Rai ‘Em Cowboy

KHALED, A. CARRARA; BAHAMADIA, PIOTR SIKORA; MODEST, PAT GRAHAM

KHALEDKenza (Ark 21Universal)

Khaled and Beck may not seem like kindred spirits, but the Paris-based Algerian rai royal and his collaborators throw as much into the musical kitchen sink as homeboy does. Not that you’d confuse one with the other: Khaled‘s pyrotechnic vocals are a force of nature, and regardless of his fusionist tendencies, his sound ultimately comes from a deeply Arabic place. But like the Beckster, he’s tangled up in the brambles with retro-soul horn charts and supa-cool fon-kay low-end thumpin‘. Other times la musica Latinizes his casbah, or classic Cairo string sections gang up over inside-out one-drop riddims. Lurking too are the ghosts of the French chanson, sap-oozing ballads that make the bootieshakers cringe and his records go platinum along the Champs Elysees.

Khaled likes to work with multiple producers, and on Kenza, ex-Gong guitarist and honorary Maghrebi Steve Hillage chairs a half-dozen tracks, while Brooklyn Funk Essentials maven Lati Kronlund helms five. Whoever’s at the controls, it‘s usually feeding time for the funk monster. On ”Melha,“ Hillage fills the pocket with bass and drums as Khaled gets melismatic over a cascading harmoniumlike keyboard and great steaming slabs of Egyptian strings. The singer unabashedly buys into Kronlund’s stone-cold reed-and-brass schemes on ”El Bab,“ bobbing and weaving with snake-dancing Moroccan guimbri and mad-scratchin‘ turntablisms. As tablas burble and violins swoop, Khaled’s duet with Amar, ”El Harba Wine,“ ventures toward the Indian subcontinent, with the young Anglo-Pakistani‘s sweet chirp playing off Khaled’s weathered pipes, a dance of innocence and worldliness.

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