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Reviews: The Rough Guide to Paris Café and The Rough Guide to Afghanistan

Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Paris Café
(World Music Network)

The Rough Guide to Afghanistan
(World Music Network)

Paris café music is really just another name for music that’s mostly derived from bal musette, a genre developed in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. Good compilations that reflect the marvelous variety of today’s French music are hard to come by, but this form of swinging accordion-based music brings its own rewards, even if the genre does evoke a stereotypical image of Parisian night life that is a little misleading. Such an approach also automatically excludes many wonderful French accordion players whose music falls outside the genre. The recordings range from the 1930s (Damia, Jean Gabin) to more modern practitioners, such as the Ukulélé Club de Paris, Novelty Fox, and Les Primitifs du Futur, three groups that share a few of their members. The latter group is one of four artists that were also featured on Rough Guide’s first edition of Paris café music (2002), the others being the esteemed Marcel Azzola, the late Francis Lemarque, and the underrated Michèle Bernard. A bonus CD consists of 24 tracks drawn from the first two albums by Beltuner, a musette and Gypsy swing group that deserves to be better known.

The Rough Guide to Afghanistan is an appropriate and overdue release in view of the fact that artists have flourished since the Taliban lost its stranglehold on music. Some traditional music from Afghanistan has been available on the North American market for quite some time; Nonesuch Explorer and Smithsonian Folkways having released albums of interest to the budding Afghan music fan. This new Rough Guide compilation, besides having a higher profile, is the first one to cover the breadth of the country’s music and also includes tracks by artists from the Afghan diaspora. The album leads off with the young pop singer Setara Hussainzada (who received death threats after a TV appearance) but quickly changes tone with Mahwash, one of two artists featured twice, the other being Farhad Darya, a superstar of sorts. Giving artists two kicks at the can is somewhat strange considering that other performers, such as the well-known Ustad Mohamed Omar, have been left out. Other performers include Ahmad Zahir, a pop music pioneer from the Sixties, and the Ahmad Sham Sufi Qawwali Group, which is also the group featured on the bonus CD.

—Paul E. Comeau (Comeauville, NS, Canada)


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