Faudel

Baida

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Finally released in the U.S., this 1997 debut is the album that made a star of Faudel in France. Although he looks impossibly young, he can certainly sing, and he definitely has the voice for rai, capable of both roughness and yearning. Musically he's very much the heir of the pop rai style that's characterized every singer in the genre since Khaled. "Anti" brings in some mild techno beats behind the swooning strings, while "Dis-Moi" shows Faudel's French background (rai might be Algerian, but he was born and raised in France of Algerian parents) as straight Euro-pop with the slight exotic touch of electric oud. "Omri" makes the connection between rai and flamenco (which originated in North Africa, making the two natural bedfellows). "La Valse" surprisingly shows gospel overtones, while the title cut casts its roots deep in the Maghreb, the oud over a powerful rhythm section (reminiscent at times of "Rachid Taha"'s work) before exploding in Western pop chords. The key track, however, is "Tellement N'Brick," a huge radio hit, which appears here in both the original version, nothing more or less than modern rai, but which is transformed by a remix into "Tellement N'Brick (Version Hip Hop)" -- although R&B actually seems more accurate. It's catchy, a wonderful song, and performed with real charisma by Faudel, who shows his range, one of the defining moments of the expansion and acceptance of rai (and, through that, Algerians) in France in the 1990s. Whether the remix does it justice is debatable, turning it into something lightweight and disposable instead of the iconic music status it has attained. Curiously, "Baïda (Oriental Version)" works the other way around, the orchestra adding weight and gravity, and lessening the obvious pop element, recasting it as classic Arab pop in great fashion. Ultimately, this is a daring debut, and even if Faudel doesn't emerge as fully formed yet, you know it's just a matter of time before he becomes the major talent this promises.

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