Hassan Hakmoun

The Gift

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Have gimbri, will travel might be Hakmoun's motto. He's a master of the instrument, a kind of North African bass with steel strings, and during his time living in the U.S., he's become versed in many musical forms, and open to all manner of collaboration and experimentation that widens his sound. But, as is evident on The Gift, his heart remains firmly at home, whether it's the soulful sha'bi of "Syadi Ana," where the desert meets some sterling Booker T.-type organ work, or the more traditional gnawa style of "Sala Alaho, Alaik" or "El Hadia," which conjure up visions of the secret society trance musicians of Marrakech. In addition to being a powerful instrumental, one who dominates any ensemble around him, Hakmoun's also a gifted singer, a talent he uses to good effect on the album's title track, a duet with AAA diva Paula Cole. The only problem is that it's, by far, the worst track on the disc, a very ordinary slice of mainstream adult pop, seemingly aimed at winning Hakmoun a wider audience. Not that he doesn't deserve it, by any means, but the song stands out like a sore thumb against the more rooted but also daring material that makes up the rest of the The Gift - like the soaring "Leyla Leyla," which possesses a wonderful melody, soaring strings, and in infectious rhythm and bubbly electronic touches on its rai base; it's the kind of song that could bring joy to the heart of listeners everywhere. And "Lala Aisha," too, is a melodic joy. Hakmoun isn't afraid to mix a little bit of the West with his Eastern promise, while rarely forgetting where he's from. It's just in those few moments it slips his mind that this disc falls below great.

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