Ali Hassan Kuban

Real Nubian: Cairo Wedding Classics

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The late Ali Hassan Kuban might just have been the funkiest Nubian around, and if this was the music he and his band played at Egyptian weddings, you have to think the party never ended. He was also supremely adventurous and full of surprises, throwing a bagpipe into "Koma Wo Beda," for example, or taking a Japanese folk song he'd heard in Yokohama ("Sanose") and transforming it into a Nubian wedding song. Throughout it sounds as if his band spent their days listening to soul music, never more so than on "Kobana," which, with the brass taking a heavy role over the syncopated percussion and the rocksteady bass of Bibi Hammond, seems as if could have come straight out of the Muscle Shoals studio, with just a few North African tweaks. But when they had such a soulful singer, that's probably not too surprising, and Kuban truly could sound soulful, as on the aching "Eshmana" or the first version of "Gammal," but he wasn't above passing the mic, notably to diva Salwa Abou Greisha, who does wonderful work on "Malu Malu." Overall, this is a record that's ineffably Egyptian, true sha'bi (street) music, but with the kind of rhythms and sounds to leave it relatively familiar to Western ears, and allowing for plenty of exotic turns for a voyage of discovery. As swan songs go -- this was his last record -- Kuban couldn't have departed on a higher, funkier note.

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