Capitalizing on the mega-success of Sting's single "Desert Rose," which featured backing vocals from Algerian superstar Cheb Mami, Mondo Melodia has released Desert Roses & Arabian Rhythms, a thirteen-song collection räi and räi-flavored music. The aforementioned track gets a spicy dance floor remix, and the 120bpm facelift avoids burying the interplay of Arabic and Western melodies that made the original so popular.
North African stars predominate the track listings (such as Algeria's Rachid Taha, Tunisia's Latifa, and Egypt's Hakim) but some other artists dabbling in the räi tradition also get nods. Colombian singer Soraya gets the räi-revamp of her international (English-sung) hit "I'm Yours." Iranian born Andy fuses electric guitar over a trad. Persian tune to good effect on "Chie Begam." And London's Trans-Global Underground offer up "Pomegranate," an ethno-techno fusion whose sole connection to the album's theme is the sampled string arrangement that weaves throughout the song.
Of the top authentic räi stars that lend their efforts, Faudel is less than stellar in "La Valse." Some styles, like French chanson and Arabian rhythm, are just best left unblended. Khaled's piece is exemplar: swinging string arrangements married with an infectious beat topped off with dollops of smooth vocals. And Natacha Atlas, former vocalist with Trans-Global Underground, soars on the pensive and haunting "Mon Amie La Rose." Desert Roses is a good primer for the uninitiated, but serious räi fans will want to go elsewhere. - R. Airiq Williams
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