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I didn't know what to expect when I opened Samarkand. But when I put it on, my ears perked up and I blurted out "Hey! It's just like that Planet Soup guy!" After a bit of googling, I remembered that the Planet Soup guy I was thinking about is Tajikistan's Oleg Fesov, whose song "Marav" was the standout track on the 1995 Ellipsis Arts compilation Planet Soup. And the connection to Nasiba is more than coincidental. She does three of his songs, including "Marav."

All of this is probably old hat to the average Uzbek, since according to UzDessert (Your Guide to Uzbek Culture!) Samarkand was originally released in 1982. Another indication that overnight international success might have been a long time coming, is an interview with Nasiba on with the less than diplomatic headline "Nasiba Abdullaeva shines brightly beyond her productive years." At any rate, the tracks had already been recorded when Blue Flame records discovered them on a trip to Uzbekistan, and declared that all they needed was to be produced.

This is where the purists can stop reading; because the tracks have in fact been given a very contemporary polish by producer Lenny Mac Dowell, it is likely to give them fits. It gave me fits too, but in a good way. I particularly liked the driving syncopation of "Sevgilim" which uses a rhythmic pattern that to my ears is stylistically similar to rai. "Armonia" (written by Oleg Fesov) has been synthed up to the point where you'd expect to hear it on adult contemporary radio if it weren't sung in Farsi. Nasiba's cover of Fesov's "Marav" incorporates drum 'n bass rhythms for a compelling up-tempo reworking of this classic. Other standout cuts include "Jonim Oladi" with its R&B-tinged production elements, and the very funky "Yokasiz" which would be comfortable on a Khaled CD.

In short, this is very well produced international pop (albeit with copious traditional instrumentation), with all the repetition and production values that this entails. All of this would be for naught if Nasiba didn't deliver the goods. With a voice that's warm yet powerful, and a repertoire of languages that includes Uzbek, Tajik, Azerbaijani, Russian, French, Greek, Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, and Hindi, it's no wonder the Uzbek people voted her "People's Artist Of Uzbekistan." Now it's time to conquer the world. - Eric Iverson

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