The gorgeous strain of Gibril Bennani's violin begins this album canvassing North African folk music in the context of ProTools. This is not to suggest electronic tampering akin to the Algerian pop sounds of raï. Cheb I Sabbah indeed includes the urban-centric style -- as well as tinde, aïta and Moroccan gnawa -- only in a much more roots-oriented manner than, say, Cheb Mami or Khalèd. On La Kahena, the Algerian native recruits all-female groups Haddarates and B'Net Marrakech and raï vocalist Cheba Zahouania, among others, to perform devotional songs against minimal (though evident) layers of studio polishing. Bassist Bill Laswell, tabla player Karsh Kale, MIDIval PunditZ member Gaurav Raina and Turkish ney player/DJ Mercan Dede are but a few of the visionaries helping usher in this future folk. Whether light textures in Marrakech's krakreb (metal clappers) and handclap-led "Sadats," or fully loaded percussive assault on Middle East vocalist Michal Cohen's "Im Ninalou," Sabbah continues a lustrous journey that began by crate-digging UNESCO vinyl in the early '60s. That last song translates as "If the Doors Are Locked"; for Sabbah and his alchemical transmutations in his San Francisco laboratory, all are unbolted.
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