Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Mariem Hassan: El Aaiún Egdat [Nubenegra, 2012]
Now pursuing an active musical career from Catalonia, this ex-nurse from the Western Saharan possesses the most remarkable vocal instrument to emerge from northern Africa--a searing contralto, serious yet excitable and often transported, that can cut into anyone's indifference. Born in 1958 like Rachid Taha, she's had it a lot harder--refugee camp, divorce, breast cancer, guitarist lost to leukemia. Nor does she project much of Taha's showbiz pragmatism--her calling is the Sahrawi style called haul, which on 2010's Shouka she and a new guitarist showcased in all its chorus-driven, prayerlike, insular intensity. By comparison, this one's forgiving enough to lift a tourist's spirits--there's some saxophone, and the melodies bid buenas dias. And then, two thirds of the way in, guitar and harmonica state a theme that may take a while to ID--holy moley, it's Betty Wright's "Clean Up Woman," plus ululations and a friendly sax solo--and the rest of the album loosens up some more before climaxing with seven minutes of avant closer. Back in camp they may think that makes her a sinner. Folkies may grouse as folkies will. But I say she's trying to have some fun, and that she and we deserve it. A-