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August 13, 2009

Khaled: The King of Raï Returns


Algerian singer Khaled shows off his magnificent voice in the studio recording of his new song "Raïkoum"

by John Oseid

He's back. It's been years since the great Algerian raï singer Khaled put out an album. It's no stretch to say his gorgeous new work, Liberté, should put him right back on top of the world music charts when it comes out August 25.

Raï, a pop-tinged mix of rural and cabaret music developed in Algeria's Oran province, has exploded worldwide in recent decades. In the early 90s, Khaled teamed up with producing legend Don Was to craft the rock-, funk-, and R&B-inflected sound that made him the first international star from the Maghreb.

On Liberté, Khaled strips down his sound back to its North African roots. An accordion introduces "Raïkoum" and then Khaled's soaring vocals take over. He adds some mystical gnawa music on the album, and strings from the Levant, like in the slow cut "Zabana." I don't yet know what all the songs mean, and it doesn't matter; Khaled's mesmerizing voice could turn a public service announcement into a musical gem.

More music:
* Khaled's two great early albums were Khaled, released in 1992 with the mega-hit "Didi," and 1993's N'ssi N'ssi.
* Last spring I brought you a snippet of gnawa music from Morocco.
* Boom Box: Unabashed gusto for music of the world

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