Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Mediterranean Café Music (2004)
The philosophy behind this Rough Guide is that the Mediterranean has always been an area of busy cross-cultural fertilization. Whether by trade, war, colonialism, or Inquisition, the people of Northern Africa, Southern Europe, and the Middle East have been constantly moving aboutand bringing their music with them, literally or metaphorically. The thing that strikes me most about this collection is the heavy influence of Africa throughout.
The opening and closing tracks hail from Algeria, and both swagger with masculine energy, but of very different strains. Abdoua cross-dresser who claims he's straight, and this I remind you in a place where it's not cool to be weird and rai stars don't always live longspills out his groove over a reggae/salsa pulse with busily pattering drums, his voice melismatically minor key. Pianist Maurice El Médioni, heavily influenced by Sephardic and Andalusian music as well as jazz, appears with an all-star band on the elegant "Bienvenue-Abiadi," from his classic album Café Oran (Piranha, 1996).
Among the remaining tracks, here are the highlights. Spanish guitarist Javier Ruibal is enchantingly romantic with the memorable and hummable Andalusian/Arabic melodies of "Perla de la Medina." There's something irresistibly old world about singer Eleftheria Arvanitaki's version of Greek rebetika, complete with accordion and soft feminine intuition. Andrea Parodi's minimalist Sardinian folk music with strings exists seemingly in a world all its own. Jazz fans will want to tune into the Hot Club gypsy swing of French guitarist Romane. And the trance-like circular patterns of Morocco's Jil Jilala strangely burrow into your brain, begging mental if not physical motion.
It's hard to recommend this recording enough to open-minded listeners who can groove to world fusions of all sorts. Low-key but curiously invasive, these tracks manage to combine casual elegance with romantic magnetism.
Track Listing: 1. Bienvenue-Abiadi; 2. Guadalquivir; 3. Perla de la Medina ; 4. Yo en la Prizion (Me in Prison); 5. Habibi Dialy; 6. Miazis Ke Si Sa Thalassa; 7. Ozgürlük Tutkusu; 8. Faja Ra; 9. Astrolicamus; 10. Terras de Canto; 11. Swing 98; 12. Canti Suminati; 13. Dance Mediterranea; 14. Nour el Anouar; 15. Anta Ma Qoltsh Leih; 16. Kima Bekkani N'Bekkih.
Personnel: In order: Maurice el Médioni; Barrio Chino; Javier Ruibal; Yasmin Levy; Nawal el Zoghby; Eleftheria Arvanitaki; Grup Yorum; Eda Zari; Andrea Parodi; Lucilla Galeazzi; Romane; I Campagnoli; Simon Shaheen & Qantara; Jil Jilala; Amr Diab; Abdou. Compiled by Dan Rosenberg.
Record Label: World Music Network
Style: Beyond Jazz