Chalk Arabic Beat up as another win for Putumayo World Music who continue take their "guaranteed to make you feel good" pledge seriously. This collection is youthful and fresh, and opens an important window into the artistic souls of the young people who are playing such an important part in the Arab Spring movements.
The majority of the songs here are coming from North Africa: Algeria and Morocco provide the musical home for 9 of the 10 artists represented, with Austin, Texas-based Syrian Zein Al-Jundi being the sole outlier. Many of the artists, though, have other bases as well: Watcha Clan, for example, are Algerian (or of Algerian descent), but live in Marseille, France, a nearly straight shot North across the Mediterranean from Algiers. This globalism provides a certain network of cross-pollination that makes many of these songs so appealing, even for Western ears.
The CD kicks off strong with Germany-based Algerian-born Djamel Laroussi's "Kifach Hilti," a sha'abi-rock style cover of a song from classic Algerian songwriter Dahman El Harachi, and moves smoothly into the electronic remix of London-based Algerian-born Ali Slimani's "Lirah." Next up is one of my favorite tracks on the album, the bouncy, multi-cultural singalong "Narbat" by pan-Mediterrean collective "Nour."
Next up is the rocking reggada (a modern version of an ancient Berber war dance music) of Moroccan Jalal El Hamdaoui, with "Sidi H'bibi," followed by Cairo-based Moroccan songstress Samira Saied with the poppy torch song "Saab Alyia." Next comes international sensation Watcha Clan with their exceedingly catchy contribution, "Osfour."
Track 7 finds us back in Morocco, with Ahmed Soultan's "Itim," a deeply funky, soulful number that really lays its international influence bare. Next up, Choubene, with their modern rock-rai anthem "Rai Mtelefni," followed by the gorgeous pop-influenced raq sharqi song "Ajmal Gharam" from Texas-based Syria-born Zein Al-Jundi. Finishing up the album is the fantastic in-your-face rai "Lala Torkia" from Cheb Amar.
My only complaint would be that this CD is just a bit short. At 10 songs and 36 and a half minutes, it just feels like it could be one or two songs longer. Still, it's definitely worth a listen, especially if you're not tremendously familiar with the modern sounds of Arabic music. It's an exceptionally nice introduction to the global sounds of a still-misunderstood young community, and it's worth your time.
'Putumayo Presents Arabic Beat' was released in July of 2012.