Various Artists

Rough Guide to North African Cafe

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For café music, the idea seems to be nothing too extreme. Certainly, this is a fairly gentle excursion through North African sounds -- the compilation even soft pedals the cut from a rock band like Les Boukakes, whose "Dorbiha Zina" barely displays it muscle. Things start out well, with a couple of Algerian cuts from the melodic youngster Akli D then the wonderful veteran Maurice El Medioni, whose "Rai Rock Rumba" offers a seamless, and surprisingly natural blend of Maghrebi and Latin sounds. While the rest is quite mellifluous and easygoing, it all seems a little lightweight; even the normally adventurous Smadj doesn't challenge the ears, and Akim El Sikameya seems closer to French chanson than anything North African. There's nothing wrong with this disc at all -- the choices are fine, and there's quality to the music -- and it does exactly what it says on the tin: it works as café music. But since the very nature of "café" is background, this can never be really satisfying.

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