&B and his ever widening circle of friends and musical collaborators. But despite the huge list of credits on the album, its making has often been a lonely experience, with solo sessions clamouring for space between odd-jobs, gigs, remixing for others and spending time with his two children Maysoun and Joshua. Still travelling light, still in exile, still struggling, U-cef's music is the ultimate immigrant adventurer, clandestino warrior, halal pilgrim, living by courage and inspiration alone, busting boundaries and going from strength to strength.