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Twenty-six-year-old Rasha begins her debut, Sundaniyat, with "Aquis Mahasnik Biman (With Whom Can I Compare You)." On this Sufi meditation she is only accompanied by oud, which lends a distinct Middle Eastern feel to the piece. She closes the disc with the same hymn, this time with added percussion, voices and sax. The clarity and simple beauty of her voice, singing in Arabic, comes through most effectively when it is most adorned. Fortunately, in the second rendition, the horn steps out of the arrangement when Rasha sings. A funky Afro-pop is attempted by having her sing along with the sax on the otherwise bouncing and joyful "Azara Al Hay (Girls of the Quarter)." This is definitely a pan-African pop fusion album. Preserving distinctiveness is the Arabic flavor inherent in Sudan and Rasha's mellifluous delivery. Rasha picks Sufi and Sudanese traditionals for her songbook, and welds them onto a backbone of Arabic-African music. Mostly beautiful, this record falters only on some unexpected instrumentation. Oud and percussion seem exquisitely mated to her lyric and language, but the accordion, violins, saxophones, bass and guitar often seem awkward embellishments. However, this recording is tropical and warms the room, so that makes Sudaniyat a winner.

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