Various Artists

Beginner's Guide to Arabia

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Nascente's Beginner's Guide to Arabia is an excellent overview of Arabic music of the last 35 years or so. It's an intelligently programmed three-disc set, each disc focusing on different movements under the umbrella of Arabic music. The first, titled Arabian Classics, is pretty much just what it sounds like: classic performances by some of Arabic music's biggest stars. Farid Al Atrache, Oum Kalthoum, and Fairuz are giants of their era, performing Arabic popular music that is strongly anchored in traditional music. The presence of Khalèd on this disc might surprise some, but his track comes from early in his career, when his music was much less informed by the West. Only "Leilah" by Abdallah Belkhair sticks out by virtue of its modern production (it would have fit better on disc two). Arabian Pop is the next entry, more modern material where traditional Arabic music is pumped up with Western-style dance beats. The third disc, Arabian Lounge, also updates the traditional sounds, but this time it's with an ear toward electronica with chilled-out beats and trippy production touches. Some tunes on this volume may get folks on the dancefloor, but it's got more of a late-night vibe overall. All these tracks are licensed from EMI Arabia, so the quality is high throughout. Combine that with the budget price, and this makes an excellent Beginner's Guide to Arabia.

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