North Africa & Above

1 08 2007

Rough Guide to Africa & Middle East

World Music Network

Compiler John Armstrong is on point when he writes, “the choices don’t pretend to be an authoritative or complete overview of every facet of African or Middle Eastern music.” With that footnote out of the way, he goes on to present a damn fine attempt of giving curious listeners and seasoned veterans a broad range of styles under this golf-sized umbrella term that is the title. The sonic companion to one-third of the Rough Guide to World Music book series, squeezing down an enormous, expansive set of genres such as these is daunting. Armstrong, however, chooses the best of the best: a great selection from Ethiopian singer Gigi’s latest, Gold & Wax, by way of “Enoralehu;” a nice electro-sampling of Nigerian drummer Tony Allen’s work with Tweak on the Allenko Brothers Ensemble record; Baaba Maal’s epic voice atop Mansour Seck’s beautiful guitar work; the balafon-led brilliance of Mory Kanté on “Mama.” The Middle East is, unfortunately, not equally worthy of accolades. Egypt’s master percussionist Mahmoud Fadl works well with the African edge, but the poppier sounds of Amr Diab, Ofra Haza and Rhany do not serve the collection as a whole. Most enjoyable is the emphasis on a few recent styles to have emerged in overseas: the distorted buzzing of electric thumb pianos via Congotronics and a bluesy Taureg soul in the inimitable Etran Finatawa. And while we probably didn’t need the stellar guitar work of juju innovator King Sunny Ade on another compilation, the addition of the Western Sahara’s Mariem Hassan is a crate-dig worthy of citation. Despite a few tinny provocations of pop in the middle, this is an excellent collection worthy of its name. Derek Beres




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