Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Raï

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Rai isn't the only music in Algeria, but it might as well be. Like reggae in Jamaica, it's the musical representation of the country that's familiar to others. This compilation offers a quick guide to the sound of Algeria -- or, more specifically, the city of Oran -- and a tour through a music that's evolved from a raw, acoustic sound of voices, flutes, and drums to something as high-tech as any music anywhere. The biggest names, Cheb Mami and Khaled, are here (Khaled represented by a stunning track from his early "Cheb" days, "Ya Loualid"), and Cheikha Remitti, justifiably called rai's grandmother, is naturally included. The delight is in the details in-between, people like trumpeter Bellemou, the first person to really revolutionize the style, or the stunning Fadela and her husband, Sahraoui, on the synth-powered '80s cut, "La Verite." Chaba Zahouania, once tipped for stardom, shows why she was considered so good, and, as a reminder that Oran can be a dangerous place, there's a cut from the late Cheb Hasni, the romantic soul of rai, who was gunned down for no apparent reason in 1994. And then there's Abdou, something of an anomaly in many ways, a cross-dresser in an Arab country, who performs more in the female meddahate style, and Malik, whose "N'Touma," in his techno-rai style, is as sophisticated as anything coming out of the West. While this album doesn't dig back all the way to the roots -- no Cheikh Hamada, for example -- it's an excellent summation of modern rai's history.

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