This collection of Sudanese songs is based on the "suitcase of art" era of poets, roughly the 1920s and '30s. Hassouna Bangaladish leads the Azza ensemble through a number of these songs, with vocals ably provided by Mohammed al Semary and Salma al Aasal. The songs deal almost entirely with the grandeur of love and the beauty of a beloved person. The poetry is based pretty thoroughly in the Arabic and North African traditions (which is to be expected), and the lyrics are relatively standard fare, especially for someone without knowledge of the language. The treat here for the casual listener is the complexity of the rhythms, and not just in the percussion alone. The percussionists keep a tight network of beats and taps throughout the works, but it's the way that the rhythms of the voices, accordion, and violin fit in with the drums that becomes the showpiece. The bass player quietly emerges from the nothingness from time to time for accentuation, but is otherwise unheard from. The vocals themselves are worth hearing for their power, though the Sudanese aesthetic mandates that they seem rather flat by Western standards. Nonetheless, there's quite a bit to be heard in them. The trees are less than amazing, but the forest is grand.
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AllMusic Review by Adam Greenberg