CHEB I SABBAH
Many influential African and Arab musicians have recently played down Western influences, returning to indigenous styles and instruments. "Ya-Rayi" is Franco-Algerian rai singer Khaled's contribution to the movement, although that's not immediately obvious. The album opens with the title song, an up-tempo dance number that's 90 percent rai yet features the electronic accents and prominent bass of Western dance music. It's followed by "Love to the People," an ode to brotherhood in which Khaled sings in English over a Latin rock track that includes Carlos Santana's guitar, and "Ya Galbi," which funks up tradition with horns and female call-and-response vocals.
After that threesome, "Ya-Rayi" repatriates to North Africa, where it garners the percolating accompaniment of Radio Algeria's Orchestre Chaabi and Egyptian producer Farid Aouameur's swooping string arrangements. Even "Mani Hani," the French-style ballad that opened the European version of the album, is as evocative of Algiers as of Paris. The song's two-word title somehow translates as "I Am Not at Peace When She Is Away," which is typical of the album's sentiments. When Khaled is not extolling universal love, his yearning tenor is bemoaning individual romance -- a suitably international concern for the singer's roots-rai move.
Cheb I Sabbah was also born in Algeria, but there's little chance of his going back to basics; the San Francisco-based musician is a DJ and producer, not a singer. Eight different groups perform the eight swirling pieces on "La Kahena," Sabbah's fifth album, which melds loops, beats and electronic treatments with music that was recorded live, mostly in Morocco. (Also featured are such world beat veterans as Indo-British tabla player Karsh Kale and American bassist-producer Bill Laswell.) The album is named for a legendary 8th-century female warrior who, like Sabbah, was of both Berber and Jewish descent.
Although one of the vocalists on "La Kahena" is Cheba Zahouania, a female rai singer, the predominant style comes from Morocco, which is known for a more percussive sound than Algeria. Such polyrhythmic tracks as "Sadats" and "Alla Al 'Hbab" don't need much elaboration for Western ravers. Sabbah may have used a few studio tricks, but for most of this exhilarating album all he had to do was sit back and let the music dance.
-- Mark Jenkins
Both appearing Friday at Lisner Auditorium.