Inspired by the success of Sting's collaboration with Cheb Mami on "Desert Rose," this 13-song sampler provides an accessible introduction to contemporary music that's connected to North Africa/the Middle East. Balancing Arabian rhythms with modern dance beats and ouds with electric guitars, these songs (several of which are sung in French or English) indicate how musicians have integrated different traditions into modern pop. The album begins with Natacha Atlas, whose haunting and alluring rendition of "Mon Amie la Rose" (a song previously recorded by Francoise Hardy) is likely to motivate many listeners to seek out her Gedida album. "Pomegranates," a song by Atlas' former British bandmates Trans-Global Underground, isn't quite as compelling; however, the group's ethno-techno fusion does provide a different perspective on how musicians have drawn on Arabian sources to create new sounds. Other examples include Iran's Andy, who updates a traditional Persian number; Algeria's Rachid Taha, whose track features Western strings and backing vocals by female trance group B'net Marrakesh"; and highly respected oud and violin master Simon Shaheen, who rearranges "I'm Yours" by Colombian vocalist Sorya. Egyptian vocalist Hakim, who is enormously popular in his homeland, provides a fine example of sha'bi street pop; Tunisia's Latifa, Algeria's Faudel, and Iraqi-born Kazem Al-Saher provide further examples of multicultural pop music; and Khaled's "Aalach Tloumouni" indicates that the compilers did not forget to include the King of rai. Meanwhile, the Prince of rai, Cheb Mami, gets two tracks on this compilation: the lithe "Hay Wadi Hay Galbi," which enhances the album's quality, and a Victor Calderon dance mix of his duet with Sting, which enhances the album's marketability. Unfortunately, some of the selections come perilously close to bland mainstream pop that seems slightly exotic because of the novelty value of the Middle-Eastern influences (e.g., Tunisian-born vocalist Amina's "Dis Moi Pourquoi"). However, most of the selections are good and overall this is a reasonable place to start an exploration of world music.
AllMusic Review by Todd Kristel