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Album Review

To say Mraya is a vision of Algerian rai refracted through a sympathetic British prism sounds like a harsh criticism, but it's true. Abdel Ali Slimani has sung with bassist Jah Wobble, and he returns the favor here, bring not only his own talents, but Justin Adams on guitars and oud, and drummer/programmer John Reynolds, along with singers Natacha Atlas and Sinead O'Connor — essentially the Invaders of the Heart posse. And what they do is excellent, to be fair. You'd be hard-pressed to know these players weren't from the Maghreb, especially Adams and Reynolds, who provide the bulk of the instrumental support. Slimani's songs are little gems, maybe not with the fire of a Khaled or a Cheikha Remitti, but worthy of repeated listenings. He pulls not only from the pop rai that swept Algeria in the '80s, but also from Egyptian sha'bi music, with its street rawness, and his singing voice has a raspy edge. The production, however, couldn't be anything but Western, with its sonic depth and smoothness — missing the rough edges of an Oran studio. Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing, since that's how the album was conceived, and it works within that frame work, with the title track in particular a standout, with its contributions from O'Connor, cellist Caroline Dale, and darbuka player Nacer Khenniche, the music simmering before exploding in wonderful, fiery fury. And so, ultimately, it's successful on its own terms — the problem is defining exactly what those terms are.

Biography

Born: U Anasser, Algiers, Algeria

Genre: World

Years Active: '90s

Rai singer Abdel Ali Slimani was raised in El Anasser, Algeria, where as a teen he learned guitar and performed as a drummer at soccer matches. Finding little opportunity for musicians in his native land, he went to Paris in 1982; after a subsequent move to London, Slimani found work as a club DJ before signing on as a vocalist and percussionist with ex-PiL bassist Jah Wobble's Anglo-Arabic unit Invaders of the Heart. In 1996, Wobble co-produced...
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Mraya, Abdel Ali Slimani
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