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Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Mediterranean Café Music (2004)

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Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Mediterranean Café Music How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

The title of this compilation is something of an invention, but it's a good idea and deftly realized. To the extent that the vast area bounded by the shores of the Mediterranean can be adequately sampled on one disc, this collection does the trick: sixteen tracks totaling a generous 76 minutes bring together music from fourteen countries. They range in tone from warm acoustic ballads to quick-paced electric dance numbers, but every piece is something that you could imagine hearing while sipping coffee (or something stronger) and kicking back during a lazy afternoon.

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 about—and 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. Abdou—a 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 long—spills 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


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