Saturday, May 1, 2010

Arabian Heat

In the U.S, Middle Eastern music rarely makes an impact. It's usually used as the backdrop for a belly dancer scenario. Many have tried to capture the sound and mix it with pop. Some, like Madonna, Paula Abdul, and Mandy Moore, have succeeded, and others, like the Pussycat Dolls, fail. When it comes to making fusing Middle Eastern and pop, Amr Diab not only does it well, he does it best. By dashing a bit of musical sugar into the desert sand beats, Amr Diab has created a sound of his own.

Most Americans may know Amr for his 1996 hit Noul El Ain (more commonly known as “Habibi”), the track is one of his only tracks to be played in U.S. clubs and films. But as most music fans know, just because it's not played on U.S. radio, by no means does that mean that it is not good music.

With Wayah, Amr Diab's first LP since the international smash El Lilady (2007), Diab has done it again. Shocking his fans, Diab has gone electronica on the album. The first single,“Wayah,” is more electro-lite, in the vein of Kylie Minogue's Fever album, and like Kylie's tracks from that era, you just can't get “Wayah” out of your head.

Aside from the electro-lite title track, Diab dives head first into the world of electronica on “Allah Ala Hobak Enta” and “Ene We Ana Shayfo.” On one hand, it sounds like he learned to merge his sound and techno from listening to Madonna's Ray of Light, on the other, he wasn't listening close enough. But his intentions were good. Going back to his roots, “Ah Min El Fora2” and “Illa Habebe” follow the more traditional Middle Eastern route. In actuality, these are among the more interesting numbers on the record.

Diab may be good in many areas, but he knows his strongest songs have been pure middle-eastern, and these tracks are smooth with just enough grit, kind of like musical sand. With 2000's “Tamally Maak,” Diab proved himself successful with not only uptempo songs, but ballads, and Wayah has its share of those.

Perhaps one of the singer's softest song, “Wehyati Khaliki” opens as a torch ballad, but dances it's way to an almost Latin-Jazz extravaganza. Think of it as his “The Look of Love,” only much sexier. Another ballad, “Yhemak Fe Eh” emerges mid-way through as the LP's most haunting cut. With a sullen sound, the song captures the feelings of the desert; alone, lost, and lonely, quite perfectly. The third and last ballad, “Ba'edt Leh,” isn't exactly filler material, but it remains the weakest of the three.

The album may be hot, but there are a few missteps here. “Ba'adem Albe” sounds like a bland attempt at adding Italian music into the mix. “Malak” follows his normal recipe for the middle-eastern sound he's known for, but with it, he forgot to add the spice. And “Tammeny” is like a dust devil; a lot going on but no real point.

Even though each and every lyrics on this album is sung in Arabic, the emotion and the sizzling grooves are not lost in translation. Diab conveys the words to each song with his smooth, yet sandy voice. It's sad that the U.S is extremely low on talented male pop stars (are there any live ones?) , but will allow the language barrier to keep those who sing in different tongues, such as Diab, from reaching fame here.

Wayah may not be his best album, that title goes to goes to Allem Albi, but it still comes out to be one of the best efforts of 2009. He may have overloaded the album with electroica, causing somewhat of a sonic surge, but he kept it organic enough in some places to balance everything out. In the end, Wayah brings the heat of the desert to your ears.

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