I recently pulled out Houssaine Kili's 2001 album Mountain to Mohamed, which I hadn't listened to for quite a while. I remember, though, that it was a breath of fresh air from North Africa when it arrived on my desk shortly after Hassan Hakmoun's bland, wandering The Gift.
Not officially released in the US (though well worth finding if you can!), this CD features powerful songs of love and faith, along with uniquely Moroccan versions of Rai and Berber musical styles. Some is melodic, some percussive, as the explosive "Fanan / The Artist" [sample] and the hip hop-flavored "Ayour / The Moon". It even includes a cover of Neil Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand."
The title track is fairly representative of this strong album: driving rhythms, powerful vocals, and the modern touch of a sax solo complementing the Berber roots. Kili is based in Germany, from which he can keep tabs on "western" music as well as his own cultural roots. In Kili's own words:
I've left my homeland, not because I wanted to get away, no, it was my destiny to go, to make my music. Far away from Morocco music allows me to live, but it keeps drawing me back into the hills of my homeland, there where there is peace and tranquility and where I can meet Mohamed. There flows the clear water and brings me the peace that I so much desire. The wind sweeps me here and there remains this desire for a clear night in the Mountains, for the wind that takes me away like on the wings of an eagle, high up to the moon.
[mp3] Houssaine Kili:
from the album Mountain to Mohamed
read more about Houssaine Kili at Afropop.org