Leader of one of Egyptís legendary wedding bands, Kuban, who died last year, was a Nubian, born and raised in a region that was flooded with the building of the Aswan dam in the 1950s. That explains the pointed nostalgia in all the modern music that grew out of Cairoís displaced Nubian community. With his warm, raspy voice and affection for rolling, clopping grooves and slightly eccentric arranging, Kuban produced just four international releases ó all of them good.
This compilation samples each, adding two previously unreleased live tracks and a beautiful version of "Hadouda" recorded in a German radio station. Inspired by 1950s jazz bands, Kuban modernized village music with the sensuous brass-section arrangements that weave through "Mabruk" and "Sukkar Sukkar Sukkar," career-making hits of his early years. Nubian purists saw him as a diluter of tradition, uncomfortable with the strains of youth-oriented shaabi pop that you hear in tunes like "Hela Houb." But to Western ears, Kubanís sound plays as roots-oriented, especially on hypnotic, trancy numbers like "Bettitogor Agil" and "Gammal," a standout from his final recording. That last session found him still experimenting, even weaving a bluesy harmonica line into the song "Eshmana."