TInder Records/Candela 2001
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Barrio Chino is the "drunken sailor's" pleasure quarter of Barcelona's sea port. It's also the name of a brilliant nine-member WorldBeat ensemble stationed out of Marseilles, home base as well for "The Gypsy Kings." Its members hail from Spain, France, Cuba and Algeria and are fronted by the founding siblings and vocalists Sylvie and Gil Aniorte-Paz. Their three first albums [Rose (Jaleo, 1994); Bleu Mer (Jaleo, 1995); Secrets de Famille (Jaleo, 1997)] are regrettably not available in the US. Perhaps that's why finally, the good folks at TInder Records have taken pity on us Yankees.

Sylvie & Gil Aniorte-Paz Three years after the fact, they've re-issued the group's fourth album, Méditerra Nostra (Jaelo, 1999) for American consumption. This CD winked at me unexpectedly from the stands of Virgin's Superstore in NYC. Unexpectedly? Their band name had indelibly stamped itself upon my aural memory, with a solitary but unforgettable track on Putomayo's Mediterranean Odyssey sampler. Imagine the subsequent frustration, at not being able to find a complete album of theirs. Anywhere. Wicked wicked frustration. Eventually you give up. Chalk one up to misery. Until, finalIy, it shamelessly winks at ya. In a massively public place no less. Never mind good manners. I pounced.

Good thing too. Méditerra Nostra has quickly ingrained itself as my favorite release of 2002. Unequivocally, uncontestedly. It's 6moons' first Recording of the Year.

Like "Les Negresse Vertes", "Les Yeux Noir" and "Lo'Jo", Barrio Chino is pan-culturally French. Like "Radio Tarifa", Barrio Chino packs an edge and bite of vitality, sauce and sheer earthbound exhilaration that must be heard to be believed.

In fact, a copy I recently sent to a High-End audio importer not hip to WorldBeat fare resulted in a lengthy manufacturer's reply - about this very music. Barrio Chino has collaborated with the Catalán rumberos and members of Gato Perez in the "Ai Ai Ai" formation and played with Papo Pepin, Oba Iluy and Conexion Salsera. According to their German artist agency, since 1994 they've already performed in excess of 400 concerts throughout Europe.

Similar to the Oregon formation "Al-Andalus", and with added elements of Abed Azrié's Moorish/Spanish/Jewish "Suerte" ensemble, Barrio Chino combines Arabian percussion, Sephardic and Greek lutes and bouzouqs and the poetic couplets of Omar Khayyam, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Tierra Andaluza and El Oriente (the Algerian Rahid Minoumi). But it then threads these influences onto the central string of Rumba Flamenca, with the gusto, verve and audacious color that you'd expect from Marseilles, with its barrios of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunesian immigrants.

Barrio Chino's take on this popular style of Rumba Flamenca is far closer to the rawness of the Gipsy Soul, the strain of the Mestizos, than the lighter, slicker, more commercialized version of "The Gipsy Kings". From Latin rhythms to Rai flavors, Afro-Cuban choruses to incantations to the Black Sara Cali, the Virgin of the Gitanos - you're being scorched by this heat. Flamenco guitars and Middle-Eastern oud. Bouncy electric basslines. Piano augmentations. Parisian accordion. Cuban percussion. Cante Jondo and Jazz riffs.

From Oran to Madrid, La Havana to Marseilles, the throaty vocals of the two founders are the crowning touch. Equally versed in French, Spanish, Italian and Yoruba as they are in Salsa, Maghreb Pop, Flamenco cante and heart-rending ballads, their no-holds-barred abandonment doesn't let go for a single track. That, and infectious, dance-ready rhythmic drive catapults this Gitano-flavored musical journey into the top ranks of its kind.

The music's thick, dense with color. It traverses Middle Earth (the literal translation of "Meditteranean") with the familiarity of a globetrotter and exudes, above all, the authenticty of living the message with emotional ownership. Unlike French payo Thierry "Titi' Robin's troupe, Barrio Chino expands the former's focus on regional Gipsy idioms to cover a far broader stylistic range. Truly "WorldMusic" in the best sense of the word.

In many important ways, listening to Medittera Nostra is thus far more than "just music". It's a virtual vacation to that part of the world, covering, as it were, only the most perfect highlights of each culture touched upon. This will appeal to lovers of Rahid Taha, Alabina, Ketama, Cheb Mami, Bustan Abraham and Agricantus. What a feast. Don't just stand there - dig in! There's enough here for ev'rybody. In fact, come back for seconds.