Isn’t it cool when you stumble on something completely random that’s so much fun that you have to share it? This is a mix simply titled Arabic Beat, assembled by the avid playlisters at Putomayo and streaming in its entirety at Bandcamp. It’s sort of a North African equivalent of those Strictly the Best reggae compilations that VP Records have been putting out since forever. Most of the artists here are from Algeria or Morocco, playing variations on Rachid Taha-influenced rai-rock or Khaled-style trip-hop. For those unfamiliar with this kind of music, it sounds a lot more gypsyish, i.e. minor-key and chromatic than Arabic, i.e. microtonal and otherworldly.
The best song is a real surprise: French gypsy/Middle Eastern rockers Watcha Clan doing a spot-on Chicha Libre imitation, right down to the creepy analog synth on a psychedelic cumbia sung in Arabic and French. Of the rai-rock tracks, Algerian guitarist/singer Djamel Laroussi offfers a more sunny take on the classic Ya Rayyeh riff, with a bit of a Gipsy Kings vibe. That style is echoed a bit later on tracks by Moroccan chanteuse Samira Saeid and Moroccan-French bandleader Cheb Amar.
Another Algerian, singer Ali Slimani is represented with a bouncy habibi-pop track, as are Algerian brother duo Choubène, who manage to blend cheesy, techy synth with a bitingly tuneful chorus. The most traditionally Arabic-sounding song is a lush, string-driven ballad by Moroccan crooner Jalal El Hamdaoui. And Algerian dub maestro Nour has a chromatic Arabic reggae tune with growly bass and wah guitar.
Moroccan singer Ahmed Soultan’s hit Itim is minor-key, bluesy Rhodes funk, Bill Withers done North African style. And Syrian pop chanteuse Zein Al-Jundi has a tasty cut that blends rapidfire accordion with a little surfy guitar. All this is a fun way to discover some of the best of the curent crop of pop stars coming out of North Africa. Right now it’s gypsy music that’s all the rage – maybe, as the Arab Spring turns into summer, Middle Eastern music will take the world by storm. We can hope, right?
And for what it’s worth, there’s a funny (from this perspective, anyway) backstory here. This mix was originally pitched to this blog long before its release date last July. Trouble was, the label wouldn’t provide downloads, so that pitch went straight into the trash. Memo to what’s left of the record industry: want press? Give the bloggers what we need to do our jobs.