Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Ali Hassan Kuban

  • From Nubia to Cairo [Shanachie, 1991] A-
  • Walk Like a Nubian [Piranha, 1994] *
  • Nubian Magic [Mercator, 1995] ***
  • The Rough Guide to Ali Hassan Kuban [World Music Network, 2002] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

From Nubia to Cairo [Shanachie, 1991]
Candidly commercial if not cockeyed drunk, a veteran entertainer from the melanin-rich upriver highlands leads a thoroughly modern band that favors the same stop-and-go tricks polka strategists love so. His horn players live for their solo features, and that's not to mention his accordionists--or his bagpipers. And throbbing and clattering incessantly behind, what else? The drums, the drums, the drums, the electric bass. A-

Walk Like a Nubian [Piranha, 1994]
it's a geometrical diddybop--a tad too mechanical this time ("Om Sha'ar Asmar Medaffer") *

Nubian Magic [Mercator, 1995]
Sudanese wedding music for the Aswan diaspora--fast by rustic standards, James Brown-influenced but who isn't ("Mabrouk Wo Arisna," "Maria-Maria," "Al Samra Helwa") ***

The Rough Guide to Ali Hassan Kuban [World Music Network, 2002]
Situated in that strangely familiar territory between kinda boring and utterly weird, Kuban was modernity's musical ambassador from Nubia, which some--mostly boring Afrocentric weirdos, but that doesn't make them wrong--regard as a prime source of the Mediterranean culture all Americans share. And though it says something about developmental feedback and lineaments of greatness that this wedding singer from an ancient land was known to tip his kufi to James Brown, his funk has always sounded indigenous to me. For one thing, it's melodic in an ancient, pentatonic way--that's the Nubian part. The instrumental sound is Egyptian right down to its big-city horns and accordions. And the vocals would fit into many black African contexts--think flat rather than showy, Wassoulou rather than Wolof. Kuban cut four albums after he began playing Europe in the '80s, and sometimes it's hard to tell whether they're trancelike or soporific. This draws on all of them. The best-of as public service. A-