Souad Massi


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Souad Massi is that rarest of Algerian performers -- she doesn't sing rai music. But more than that, she's an accomplished singer/songwriter, a kind of North African Tracy Chapman, although she works in the Maghrebi genre of sha'bi as much as she does in folk music or soft rock. Electric guitars and touches of flamenco, oud, and the Arabic bass gimbri all help bring a real distinctiveness to her sound, which certainly has more in common with many American '60s protest singers than her contemporaries in Africa (indeed, to some she's Joan Baez reborn). Coke's production (he has worked with Ben Harper) is very sympathetic, bringing a live feel to the record ("Matebkiche" is, in fact, completely live). "Bladi" is a perfectly catchy song, its oud line deftly leading into Massi's smoky voice, and "Nekreh El Kelb" has a vital urgency. But it does fall apart somewhat in the later tracks, which come across as rather MOR and make her sound a little like Natalie Merchant -- which doesn't place her in the best context. Not a perfect debut, then, but there's plenty of promise for the future, as long as she really remembers her roots and doesn't wander the empty halls of rock.

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