Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara

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Most Westerners probably don't really think of the Sahara Desert as a hotbed (sorry) of musical culture, so it might be hard to know what to expect from this collection. As it turns out, the music of the Sahara region seems to be pretty sedate and even delicate, which makes a certain kind of sense when you think about it -- blistering heat and raging winds probably create neither a desire to dance around a lot nor much of a taste for wild raving noise. The songs that feature voices singing in Arabic and accompanied by mysterious-sounding fretted instruments are the least surprising, and they also provide some of the lightest and loveliest moments on the disc: "Al Jbal Li Dargoug Aaaliya" by Compagnie Jellouli & Gdih, for example, and Tinariwen's "Alkhar Dessouf" (which features electric guitar and a muted drum as well). Several tracks are characterized by an understated rhythmic intricacy that is easy to miss if you aren't paying attention -- try sorting out the polyrhythmic strands that make up Chet Féwet's "Tadzi-Out," for example. "Malfa Sibori," by Seckou Maïga, is the album's only real disappointment, and even that song is only tedious rather than actually unpleasant. Recommended.

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