Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of Egypt

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Although the album is subtitled "Cairo to Nubia: the source of Arabic music," the booklet takes care to point out that there's no classical Arab music here -- which perhaps explains the absence of Umm Kulthum, the greatest icon of Arab music. Instead, the concentration is on modern-day stars, and they don't come any bigger than Amr Diab, who gets two tracks, and deservedly so. His pop music keeps its roots firmly in Egypt under a gloss that never tries too hard to be international. A couple of the old-timers -- Warda and Mohamed Abdel Wahab -- are represented, and Abdel Halim Hafez proves to be the real link between the past and the present with "Ahwak." The inclusion of cuts from four Nubians is interesting, showing different facets of the music they've brought to Egypt. Both Mahmoud Fadl and Ali Hassan Kuban display their backgrounds proudly, while Hamza el Din forged a new fusion of styles in his music and Mohamed Mounir is almost a law unto himself, with a sound that's absolutely unique (and enthralling on "Sala Fi Serri We Gahri"). Angham and the interesting Nagat el Saghira both also warrant a pair of cuts, but their material simply isn't as strong -- too formulaic and ultimately bland. Nonetheless, this is an interesting portrait of Egyptian music at the beginning of the 21st century.

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