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For roots-music fans, this is the best of 2001ís spate of Arabic and North African compilations. The focus is North Africa, and much of the music is not Arabic per se but some variant on Berber, Gnawa, or Nubian music. Youcef, of Orchestre National de Barbès fame, kicks off with 'Salem,' a clubby track that incorporates ambient accordion and a ragamuffin reggae vibe. Two Gnawa-oriented tracks by Nass Marrakech and Gnawa Diffusion offer contrasting but equally appealing updatings of the ancient healing music of the mystic Gnawa. The former melds it with Mediterranean oud and mandolin; the latter goes with accordion and a bouncy downbeat that comes close to zydeco.

The poppier rai and shaabi genres are also represented, but mostly in their folkloric and minimally electronic forms. Orchestra Faicelís 'Ayit Nasbar' ('Tired of Being Patient') is a loping, acoustic-tinged number with soulful vocals from Esseheri Azel Arab, a shaabi pioneer from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Also in a commercial vein, Amr Diab, the heartthrob of Egyptian pop, comes through with a blockbuster hit called 'Nour El Ain' (The Mindís Eye), a flamenco-flavored love song ó not unlike something from the Gipsy Kings, but with Arabic lyrics and accordion.


Issue Date: January 3 - 10, 2002

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