El Houssaine Kili
Tropical Music (www.tropical-music.com/e-index.html)

Safran is Moroccan bass-player El Houssaine Kili's first solo recording. It features both his singing and his instrumental work with the guimbri (a gut-stringed lute) and captures several musical flavors coming out of North Africa these days. It can be tagged fairly as Moroccan contemporary Gnawa Pop music. Not a bad thing, for Kili knows how to merge the rhythmic and melodic moods that have become known as Gnawa and Rai on the world music charts.

In addition to Moroccan folk music, Kili's own background was steeped in musical influences of the '70s and '80s. The influences of expatriate musicians and popular radio led him at one period in his life to performing pop tune covers with one band and Moroccan folk songs with another. Clearly his "world music" cross-over influences were well earned. Kili knows how to tap pop and rock sensibilities as effectively as he does those of North Africa; and cuts such as "Aulidi" bring on the backbeat and no doubt reflect Europe's musical proximity and the global reach of rock and roll.

With "Inshallah" Safran lays down its mood: up-tempo with soaring vocals supported by a strong ensemble of non-traditional instruments performing roles that ought to make the album perfect for listeners beginning to explore this style of cross-over popular world music. I enjoyed, for example, the alto, tenor and soprano sax contributions by Roland Schaeffer and the alto sax of Martin Klassen on "Aisha.". Less to my liking was "Sbab," a positive rap message that works better as an idea than as a track on this otherwise consistent and enjoyable release. The too-brief "Baniya" closes the album with a traditional arrangement making effective use of the guimbri. With a little luck, some touring and some airplay, I'd bet that Safran could launch Kili on the American performance circuit. Naw, it isn't "pure" Gnawa or straight up Rai, but I'll tell you this, Safran will grow on you. - Richard Dorsett

Buy it at cdroots.com

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