Dropping the "Cheb" from his name symbolizes the start of a new phase for Khaled, one that signaled his quest to expand beyond his rai roots or, more accurately, to add rai as another element in the global dancefloor mix. After his big production collaboration with fellow Algerian Safy Boutella on Kutche, he takes the plunge to directly court Western audiences by enlisting Don Was and Michael Brook to split the production duties.
The opening "Didi" sets the tone, with a catchy Arabic synth melody and punchy Algerian percussion rolling underneath a funky groove and a King Curtis/Clarence Clemons-flavored sax solo. "Mauvais Sang" starts with the classic Algerian vocal/keyboard intro and gets more complex as melodic motifs are woven in. But the rhythm is driven by keyboard bass blats and a drum machine, and the instrumental break features sax over thumb-pop funk bass and James Brown scratch-rhythm guitar before the final call and response between David McMurray's throaty R&B sax and Mustapha Kada's Arabic keyboards. To say that's a blueprint of what Khaled wants to accomplish here is true on one level, but ignores the range and variety of the material. Algerian homeboys Kada (keyboards) and Mohsein Chentouf (derbouka) are on every song and Khaled himself plays keyboards, accordion, oud, and bendir on the Brook-produced tracks. Reggae pops into the bubbling rhythm undercurrent on "Ragda"; "Sbabi" works violin against an atmospheric, Robert Fripp-like lead guitar over Khaled's voice and a funky, chunky groove. With its near-flamenco acoustic guitar and accordion, "Wahrane" has a French café feel, but "El Ghatli" and "Harai Harai" take it all the way home to Algerian tradition. "Ne M'en Voulez Pas" is sung in French, with more café accordion set against organ, bass solo, and clattering percussion, and winds up in a near-go-go beat. The song is too busy and never quite makes up its mind what it wants to be, but it's a unique, invigorating ride, which may be the best capsule summary for Khaled. Some artists are born to try this kind of cultural crossover, and in the context of rai, Khaled is both trailblazer and standard-bearer.