While Cheb Mami is the undisputed king of rai and Khaled is lurking around the corner awaiting the perfect patricidal moment, Cheb Nasro is one of the up-and-comers waiting in the wings. This self-described “Julio Iglesias of Rai” makes his debut in the States (odd, since he lives in Miami) after a prolific Algerian career with an explosive hybrid of the already incendiary Algerian music — when he’s not trying to douse it with his sugar-water ballads. Like Khaled, Nasro infuses the music with intriguing admixtures of reggae, salsa, and Western pop. The end result is a transglobal, hand-clapping, foot-stomping good time — when he lets it.
I think Nasro is definitely a little too heavily influenced by the Spanish crooner. He lays it on thick with ballads like “Cheftha Tebki,” “El-Ghorba,” and “El-Hob Saob.” I was almost willing to forgive him, but there are too many maple syrup love wails to ignore. If you can, the rest of Departures will take you on an enjoyable globe trot. For the Gypsy Kings fan in all of us, there’s “Baghi Nenssak.” His North Afro-Cuban “Mon Amour” works quite well. While it seems that the incendiaries of rai would clash horribly with the cool breezes of reggae, Nasro does good work with “Kifeche Enti” and “C’est Pas Le Peine.” But the most fun has to be the disc’s opener, “Fatima,” a disco/house-y cut that really gets you moving.
While Nasro definitely cannot yet dethrone the more famous Cheb or the heir apparent, Khaled, if he stays away from the ballads he may one day be able to reach for the crown.
Mondo Melodia: http://www.mondomelodia.com