Back before he hit the big-time world music circuit, Cheb "Young" Khaled was the star of the new pop-rai genre in his native Algeria. This collection puts together some of the big tracks he recorded then, and with his powerful voice kicking things along, it's easy to see how he became massive. There's a passion to his singing that he's lost over the years, a life-and-death urgency that's irresistible, even if you don't understand a word. The music, too, is as urgent as the vocals, a mix of traditional rai and a Western instrumental ethic. When the two come together perfectly, as on "Aia Mine," it's something glorious, with a fat bass, rattling local percussion, a drum machine, and wandering fiddle upping the excitement level. Of course, since this material comes from the '80s, there are inevitably dated touches, like the booming syndrums that crop up here and there, and some very cheesy synthesizer tones, but even they can't detract from the hard- hitting songs, and most especially from the performances of Khaled himself. His mawal or vocal introduction, to "Ya El Hamam," wavering around the scale is heart-stoppingly glorious. In many ways, this is one of most perfect unions of Western and Arabic music ever, simply because it's so unselfconscious. There's an undeniable funk to the bassline in "El Houri," and when the tune breaks down to bass and drums, it's as if "James Brown" had been transported to North Africa. So, in spite of its very shoddy packaging, this is a remarkable, even vital, collection, and a superb introduction to the rough magic of Khaled's voice.
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AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson