Ray Lema

Safi [Tinder]

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AllMusic Review by

Now this is what you call a concept. Take a gnaoua group -- Tyour Gnaoua from southern Morocco -- and team it with Ray Lema, one of the most prolific and powerful West African musicians. Moroccan music has often been paired with Western sound to good effect, since the three-string gimbti is very similar to the bass, and the percussion patterns of the steel cymbals work well with Western music. But the roots of gnaoua (or gnawa, as it's often called) music lie deep in Africa, although they've never been explored on disc before. Lema's sheer versatility makes him the perfect candidate for this kind of thing; he's experienced, it seems, in almost every African style, and a virtuoso in all of them. Here, though, rather than acting as a leader, he generally lets himself be subsumed into the traditional trance music of the gnaoua brotherhood (only two pieces are originals, Lema's "Mister X" and "Manandabo" from Tyour Gnaoua leader Abdesiam Alikkane). Perhaps the only problem is that together they compromise a little too much, not letting the music develop fully -- the longest track is just over six minutes long. However, it's hard to find fault when the music gels so well -- and exactly how well is evidenced by the sonic shock on "Sidi Hammou," when Lema introduces electric guitar to jarring, but far from unpleasant, effect. It's probably just as well, though, that they left "Tura" until the album's close; its innate jazziness, thanks to Lema's piano, simply doesn't fit with the rest of the disc. But overall, this marks a fascinating first step into a fusion that demands more investigation.

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