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Sounds of the Middle East, Minnesota provide options for listeners

By Bryan Lesswing
On October 6, 2009

Amr Diab - "Kammel Kalamak"
5 out of 5 starsMany college students wouldn't have trouble naming at least a few of America's top contemporary pop icons. But what about those artists that top the music charts in other parts of the world?

Enter Egyptian singer Amr Diab and one of his latest albums to hit the world music stage, "Kammel Kalamak." Not only has he sold more albums than anyone in the Middle East, but over the past two decades Diab has forged a unique and exciting dance style of music that has lent him an honorary title as "Father of Mediterranean Music."

This should come as no surprise after listening to only a few of his songs.His incorporation of Spanish flamenco guitar, tasteful dance beats, North African instrumentation and beautiful Arabic singing combine into a specifically Mediterranean sound that has helped him break sales records and expand Egyptian pop music far beyond the Arab-speaking world.

"Kammel Kalamak," Diab's seventh album release, once again delivers a spectrum of rhythmic variations and catchy melodies that grab the listener right from the start. Diab's smooth vocal ornamentations stretch across dance beats and ballads, establishing an appreciative aesthetic for the music traditions of this part of the world. To provide an example of this beautiful array of self-described "Mediterranean Music," the first track, "Kammel Kalamak," incorporates pop beats, back-up instrumentation and flamenco guitar, with Diab singing above and complementing the rhythm section. The third track, "We Maloh," conveys a more sentimental mood, with beautiful solo guitar work accompanying Diab's voice. Finally, the fourth track, "Hkaytak Eih," initially seems reminiscent of traditional Egyptian music.However, halfway through the song Diab turns up the beat several notches and the song immediately takes on a hip-hop feel.

If you're in the mood for a unique and pleasant listening experience outside our borders, pick up Diab's "Kammel Kalamak." You will find Amr Diab a welcoming introduction to the contemporary music of the Middle East.

Mason Jennings - "Blood of Man"
4 out of 5 stars

For those of you that are serious 60s rock fans or appreciate the musical world of the acoustic singer-songwriter, steer your way to Mason Jennings's latest album "Blood of Man." The artist from Minneapolis returns with a raw and eclectic sound infused with messages of war, addiction and loss.Combining distorted electric guitar, garage-band rhythm and down-to-earth vocals, Jennings has recreated a retro sound for the 21st century.Tipping his hat to such artists as Lou Reed (on the track "Pittsburgh") and Jim Morrison ("City of Ghosts"), he strikes a chilling and haunting chord that resonates with the listener.Though his message at times feels dark and frankly heavy, don't let that deter you.The upbeat rock rifts on the tracks "Lonely Road" and "Ain't No Friend of Mine" keep the album engaging and appealing.

If you are in the mood for a mix of Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and even a bit of Tom Petty, grab a copy of Jennings' "Blood of Man." Not only will his lyrics stir you, but his sound impressively nods towards the rock-artist legends of old, while simultaneously breaking new boundaries.

- Lesswing is a senior from St. Charles, Ill. majoring in political science and history. He plays banjo.

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