various artists,
Mondo Platinum
(Ark 21, 2002)

I admit it. I approached this review with trepidation. Fourteen tracks in foreign languages and by people I never heard of before. But was I ever wrong. This is a fantastic CD.

Without wanting to seem to be giving what we call a "back-handed compliment" or "damning with faint praise," I would call this a very superior Eurovision Song Contest. Whereas the actual contest brings mostly bland national versions of middle-of-the-road pop music, this CD is ethnic song and music with an international resonance.

I started with a track from Burundi, "Mama" by Khadja Nin, and was hooked immediately. This had a great sound that drew me in. The combination of ethnic rhythm and orchestration was awesome.

From Italy there is a track titled "Il Volo" by Zucchero and, despite the lyrics being in Italian (I presume), I seemed to understand every sentiment.

Emma Shapplin, like almost every other performer here, is new to me. She hails from France and on the track "The Inferno" she won me over. She was trained in opera and the power shows in the performance. It was like Enya meets Sarah Brightman, but Emma wins.

The only track here from a predominantly English-speaking country is Alannah Myles singing "Alibi" for Canada. I must express some disappointment on this track. The song and performance are top class but I wonder why a translation of a Greek song was used.

Rachid Tah and Femi Kuti bring a combination of voices to "Ala Jalkoum" that defy description. Surprisingly for an Algerian song, they sing in English for some of it, and this adds greatly to the enjoyment of this monolingual reviewer.

When I saw this CD I felt lost. It was not the sort of album I would ever pick up in a store. But how wrong would I be? This CD shows again the need for us to be adventurous in our listening.

To some it is their national music getting a wider audience. To others it could be bought as a sort of "World Chill Out Album" (it works at that level). I say be brave buy it listen to music you do not know -- The Beatles were once unknown -- and give yourself a treat.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]
Rambles: 25 May 2002

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