various artists,
Arabic Groove
(Putumayo, 2001)

Arabic Groove is a new compilation CD from Putumayo. Like most of Putumayo's releases, it is intended as an introduction to new music -- in this case, Arabian popular styles. Although Arabic music has yet to really catch on in the U.S., in other parts of the world it is enjoying immense popularity, especially when combined with other, less traditional forms. None of the songs presented here are strictly traditional. Instead, they contain traditional elements mixed with Western styles. The listener will find rai mixed with flamenco guitar, for instance, or with disco elements. The music is all extremely upbeat and made for dancing.

Ten solo artists and one group are represented on Arabic Groove. The majority of them are male; only three female artists appear on the CD. However, this is perhaps not unusual; in traditional Arabic music forms, singers are usually male.

Arabic music is extremely popular in Europe, especially in cosmopolitan Paris. Indeed, the careful listener will be able to pick out lyrics sung in French on a few of the songs. Several of the artists have lived or spent time in Paris, and French is commonly spoken in Egypt, the capital of Arabic music.

Most of the songs chosen for this CD are love songs. One, "Mani," is even sung by a married couple, Fadela & Sahraoui (though according to the liner notes, they have recently separated). Abdy's "Galbi" would not be out of place on an American radio station, especially one of the "mix" stations that have been springing up in the last few years. Perhaps the oddest song on the CD is Cheb Tarik's "L'histoire," with its mix of rap in English, Kool & the Gang bits and rai. If pressed to pick a song that was representative of the style of the entire CD, I would have to pick the latter, simply for its mix of completely disparate styles.

It is always a challenge to make Eastern music styles accessible to Western ears. Arabic Groove rises to that challenge, serving as an excellent introduction to Arabic music.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 16 October 2001

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