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Khaled is the biggest star of Algerian rai, and a global superstar these days. But as his fame increased, the quality of his music declined. The raw, emotive style that made him successful in the first place was smoothed off and he became an international pop icon whose rai was diluted. This time around, he's confounded expectations by making his best album in over ten years. To be fair, it starts off tentatively with "Mani Hani," whose fake classical piano intro doesn't bode well for the rest of the track, but from the title cut onward it's a powerhouse. There's plenty of sophistication in the arrangements, but also a strong sense of rootedness. This is very definitely a rai record, flavored not only by Algeria but the entire Mediterranean -- sunny and overflowing with warmth. Khaled himself even plays accordion on several cuts. Good as most of the album is, "H'Mama" is the standout, with a mesmerizing vocal taqsim, or opening improvisation, from Khaled before the track really lets loose. But throughout the album there are wonderful touches in the Egyptian strings, slinky, funky rhythms, and great swathes of memorable melodies. This is a great artist showing exactly what he can do.

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