Souad Massi ‘The definitive collection’ (Wrasse) 4/5

Algerian singer-songwriter Souad Massi was a complete breath of fresh air when she first appeared on the world roots scene in the early noughties. Her brand of acoustic folk-inspired compositions begged immediate comparisons with Tracy Chapman and even Joni Mitchell, yet the North African component is clearly audible with the use of oud and percussion instrument the darbouka. This generously timed compilation rightly places emphasis on the first two albums which take up no less than fifteen of the twenty songs showcased here. If her last album was something of a disappointment and a halfway house between folk on the one hand and a desire to break into more mainstream rock territory on the other, this anthology serves as an illustration of what Massi does best and that is simply making deeply lyrical music delivered in the gentlest of voices. Undoubtedly one of Massi’s most endearing songs is the haunting melody of ‘Hayati’ (My life). Arguably this is her finest song to date and, perhaps more to the point, her most personal also. A sparser sounding song where the natural beauty of Massi comes to the fore is found on the title track to ‘Raoui’ (The story teller). Just acoustic guitar is required here to accompany. On the folk-roots song ‘Bladi’ (My country) Soaud Massi sings in both Arabic and French, and France is indeed now her place of residence and a French audience has reacted very positively to her contributions. An interesting fusion of North African and Spanish flamenco rhythms are to be found on the flowing number ‘Nekreh el Keld’ (I hate this heart that loves you still) and with violin and guest male vocalist, this is sure to entice the listener. Likewise the uptempo ‘Ech edani’ (I shouldn’t have fallen in love with you) again incorporates flamenco elements, with a Spanish male vocalist starting off proceedings and this is a driving number that in some respects reminds one of the early 1990s output of Khaled. For a more authentic Algerian accompaniment the lovely ballad ‘Yemma’ impresses with its use of oud, darbouka and Massi herself featured on guitar. Souad Massi specialises in and makes a vritue out of the multitudinous aspects of the human condition and this fine collection of songs of love lost, refound are similarly deeply rooted in the intensity of human emotion. To aid the listener, full English lyrics are provided. Tim Stenhouse

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