EMI 2001
With its mixture of Trance/Ambient, Techno, Space and WorldMusic influences, Lounge or Chill-Out music creates a more organic and mellower counterpoint - to the colder, harder-hitting drum machine excesses and "deep synth" vibes of pure electronica.

The original BuddhaBar compilations and their many copycat offshoots helped define some of the genre's more cross-cultural global beat elements. Those haven given rise to subgenres such as "Afrotech" as can be sampled on Quango's eponymous sampler [QMG 5012-2]. Hammam Cafe -- or Oriental Groove, a second, more pointedly descriptive pressing of the same album -- takes the BuddhaBar concept (especially its Suzy/Amr Diab exploits) unrepentantly East. It gives us remixes and original material by artists like Dania, Natasha Atlas, Yasser Habeeb, Ihlam Al Madfai, Julia Boutros, Ashiqali & Nawazish Khan, Claude Ciari or Khalid Al Shaikh.

Our ex-colonial European counterparts have long since absorbed key musical elements of their former satellite nations. Conversely, many Americans have never set actual or figurative cultural foot outside the US. Nor are they embarrassed about not speaking a single foreign language. Despite our nation's polyglot past then, many of us exhibit rather provincial musical tastes and exposure when it comes to the Middle-East. Our highly questionable foreign policies in those areas certainly don't help matters of cultural exchange and openess either.

Hammam Cafe may thus be predestined to relative obscurity. That would be a pity - as are diehard rumors that audio reviewers of a certain high-brow publication cannot openly admit to listening to -- and thus listing -- Rap, Techno, Electronica and today's "dreck" amongst the fare they use to evaluate gear. Perhaps Corey Greenberg's old-goat jibes would die off faster if reviewers were expected to embrace current Pop culture and start consuming a moderate dose of musical junk funk?

That's how I would classify Hammam Cafe - low on vitamins, high on fats and sugars. Bad for you if turned into a mono diet but oh-so-delicious and absolutely essential if relegated to -- regular -- desert status. Except for the overcooked opener that drags out far too long with its 18 minutes of endless-repeat drum groove? This is plain light-hearted and superficial fun. At times, it actually conspires to notable sophistication. It also introduces us to erotically serpentine vocals, most notably those of night-clubby crooner Khalid Al Shaikh and the sinuous, 1001-night seductive femme-fatalaes Julia Boutros and Rania Ghosen, three tracks that alone make visiting Cafe worthwhile.

Down-tempo moods. Muted light. Oriental-style strings. Back-up chorus. Synthesized muted trumpet. Warbling baritone sax. Emphatic vocal insinuations of romance embellished with certain snake-charmer hints. Think opium den regulars, too stoned to get it on for real, their passivity then channeled all the stronger into fancy fantasies of faraway harem pleasures.

In other words, nothing you'd ever admit to in public or to your offspring. But indulging such aural meanderings on occasion is harmless and doesn't take a toll on your health or reputation (unless you're a reviewer perhaps). Truthfully, I can think of far worse escorts than Julia Boutros. In fact, I will hunt down one of her full-length CDs next. If it's a winner like "Wean Msafer" here suggests, I shall keep you appraised...