Various Artists

Putumayo Presents: Sahara Lounge

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As its evocative title suggests, Sahara Lounge is a crossroads of cultural communication and sonic exploration. Its geographical range spans from Morocco and Iran to the U.K. and America, but its guiding principal is to interweave traditional instrumentation and grooves with the tools of modern electronica. Just as electronic music draws freely on disparate sources, the artists on Sahara Lounge often find inspiration on a global level. Lebanese duo Soap Kills layer elements of trip-hop, scratchy dub reggae, and their country's own melodies for their track, "Dub4me," while Ilhan Ersahin's breezy, sultry "Fly" incorporates Turkish lyrics, jazz guitar soloing, and a backdrop of chillout beats. Soap Kills vocalist Yasmine Hamdan returns for a collaboration with Absolut Orchestra's Toufic Farroukh -- "Lili S'en Fout" features hushed French vocals over a wash of Arabic melody, synthetic percussion, and Farroukh's warm and mischievous sax. Putumayo understands its demographic, and to that end it keeps Sahara Lounge tethered to the signpost where experimental longitude intersects accessible latitude. Despite their exploration of varying cultural rhythms, the album's 12 tracks flow effortlessly into one another, united by a pleasant mid-tempo beat similar to so many of the downtempo comps on the market. At the same time, Putumayo has never positioned itself as a sonic pioneer -- it doesn't so much discover the music as it encourages it. And Sahara Lounge does that as well as any of the label's collections, including informative biographies for each of its artists, helpful pronunciation keys, and insightful descriptions of the instrumentation used. The album might not be adventurous enough for some sonic thrill seekers. But for the casually and culturally curious, Sahara Lounge is a great place to hang.

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