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The Musicians of the Nile: Charcoal Gypsies

World music’s expansionist policy in recent years has shed light on corners of global culture once obscure to the western realm. The Musicians of the Nile, for example, have helped in dispersing the musical culture of the upper Nile region for some 20 years, touring throughout Europe. But it has been in the last few years that the group has attained its broadest visibility, partly because of changes in the marketing apparatus for world music. An appearance at the 1983 WOMAD festival and a spot in the film Latcho Drom, the fascinating chronicle of Gypsy life and music, have helped make this music more familiar.

On the new album, Charcoal Gypsies (RealWorld 2366; 46:16), the Musicians of the Nile again put forth an entrancing and unadulterated Arabic sound, evoking the arid, timeless beauty of an ancient culture. Metqal Qenawi Metqal issues plaintive, nuanced wails and drones on the rababah, a bowed instrument with two strings of horse hair. Pulsing drum parts and melodic interjections from wind instruments also add to the textural weave, but the main focal point remains on the impassioned vocals, as they sing of life in Egypt and the metaphorical power of love (“the captain of the boat is led by the current of the river the way loves guides us”). In this case, the river is both literal-it’s in the bandname-and symbolic.

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