Various Artists

Cairo to Casablanca

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Released in 1998, this assortment covers artists from Egypt and Algeria, with occasional side trips to Sudan or a previously unheard-of locale called Iran-Morocco. The roster is pretty impressive. Husky-voiced Rachid Taha began as a member of the French-Arabic rock group Carte de Sejour (Green Card). He is a child of two cultures, and his subject matter ranges from diatribes to off-the-wall humor and attempts at reconciliation. At the other end of the generational spectrum is Ali Hassan Kuban, whose ancient Nubian homeland was flooded and lost forever after the erection of the Aswan dam. A singer, composer, bandleader, and instrumentalist, he is one of Egypt's best-known wedding singers. Khaled (formerly Cheb, or "kid," Khaled) is the undisputed king of rai, a rebellious, youth-oriented style that developed in the Algerian port city of Oran. His lyrics were so frank that he had to emigrate to France. This was no PR stunt -- the noted Oranaise producer Rachid was murdered by Muslim extremists shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, the Kabyle-based Berber tradition is represented by the Idir, a songwriter who has had an incalculable influence on the newest crop of musicians. The well-chosen tunes are redolent of rattling percussion, tinkling zithers, slightly sour-toned fiddles, vertigo-inducing rhythms, and coolly intricate vocal lines. This is a comfortable way for a beginner to explore these unfamiliar sounds and decide which direction to go in next.

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