Various Artists

Bellydance Superstars [Ark 21]

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The first thing to do with this is ignore the title. Whether the belly dancers who picked these tracks are superstars or not is unknown -- but they have good taste in Middle Eastern music. There are four cuts from the Mondo Melodia stable (by Oojami, with the band's four-on-the-floor Turkish club mix, and three sha'bi selections from Hakim -- all good songs), but the rest spreads its wings much wider. Of greatest interest are three wonderful tracks by the legendary Mohamed Abdul Wahab, whose compositions helped bring Egyptian classical music into modern times, utilizing such contemporary instruments as electric guitar -- which features as a rhythm instrument on "Nebtidi Mnain El Hikaya." The guitar is also a mainstay on Shereen's "Ah Ya Leil," with a wah-wah lick underpinning the song à la "Shaft." With wonderful stuff from Warda, two excellent cuts by Dinletir ("Raks Africa" makes a powerful opening to the disc), and "Il Alem Allah" from Egyptian superstar Amr Diab, things move well. Two cuts of pure percussion make sure everything percolates, before the collection ends with the classic anthem "Habibi Ya Albi," in a version by Ihab Tawfik. It might be designed for dancing, but it's also a more than satisfying listening experience -- hip swaying optional.

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