The cover of the album doesn’t augur too well — Akim looks like a young Bill Murray who’s just got lucky in a tart’s boudoir. So it’s a relief to hear his extraordinary voice and violin playing gratifyingly wrapped in some sweet and catchy tunes. Akim El Sikameya astonished Womad audiences a couple of years back with a voice that seems bereft of all masculinity, ranging from a choirboy’s alto to that of a husky female. It’s always a beautiful sound, however, and the light and airy Mediterranean pop songs here are a delight to behold. Violin, accordion, charango, bouzouki, mandolin, piano, percussion and guitar come together in a mellifluous blend of French-style (and quite often French language) chanson, flamenco, tango, and the chaabi Arabic pop style more familiar in Akim’s native Algeria. Highlights include the jauntily catchy opener and title track, which would do well on the continent’s more discerning dance floors. The Arabic-language Le Sultan Tyran makes superb use of Aster Piazzolla’s Libertango motif, with mournful, eloquent phrasing from Akim on violin dovetailing with Philippe Eidel’s accordeon. And the jazzier, more reflective second half of the CD opens with Cahwa et Fleur D’Oranger, which features some delightful bouzouki work from Taofik Farah, funky brass figures and Akim El Sikameya’s voice at its best - part Smokey Robinson, part French-Algerian pop-rai star Faudel. A handful of the tracks don’t work quite so well, veering a bit to close to lounge pop at times. But the best moments make this a very rewarding collection indeed, with or without the tacky album cover.
This review first appeared on www.flyglobalmusic.com