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Sample Track 1:
"Aal Eah; Performed by: Samira Saeid" from North African Groove
Sample Track 2:
"Viens Habibi; Performed by: Cheb Mami" from North African Groove
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North African Groove
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North African Groove (Putumayo) From Havana to Cairo: The Diverse Influences of Putumayo’s North African Groove

Who would have guessed that Putumayo’s past Arabic releases would do so well in Latin America? But further listening shows that Arabic and Latin music are like second cousins, and today’s Arabic music has diverse influences. North African Groove—the seventh CD in Putumayo’s beat-driven Groove series, set for a June 7, 2005 release—proves the point.

Thanks to the Moors, Spanish music has an Arabic influence. And Cuban music combines Spanish heritage with West African music, a region that also shares historical connections with the Arab world.

On “Montuno Noreño,” the Cuban-Algerian band Jomed combines Arab-Andalusian music and châabi, a popular song form that is one of the roots of Algerian raï. The Spanish and Arabic lyrics are accompanied by the Arabic oud playing the parts usually performed on the Cuban trés guitar, classic Cuban septet trumpet ornaments, and the violin swing that is common to both Cuban charanga and Arab-Andalusian music.

Moroccan-born, raï singer Rhany became so impassioned by Latin music that he went to Cuba’s EGREM Studios—the Havana studio where the Buena Vista Social Club albums were produced—to record a pulsing, acoustic dance piece that fuses North African percussion and oud with swinging Cuban piano.

Egyptian Amr Diab’s song “Nour El Ain” (The Mind’s Eye) blends Arabic music elements with Gipsy Kings-style rumba flamenco, which started a trend among many Arabic singers. The original album featuring this track is one of the best-selling albums ever recorded by an Arabic artist.

Another pattern emerges on North African Groove, which features artists from every North African country. While it was once unusual for Arabic artists to perform in French, as this album shows, it has become more common in recent years. Algerian raï superstar Khaled’s “Aïcha”— a French-language track released in 1996—was the first song by an Arab artist to hit number one in France. Other Arab artists followed suit, releasing material in French.

Faudel is the leading representative of a new generation of Algerian raï singers who were born and raised in France, far from the city of Oran, Algeria where the style was born. The French media have dubbed him “the Little Prince of Raï.”

“Dis-Moi Pourquoi” (Tell Me Why) was one of Amina’s biggest hits in France, thanks to its enticing blend of exotic North African melodies and instruments with a bass-heavy beat. The Tunisian actress sings in French, “How is it possible to remain complacent in a world of such inequality? Why can’t we live in harmony?”

Meanwhile, “Ya-Rayi,” the title track from Khaled’s most recent album, marks a return to the pure raï of his first European release.

Cairo is a hub of the Middle Eastern entertainment industry and, like starlets flocking to Los Angeles, artists from throughout the region come there seeking fame and fortune. Samira Saeid grew up in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, and gained notoriety through her appearances on American Idol-style television singing competitions. After becoming a star at home, she moved to Egypt to seek broader success. “Aal Eah” (What Did He Say) is representative of the funky blend of slick international pop and Arabic grooves for which she is most famous.

Cheb Jilani, one of Libya’s biggest stars and a growing presence in the rest of the Arab world, also moved to Cairo. Jilani was taught by his father to sing Arabic folk songs at a young age, and he became known as a teenager for his deft renditions of complex songs by popular Arab artists. After mastering the classical style of singing, he taught himself to sing in various Arabic dialects, making him a versatile artist with a wide appeal.

From the city of Aswan in southern Egypt, Nubian Mohammed Mounir moved to Cairo in the 1970s to study art, and began performing songs from his region. His casual dress, Nubian dialect, and unfamiliar rhythms and dance moves took Cairo by surprise. His success helped pave the way for other Nubian artists. He was also one of the first Egyptian artists to be heavily influenced by Jamaican reggae.

The Pan-Arabic North African Groove closes out with the multiculti Eastenders. On their song “On the Ride” the German and Turkish duo collaborate with singer Shady Sheha, a young Egyptian who lives in Wiesbaden, Germany. The songs says, “Get up and come with us / Let’s play and see the world / Don’t think about who you are / Or where you come from / We all share the same path / Which doesn’t seem to have an end.”