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Yallah Amigos
Various Artists

label: Time Zone
released: 08.05.03
our score: 3.5 out of 5.0

Rai En Español, And All the Better For It
by: matt cibula

This CD collects tracks that show the very close connection between Arabic music and music from Spanish-speaking countries. To anyone who has studied any world history at all, this shouldn't be a huge surprise: the "Moorish" (African) influence on Spain has always been huge, and Spanish and Cuban and South American music have all been hugely important in Northern and Western African music too. But it's nice to have twelve tracks that make the confluences explicit, and to have them all together on one 47-minute CD, and to make sure that they are all fun and non-sucky.

The opening track is the title track, performed by Mar Castro and Maurice Raad, and it's the whole Arabic/Spanish thing right in a nutshell: Peruvian pipes and Cuban son music together with the same beats and keyboard flourishes that so dominate Algerian rai music. Lyrics alternate between Spanish and Arabic, which is key, and the flamenco guitar solo melts right into a whirling rai synth flourish. Couldn't be a better thesis statement, really.

But it's certainly not as exciting as "Sozum Dinle" by Burak Aziz, which is more like straightforward Middle Eastern dance music, all ululated vocals and throbbing bass pulses and insistent drum shuffle-until things shift ever so slightly halfway through and incorporate more of a Latin vibe. By the end of the song, it's hard to tell just exactly what kind of music this is…but it's really nice, funky and soothing at the same time.

A group called Los Locos nails it too in a song called, hilariously, "Ai Ai Ai." This incorporates just about everything you can think of: mariachi horns, Moroccan shuffle, a touch of hip-hop in the sampled drum fills, Euro-pop (are they saying "Buon giorno" at the beginning?), the whole nine meters. They can't quite pull off the same trick in "Salta," which is more explicitly Cuban/Yoruban beat-wise, and if there are any Arabic touches then they're too subtle for my ears.

Not everything is hot here, though. We hit a slow patch in the middle of the album, starting with Addis' "Odi Mesmeganis" (pretty but boring) and Las Nenas' cover version of "Asereje"-commonly known as "The Ketchup Song" because the original was done by Las Ketchup-lays back just when it should kick in. But the stuttery electronics and housatronic beat of Hana El Sakran's "Alf Lila Wa Lila" gets us back on track nicely enough, even though there is nothing remotely Spanish about it.

Overall, this is a very nice disc to have around, despite a lapse or two. It's made for some ass-shaking in my home, and it's the least boring history lesson I've heard in a long time.
13-Oct-2003 6:14 PM