Thursday, April 26, 2007

VARIOUS - Rough Guide to Africa and the Middle East (World Music Network)

A collection released to coincide with the recent publication of the information-rich reference book of the same name. With so many of the countries that make up these vast and richly creative regions already covered by existing Rough Guide CDs, compiler John Armstrong has taken the opportunity to showcase a few of the less obvious names featured in the book.
So, as well as established eye-catching big-hitting West Africans like Baaba Maal, Mory Kanté and King Sunny Adé, we have Algerian trance-rai (!) from Malik, and welcome exposure for Egyptian pop sensation Amr Diab and his flamenco-spiced Amarain, as well as an arrestingly plaintive tribute to Oum Kalthoum from Nubians Salwa Abou Greisha and drummer Mahmoud Fadl.
A little geographical licence has been applied on the album (as it has in the book), with those Egyptian selections dragged eastwards to represent the Middle East, saving the choice of Ofra Haza’s evergreen Im Nin’ Alu from regional tokenism. Which is more than can be said for Africas East and West, the former represented by Oliver Mtukudzi, all on his Zimbabwean lonesome with the plangent title-track to the ’90s film Neria. And USA-based Ethiopian Gigi holds a slightly compromised end up for the rich pickings available from her country and its near-neighbours Kenya and Tanzania in the east. No sparkling guitar-based pop from the latter country, then, and Congo’s pan-continental influence on that style - and the Latin influences that permeated the region for a quarter of a century or more - is focused solely on the sweet old-school rumba revivalists Kékélé, with some contrasting Congotronics-style cacophony from the Kasai Allstars evidence of an extraordinary inventiveness in that part of the world.
But with the appearance of Tuaregs Etran Finatawa and the visceral desert blues intensity of Western Saharan Mariem Hassan, it’s the North African and Arabic sounds that hold sway on what was always going to be an impossibly broad remit. Not so much travelogue as toe-dipper then, but none the worse for it.

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