The acknowledged 'master of rai' returns to his roots in Oran for this 2004 release, produced by Philippe Edel.
The sallow youth who stared out at an unsuspecting Anglo world on 1986's The Rai King Of Algeria (Earthworks), his big voice surfing synthesisers and ouds, appeared unlikely back then to become the Third World's first post-Bob Marley superstar. But such was the power and beauty of Khaled Hadj-Brahim's voice (and the marketing suss of Barclay Records who teamed him with uber-producer Don Was), that Khaled has gone on to enjoy huge pop success across the Continent, East Asia and Latin America. As ever, the Anglo world remains largely indifferent. Khaled's decade-long, four album - Khaled, N'ssi N'ssi, Sahra, Kenza - span of pop success has prompted much criticism from those who feel he has left his rai roots too far behind. Lush as these albums are I enjoy them - Khaled's voice and musical astuteness means his recordings can't fail to engage. Yet with Ya-Rayi, well, it's something else. I've listened to a lot of Khaled - rough Algerian cassettes, early French fusions, live concerts - but never quite heard him like this before. The pop hooks, funky drummer beats and epic Arabesque grooves are still here. And the voice, that magnificent, rich instrument, is as seductive as ever. But Khaled's also gone back to his childhood listening here the Mediterranean-flavoured boogie woogie that flowered following US-liberation of Algeria in WW2 is strongly evident here with pianist Maurice El Medioni (Algeria's Ruben González) and guitarist M'Hammed Blaoui lending their still agile musical wisdom to several tracks.
Rai's always been promiscuous and Khaled continues to blend sounds - slick brass meets ney, a proto-house beat gets an Oriental flavour. Khaled obviously enjoyed the sessions as he plays accordeon and derbouka on several tunes. The pace is often relaxed, leaving lots of space for the music to flow, sometimes uptempo and roaring. On H'Mama and Mani Hani, Khaled creates some of the finest music of his life, effortlessly combining past with the present, vocally adrift on the cultural currents that have swirled across the Mediterranean for centuries. Ya-Rayi's more than just a great Khaled album, its avalanche of Egyptian strings, fat and funky rai rhythms, updating of classic Algerian mores, wailing chabbi, huge Oriental melodies and sense of good times and intimate friendship make for a masterpiece. As with The Gipsy Kings' Roots, this album is not a nostalgic exercise, instead Ya Rayi finds one of the finest musicians in Europe re-engaging with the world that shaped him while moving forward.
An accompanying DVD provides videos of hits Didi and Aicha and a long documentary on Khaled's rise to fame and the making of Ya-Rayi. It's helpfully subtitled and very illuminating when it comes to the creative process. Khaled continually gives off the air that nothing is more fun than making music. And listening to Ya-Rayi who could doubt it? - Garth Cartwright
Press from the label:
a rousing, exuberant expression of "passion by one of the great singers in the world today, at the height of his powers" Observer After 5 successful albums, Khaled's new record is a genuine “back to the roots” album. Khaled is coming back to the raï music essence, with charming Egyptian chords. He recorded a great chaâbi track H'mama with the Algerian national radio orchestra where Khaled pays hommage to the Algiers inhabitants and their folklore. The album contains 10 tracks, 1 track produced by Don Was (who already produced Didi & N'ssi N'ssi, 1 track by Jacob Desvarieux, 2 by Farid Aouameur young Algerian producer and the rest by Philippe Edel… In this record, Khaled invites us to discover or re-discover all the raï 'magic' and carries you directly to a typical Algerian cabaret like the ones where he performed in his native city Oran at the beginning of his career in August 1985. It's a matured Khaled that offers a roots and festive record, long awaited by the Algerian community as well as a wider audience that should make it his biggest success
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