In most countries, his records are filed simply under "K," and throughout much of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, they regularly top the pop charts. He is from Algeria and sings primarily in Arabic. His success has changed how the business world considers "world music." His name is Khaled, "the king of rai" and leader of a musical movement that has incorporated touches of reggae, funk and salsa with catchy North African beats.
Kenza is Khaleds first studio album in more than three years. Like all of Khaled albums, Kenza is full of magical and energetic rai. While some familiar faces are back, Kenza features a different lineup compared to recent outings. Most notably, producers Don Was and Philippe Eidel are gone. Universal brought back Jean-Jacques Goldman to try and repeat some "French pop" magic with songs such as "Cest la nuit." While the song is destined to be a hit in France, it seems a bit "forced" as an attempt to re-create another "Aicha" (Khaleds song that reached number one in France), sadly stripping the track of all of its "rai-ness."
There are some other attempts introduce Khaled into new markets, including India and America. The second track, "El Harba Wine" brings together North African and Indian pop. Tablas meet darboukas as Khaled trades verses with Indian pop star Amar in an extremely danceable Bollywoodesque tune. The other blatant crossover attempt is a unique version of John Lennons "Imagine." Here, Khaled teams up with Israeli diva Noa, mixing Hebrew, Arabic and English lyrics, "Imagining no religion ..." While the spirit of this duet is certainly noble, the song itself seems passionless compared to Lennons. Fortunately, the rest of the album is in Arabic: 11 other tracks of trademark Khaled rai, sure to keep the dance floors smoking from Oman to Marseille, and from Beirut to Dearborn. So, program your CD players, skip a couple of industry-driven music marketing projects, and get ready for 55 minutes of pure magic.