MC Rai: Raivolution (Embarka)
If you see the "rai" label and automatically retreat from what you expect to be yet more cheesy, emotion-dripping Algerian pop, you owe this album a second look. And a thorough listen. MC Rai was born in southern Tunesia, and while he was raised on the traditional folk music called Chaabi, somewhere along the way he picked up a lot of other musical influences, combining Rai, rock, rap, and electronica. He also picked up his things and moved to San Francisco in 2000, laying the foundation for this album as he brushed up elbows with artists including Cheb i Sabbah (who has a new album out called Devotion, which we'll be reviewing soon) and Michael Franti.
The songs are largely hard-driving, beat-laden affairs, suitable for dancing without the thumpy monotony often associated with club music. For that, credit the arrangements that include plenty of lush strings, along with bits of kora, trumpet, accordion, oud, and various traditional north African instruments. I initially pegged this album as too much, too loud. But I'm giving it a second listen, and digging it immensely. MC Rai offers you a glimpse of North Africa's musical future, if you're willing to look.[mp3] MC Rai:
from the album Raivolution