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Malouma: Desert of Eden

Some of the most ear-tweaking musics from around the world have a vaguely disorienting effect on the uninitiated because of our inability to exercise our human instincts to analyze, to qualify. We can’t quite place the patina of musical attributes within a geo-stylistic framework we understand, and the effect can be both confusing and liberating.

That sort of heady culture-mash effect accounts for part of the charm of Malouma’s Desert of Eden (Shanachie 64088; 59:10), by the bold, eclectic singer from the African nation of Mauritania. The country, bordering Algeria, Mali and Senegal, is certainly one of the lesser known corners of the globe, in terms of its profile in the world music scene, but Malouma stands to put the nation on the larger international listening map.

Her bridging of Arabic and West African represents a fine example of crossroads aesthetics at work, in a locale typifying a socio-cultural-racial crossroads. Mauritania is prominently Moorish in population, adhering to Islam, but Malouma’s generous ear for tumbling, soulful West African grooves and her unusual Arab inflections get along nicely. Recorded in Dakar, Senegal and produced-with seductive flair-by Senegalese Pape Deing, the African affinity can also be heard in her narrative vocal style: a “griot,” steeped in the oral tradition passed down through a musical family, she also plays the kora-like stringed instrument, the ardine. Wherever it’s coming from, Desert of Eden is a powerful, exotic musical tonic.

Originally Published