Rai is the pop music of choice for lusty Algerians who'd rather gyrate on the dance floor than kowtow to the rigidity of their native Islamic culture, and Khaled is its king. For the past dozen years, his steady stream of independent releases and ecstatic live shows have wowed 'em in the Near East, and now, with the promotion muscle of Polygram and the production skills of Don Was, Khaled seems intent on contributing to the soundtrack to Western revelry as well.
Several factors, however, threaten his stateside commercial viability. First, no matter how beguiling those burnt out on the flatness of rap's vocal template find Khaled's serpentine North African tenor, he doesn't sing in English, so it's hard to relate to what his press kit assures us are surrealistic lyrics worthy of Apollinaire. Second, at least one third of this disc--the third where he goes heavy on the accordion instead of coming on like a disco dervish--sounds more like mood music at an international deli than like a key for unlocking the door between propriety and abandon.
But Khaled's main obstacle is that in the land of Madonna, Prince, and 2 Live Crew, music that celebrates the joys of debauchery no longer scandalizes people the way it used to, and without the mantle of cultural rebellion, Khlaed's exotica risks seeming beside the point.
Of course, for two thirds of this disc, especially on "Didi"--a deservingly colossal smash in Asia and parts of Europe last summer--Khaled does come on like a disco dervish, and it's during such moments that his refusal to sing in English, instead of working against him, can help restore some of the mystery to libidinous music that often gets lost in the rush to be explicit.