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Cheb Mami: Meli Meli

Rai royalty Cheb Mami’s Meli Meli (Mondo Melodia/ARK 21 186850007; 52:40) has been a mondo hit in France, his adopted home where the Parisian-based Algerian has lived since the ’80s. Now, the rest of the world is tuning in, with greater interest, thanks in part to his western exposure on record, and on tour, with one of his famous admirers, Sting-who had him sing on the tune “Desert Rose” and appear on the benefit spectacle “NetAid.” Meli, Meli is a seductive and imminently dance-inductive work, with polished production and western dance music values on one hand, but the gutsy passion of Arabic roots on the other.

It makes for a persuasive case for rai, the rebellious Algerian music which has gained some notoriety for its having been censored in the conservative Islamic landscape of its birth. But that has changed, if Cheb Mami’s massively popular show last July (100,000 head count)-his first appearance in a decade in his native land-is any measure.

The album, his fourth and the first released on the Miles Copeland-owned ARK 21 label, features guests such as rapper K-Mel, on the entrancing hip-rai-hop track “Parisien du Nord.” The rapper’s hard edged syncopated rhythms contrast with Mami’s own vocal style, a supple and vibrato-tinged instrument that supplies grace atop the heat. Make no mistake: rai is on the rise, at western music outlets near you.

Originally Published