Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The cultural repercussions of our Middle Eastern adventure haven't stopped with the reduction of Iraq to rubble--George Butch himself admits that. And so for the first time in my life I've been listening to Arab music as if it means something to me, which thanks to Butch it now does. I could have done without the self-improvement--I don't know lots of things, and Islam has never appealed to me. But I've been pleasantly surprised by what I've found.

The rule of thumb is to avoid straight Arab pop, which sounds kinda stuffy because it is--it's a genteel emotional outlet serving a social function not unlike the one Home Sweet Home and After the Ball did. In both shaabi (working-class) and al jeel (student) modes, the fast new hits compiled on Yalla: Hitlist Egypt (Mango) vent wilder passions as well as livelier rhythms and instrumentation. The lead cuts speak an instantaneous international language. The rest is just the Egyptian equivalent of good rock and roll, and fun getting used to.

Abed Azriť's Aromates (Elektra Nonesuch), in which a Paris-based Syrian sets Arab poetry amid Arab-inflected synthesizers and traditional instruments, is more highbrow. The translations speak constantly of desire and loss, and though one might suspect Azriť of overdoing it, these days I find his mournful music moving, even comforting--a good cry for the planet we live on.

Playboy, Feb. 1991


Jan. 1991 Mar. 1991