The concept of this debut album from Spain's leading roots ensemble is that you are listening to a radio broadcast in Tarifa, Spain's southernmost point, so that you might hear a mixture of sounds from Spain and North Africa. And indeed fuzzy, distant radio sounds introduce one song and close the album. The album features an incredible variety of instruments, including among many others: guitar, tar (Persian lute), buzuki (Greek mandolin), derbouka (North African clay drum), ney (Arabic flute), crumhorn (a loud, buzzing Medieval wind instrument), and the Indian harmonium. The group is not shy about including modern popular instruments like soprano and tenor saxophone, electric organ, and electric bass. The album features almost as many styles as it does instruments, yet they tend to come together as one new style, rather than sounding like a musical salad. The album starts off with the title track, a smooth mix of rumba and flamenco. "Oye, China" is a love lament that plays the layered clip-clop rhythm of the plucked instruments off the more continuous sounds of the accordion and the breathy nsuri (Indian bamboo flute). "Lamma bada" is a straight reading of one of the most oft-played tunes of the Arab world, using Radio Tarifa's favored instruments, retaining the song's modal structure (i.e., all the instruments, even the bass, playing the same line at once). One song later in the album stands out from all the rest. It is an adaptation of a song by a Medieval troubadour named Walter von der Vogelweide originally called "Nu Alrest Lebe Ich Mir Werde," but which Radio Tarifa simply calls "Nu Alrest." Dominated by the crumhorns and the melancholy tenor of Javier Raibal, "Nu Alrest" carries a potent charge of fantasy and sadness, conjuring images of crossing the desert alone on camel. It is imagination like this that makes Rumba Argelina one of the most important world music albums of the 1990s.
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AllMusic Review by Kurt Keefner