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Cheb i Sabbah

Having taken a brief detour into North Africa on his 2005 album La Kahena, San Francisco globalist DJ Cheb i Sabbah returns to the South Asian milieu that served him so well on his first few albums. Devotion finds Sabbah again toying with elegant, ethereal structures, compiling traditional instrumentation and vocals with subtle, almost imperceptible electronic flourishes. That very subtle modernity is what has served him well in the past, and with Devotion the effectiveness of that approach is even more apparent. Without indulging in the more beat-heavy approach of tablatronics — or in New Agey snooziness — Sabbah evokes a strong notion of "authenticity" with his tracks, acquiescing his electronics to the indisputable power held by a ghazal vocalist, a propulsive tabla, or a chanting chorus. But the electronics are always there, whether on a cut like "Kol Bole Ram Ram" — qawaali turned into a muted, downtempo groove — or "Haun Vaari Haun Varaney" — which weaves a haunting devotional chorus into a dubbed-out bit of psychedelia. By neither patronizing the contemporary listener nor the source material by which he is so obviously inspired, Cheb i Sabbah continues to redefine the possibilities of contemporary world-fusion electronica.

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Jason Ferguson