Five years after Cheb Mami introduced rai to mainstream America on Sting's "Desert Rose," another Algerian superstar, Rachid Taha, may have taken the genre past critical mass with a clever cover of a punk anthem. Taha outfits the Clash's "Rock the Casbah" with a more traditional Middle-Eastern feel -- it opens with a flute-and-drums intro -- and the mix of electric guitars and ouds is positively sublime, as are the Arabic vocals. But Taha isn't just flipping irony on its heels; he's making a statement to the world. His intention, it seems, is to rock the actual Kasbah -- as well as every discotheque or nightclub from Algiers to Paris to London to San Francisco. Other songs like "Safi," "Lli Fat Mat," and "H'asbu-Hum" show that Taha is on to something fresh with his Arabesque rock-funk fusion and lyrics that range from inspirational to political, while the album's title track, which translates to "Who Are You," is nothing less than a declaration of a new Arab identity -- thoroughly modern, yet rooted in tradition.
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