Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan/
[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
AS DEMONSTRATED BY The Chemical Brothers et al, we're experiencing quite a vogue for Arabic and Indian music in the UK. A few years ago, only Transglobal Underground ploughed this lonely furrow on their wonderful early albums for Nation records. Then came the Outcaste label, the success of Nitin Sawhney, and the patronising adoption of Bollywood and the subcontinent by style, um, gurus.
EMI Catalogue is set to launch a scattershot barrage across the market. It tells you something that they're already up to The Best Arabian Nights Album in the World Ever...Volume 4 (***). It's a brisk selection of pop hits from the Near East, and to be honest, it would take an ear more keenly attuned to this music than mine to distinguish it from any of the previous three collections. Or indeed to tell the tracks apart from one other. But it does lilt away very nicely in the background, which I'm guessing is how most other dilettante listeners will approach it. Allergy warning: this product may contain traces of Sarah Brightman.
Lemonada - the Arabian Latin Chillout Experience (*) is a collection from Ahmed Ghannoum, who mixes gentle, jazzy bossa nova sounds with those of his home country, Lebanon. This concoction errs too far on the watery side for my taste; but those who like a bit of Bebel Gilberto or Norah Jones to accompany their dinner parties will find a useful companion piece here.
If you think your guests will sit still for The Ultimate Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Volumes 1 & 2 (****) you may be sorely mistaken. Khan, Pakistan's most celebrated qawwal (practitioner of Islamic devotional song) is best known in Britain for the glut of remixed or compromised recordings that popularised him here in the years leading up to his death in 1997. This pair of double-CD sets does him a considerable service, covering between them the period from 1978 to 1984, and stripping out the subsequent wallpaper. It is by no means easy listening, and requires a willing disposition; but it's music of real purity and power.
Meanwhile, back in the West, Future's Burning: The Definitive Guide to the New Generation (Nude ***) deserves its subtitle. Those who follow the British alternative rock scene will have most of this stuff already; but if you're looking for a primer, or to catch up on a few missing songs, it offers an impressively thorough overview of the current big or emerging names. And it doesn't fob you off with minor tracks or alternative takes. Which is not to say it's all brilliant stuff - it's only as good as the bands it features. It does make for a very handy guide to the runners and riders, though.
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