Wrasse Record/Universal
label website

Forty-nine minutes of pure musical bliss - that is what the CD deb by Souad Massi brings to you. Souad Massi is an Algerian-born singer with a magical voice and equivalent talent to combine moods and musical genres.

Born in Algiers in 1972, Souad stems from a musical Kabyle family which makes her part of the Algerian Berber minority. Algeria has long since been involved in a violent internal struggle between the government and various fundamentalist groups. Souad was lucky to study Arab-Andalucian classical music in a country where 42% of all women are illiterate. After this education, Souad earned an engineering degree that opened up a job at the city council of Algiers.

During her school period, Souad played various stages singing and accompanying herself on guitar. Her lyrics already then were full of social criticism and became merely more powerful when she started touring with a Hard-Rock band. Compassion for the oppressed people of her country and especially its women is her leit motif. Due to her liberated attitude, Souad eventually lost her day job to enter a period of serious depression. Like a miracle, she then received an invitation to the 1999 Femme d'Algerie festival in Paris.

This festival offers a stage to all oppressed Algerian women who must deal with their country's growing fundamentalism. Souad's presentation at the festival stunned attendees and resulted in a record deal. Raoui -- storyteller -- is the result. It contains a fine mix of modern and traditional instruments playing various forms of folk, traditional Algerian chaabi and flamenco.

Not able to stay on in Algeria, Souad now moves to Paris and at least musically feels at home. The city's strong eclectic atmosphere proves fertile stomping grounds for her new project. This second album deb continues where the first one left off. We again encounter Arabian, Flamenco, Fado and now also more African influences which are carefully added into the mix. The lyrics -- written by Souad as is all the music -- are mainly in Arabic but it is easy to extract the general intention from the intonation. Music still is the universal language.

The opening track "deb" -- heart broken -- starts with tabla and bird song in a typical vocal percussion staccato sung by Edouard Prabhu. When Soaud enter this blend with her voice and guitar, it immediately pulls you into the music. Make sure your listening room's atmosphere is in harmony with the mood of the music. Drawn curtains, some incense and low lights or candles will be a good start. Great Mediterranean food and drinks of course complete the feeling of immersion into this exotic culture from across the Straits of Gibraltar.

Evan though "Moudja" -- the wave -- can be called commercial with its partially English lyrics, the beautiful melody over the sound of waves directly transports you to a nocturnal setting at the Algerian coast. In "Ya Kelbi", oh my heart, a string quartet accompanies flamenco guitars and is accentuated by Brazilian percussion. The solo violin deepens the feeling of saudade, that unique Latin sentiment of melancholia and weltschmertz, global pain as the Germans refer to their own version of it.

French is the language of choice for "Passe le temps". This song, replete with its lyrical musette violin, could just as easily stem from the pen of Serge Gainsbourg, George Brassens or any other Great French songwriter. The Arabian oud lute, together with the Arabian kemanche violin, play important roles in "Ghir Enta", which resembles a tango. The GDGD tuning of the violin and the glissandi coaxed from it make the song. More power is released in "Ech Edani". An additional 3dB boost on your master volume for the flamenco rumba with its catchy melody will feel very welcome. If your set has ample bass extension, you will like the darbouka drum used. Remember this track 6; you will want to play it again.

A touch of Zap Mama enters "Yemma" -- mommy, I lied to you -- not a surprise when you realize that CD recording took place in Brussels, Zap Mama's home turf. Voices initially emerging as though recorded through a "telephone" lead to Souad singing with oud and oriental violin. The next track "Yawlidi" is the strongest of the album. It chronicles the story of a young boy who grows up to be a political monster. With its influences of Congolese, Caribbean and North African styles, this is the most cosmopolitan Parisian cut.

La plus belle langue is again used in "Le bien et le mal" where a cello adds just the right nuance to make the song survive after the colossal showing of the previous number. Freedom -- "Houria" -- is the subject of a Flamenco bulerias while Souad's voice blends with an almost Celtic-sounding flute in "Thegri". The forty-nine minutes have almost past as "Bel al Madhi", the gate of the past, opens. Guitar and Arabian flute make the song rich in tonal diversity.

This second Souad Massi CD is a piece of art. Its total length is just right and like a good meal, leaves you satisfied but not full.