This auspiciously mostly-acoustic cd is not a radical change from the slick electronicized dance material the famous Algerian rai-rocker has ground out for most of his career. There’s still drum machine on many of the cuts (especially the trip-hop and downtempo numbers), along with synthesizers faking brass and string parts (and also adding a completely unintentional, comedic 80s feel in places). But there’s also a full acoustic band here, a welcome continuation of the turn back to real North African rai that the former Cheb Khaled has taken over the last ten years – let’s not forget that the Algerians invented trip-hop in the first place. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that musically at least, this is one of Khaled’s best albums, right up there with his earliest stuff from 1982-83. This cd is back-loaded, almost the equivalent of two albums: the poppier stuff first, followed by the more traditional songs, rich with oud, flute, violin, rattling percussion and fullscale orchestration in places. Over the past almost thirty years, Khaled’s voice has also taken on a darker tone, lending a welcome gravitas to many of the songs.
Of the initial cuts, the title track kicks off with a long accordion and vocal jam and grows to a bouncy midtempo dance number that takes on a somewhat western feel with jangly guitar and synth. The most intense song on the cd is the dark, spare, Rachid Taha-inflected requiem Papa, Khaled’s anguished, melismatic French-language vocals laden with pain and loss. After the hip-hop flavored Raikoum, it’s all oldschool and and it’s very compelling, from the somewhat mysterious, shuffling Sbabi Ntya to the sparsely but beautifully orchestrated Soghri. The cd wraps up with a funky song that gradually adds layers, right up to a gorgeous, dramatic, lushly Levantine outro, and then a midtempo ballad with a nice bass-and-piano groove and a haunting violin solo. For non-Arabic speakers, this works equally well as chillout or dance music – it’s a great way to get to know one of the most important figures in the world of Middle Eastern music over the past few decades. 08/25/09
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